The 2016 Chinese Grand Prix recorded the lowest audience for a Formula 1 race in the United Kingdom for a decade, unofficial overnight viewing figures show.
Live coverage of the race, broadcast live on Sky Sports F1 from 06:00 to 09:30, averaged 433k (11.1%). The programme hit a five-minute peak audience of 687k. The average audience is down 26.4 percent on 2015, whilst the peak audience is down 29.1 percent year-on-year. Considering nothing has changed year-on-year from a timeslot perspective, the large drop has to be a concern. The picture for Sky is similar to their Australian Grand Prix numbers from last month, whereby both average and peak are down a similarly large amount.
Channel 4’s highlights programme from 13:30 to 15:25 (tape-checked) averaged 1.68m (17.0%). The audience peaked with 2.25m (21.6%) at 14:45 as their highlights edit came to a conclusion. As is now usual, Channel 4’s programming won its timeslot and thrashed their own slot average. Last year, BBC’s highlights programme averaged 2.97m (24.5%), peaking with 3.42m. Year-on-year, Channel 4’s average is down 43.4 percent, with the peak audience down 34.3 percent. The percentage drop for the programme average is the largest recorded yet this year.
Unfortunately, the broader historical picture is bleak. The combined audience of 2.11 million viewers is the lowest for the Chinese Grand Prix since at least 2005. It is also the lowest audience for a Grand Prix since 2006. You have to go back to the 2006 Italian Grand Prix to find a lower average audience. That particular race averaged just 1.86m (23.2%) live on ITV1. The combined peak audience of 2.94 million viewers is also the lowest since Italy 2006.
Live coverage of qualifying on Saturday morning performed solidly on Sky Sports F1, averaging 308k (5.8%) from 07:00 to 10:05. The programme, slightly extended due to the two red flag periods, recorded a five-minute peak of 528k (7.9%) at 09:15. Both measures are down around 20k year-on-year, which in the grand scheme of things is immaterial.
As was been the case in Australia and Bahrain, Channel 4’s qualifying programme was down on BBC’s coverage last year. Highlights of qualifying from 12:30 to 13:55 (tape-checked) averaged 1.19m (14.1%), hitting a peak audience of 1.55m (17.6%) at 13:30. In comparison, BBC’s highlights last year averaged 1.81m (20.9%) and peaked with 2.04 million viewers.
The average audience for qualifying is 34 percent lower than 2015, whilst Channel 4’s peak audience is 24 percent lower than what the BBC recorded last year. These metrics are important to look at as the season progresses, for both qualifying and the race. My hope was that Channel 4 would close the gap on the BBC’s numbers as the season progressed. Early signs are that the gap is not closing and, if the Chinese Grand Prix percentage is to be believed, then the gap is in fact extended.
The big question: is China the low-point? My gut instinct is no. I have a bad feeling that we will see our first sub two million race day audience for 2016 very soon. I’m not prepared to knee-jerk based on the China number and write a lot of analysis based on one very low rating. Instead, I think we need to wait and see what happens in the next few races before analysing. As a number on its own though, the combined audience of 2.11m is very, very poor and that cannot be avoided.
The 2015 Chinese Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.