Olympic observations

Motor sport may be the main focus of this writer’s attention, but for two weeks every four years, an event comes around which dominates television viewing both here in the UK and abroad: the Olympic Games.

There are a few aspects that I wanted to touch on in this post which still has some relevance to motor sport and Formula 1.

Graphics simple, but effective
The Rio 2016 graphics set has not changed very much from those on display at both the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 games, meaning it has now been used for at least eight years. The 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin used a modified version of the previous graphics set. What is interesting to me is the difference between Formula 1’s graphics set and the Olympic set. I dare say that the Olympic graphics set is stuck in the mid-2000s, but it has not changed in recent years.

F1’s graphics display multiple pieces of information on-screen at the same time, whereas the Olympics goes for a ‘less is more’ approach. I guess it is also a sense of familiarity for the latter given that the Olympics is firmly aimed at bringing in a casual audience. Both serve different purposes and that should be recognised. It would be interesting though seeing Olympic graphics stuck over the top of a F1 race. I suspect fans would find them too intrusive.

One similarity between the F1 and Olympic Games is the slow-motion shots. The first week has seen a lot of superb slow-motion shots from Joe Clarke’s victory in the canoe slalom to the diving events, there have been a number of slow-motion shots which no doubt will be repeated in the closing video packages next weekend. We also saw the bike cam in the cycling team pursuit, although the quality of the camera was not great thanks to the amount of rattling.

Is 455 BBC staff ‘too many’?
Back in April, the BBC confirmed that they would be sending 455 staff to the Olympics in Rio. Some of those 455 are freelancers, whilst the amount BBC have sent to Rio pales in comparison to the over 2,000 strong personnel that NBC have sent to Rio. Despite this, the BBC’s coverage (and number of 455) has attracted criticism from the likes of the Daily Star, Telegraph and the Daily Mail.

The comments that I have seen are your usual “too many presenters” or why are there so many production staff. Neither of which fully take into account the scale of the event. BBC One has been live on air from 13:00 to 04:00 every day, around 15 hours. BBC Four has been on air for the same length. Combine that with the running of the Red Button channels. On top of that, there is both online and BBC Radio 5 Live to consider.

Firstly, regarding the on-air staff, including presenters. Presenters do not present on-air and go home. Presenters also research, rehearse, record. Research so that they know what they’re talking about, rehearse so that the end product is as slick as possible and then record any VT’s that need to be done. Now consider doing that over 15 consecutive days. You cannot have one presenter, you need multiple presenters to cover each event and/or channel.

The same applies for commentators. Two commentators per event, 15 to 20 events and the numbers quickly add up. The numbers and facts that commentators have recited, chances are that a researcher has done that for them or (more likely), they have prepared and watched back historical tapes of that event. To bring it back to Formula 1: take David Croft or Ben Edwards. Throughout the Winter they will no doubt have re-watched the 2015 season to ensure that they are ready and prepared for every race for the following season.

Aside from on-air, there are those people off-air that keep the show running: resource managers so that everyone knows what they are doing, camera operators, sound supervisors, production co-ordinators, VT editors, interpreters and a whole host of other people who play a small but significant part in the coverage (I’ve picked a few out here, there are hundreds more). Without the talented men and women behind the camera, the show does not go on. Just because we don’t see them, it doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

Without VT editors, you can’t tell a story to the wider audience. Without interpreters, you don’t know what the winning athlete from a foreign country has said. Of course, this is not just Olympics related: you need this in any form of sport, including motor sport. At the end of the day, if you want to expand your remit, you have to expand your resources. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching the BBC’s coverage from Rio, and I don’t think I would want it any other way. The days of presenting from the ‘London studio’ have long passed.

Olympics reaps rewards of free-to-air coverage
The beauty of the Olympics is its accessibility on television. Live, wall-to-wall television coverage on BBC One and BBC Four means that the Olympics can reach the largest number of viewers possible. Saturday’s coverage peaked with 9.4 million viewers on television, with 17.2 million global browsers accessing the BBC Sport website. These are brilliant figures all around, and shows how events benefit from being on free-to-air television.

Would the Olympics do anywhere near as well hidden behind a pay-wall? I doubt it. The Sydney Morning Herald website has a fantastic read looking at the extremely restrictive Olympic rights that extend far beyond television into the sponsorship world. I do not want to regurgitate the article, as there are a lot of fascinating points that I could note.

The key bit comes from Simon Morris, who is Fairfax Media’s (SMH’s owner) national video news editor. He says that the article “is not a complaint. We sign up to these rules as a part of a contract that allows us to send journalists. We could decide not to not do that and just rely instead on our statutory fair dealing rights under the Copyright Act, but we believe we have the best sports writers in the country and not sending them in return for being able to run more video would be a poor deal for you, our audience.”

The Olympics is a juggernaut if you’re part of the event. If you are not part of the event, then you are a complete outsider for that short time frame every four years.

talkSPORT secures MotoGP radio rights

talkSPORT, one of the biggest commercial radio stations in the UK, has secured the radio rights to the MotoGP championship with immediate effect until the end of the 2017 season.

Every MotoGP race will be covered live on their sister station talkSPORT 2, with a number of Moto2 and Moto3 races also broadcast live. There will also be previews and reviews of every race on talkSPORT. talkSPORT’s press release says that it is “the first time any major motorsport has been broadcast on national commercial radio in the UK.”

BBC radio have previously covered the British round of the championship, but I do not believe they covered it regularly in the modern era. According to RAJAR, talkSPORT 2 reached 285,000 people in the second quarter of 2016, but it should be noted that talkSPORT 2 was only launched in January. Whilst the reach may be small in comparison to other stations (such as the main talkSPORT station), any increase to MotoGP’s existing reach should be seen as a positive.

talkSPORT will be using Dorna’s World Feed team, with commentary coming from Nick Harris and Matt Birt.

UK F1 TV viewing figures drop significantly with switch to Channel 4

The change of free-to-air broadcasting rights from the BBC to Channel 4 have had a detrimental effect on Formula 1’s television viewing figures in the United Kingdom, overnight viewing figures suggest. Audiences have shown signs of increasing though as we head into the Summer break.

> Channel 4’s audience down 1.5 million compared with BBC in first half of 2015
> Sky slides to record low for second year running
> Demographic analysis shows younger audience has held up strongly

As always, it should be noted up front what this site uses to compare the viewing figures with past data. All the numbers in this article are ‘overnight’ viewing figures supplied by Overnights.tv, which brings together the live viewing figure with recordings made before 02:00 the following morning, typically this is called Live + VOSDAL (viewing on same day as live).

For Sky Sports, the three-and-a-half-hour broadcast slot is used, for example, from 12:00 to 15:30. Currently, this encompasses ‘Pit Lane Live’ and ‘Race’ programmes. The three-and-a-half-hour slot has been used consistently for comparisons since Sky started broadcasting Formula 1 in 2012. This ensures that the number reported can be used to analyse cross-year data accurately. It also broadly uses the same slot length as the BBC and ITV have used in the past. There are exceptions: if a race overruns, the three-and-a-half-hour slot is extended, as necessary.

The data for Sky’s Formula 1 coverage includes Sky Sports 1 where applicable, ensuring that a complete picture is reported. In this piece, I will not break down the Sky figure into Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports 1, simply because the number of races that were simulcast on Sky Sports 1 in the first half of 2015 compared with the first half of 2016 is largely unchanged.

Over on Channel 4, their full programme slots have been used, irrespective of length. This provides a fair comparison with the BBC data. However, caution should be exercised: Channel 4’s programmes contain advertising, the BBC’s did not which inevitably puts the commercial broadcaster at a disadvantage. But, this piece will analyse the data further, looking at how much impact that element has had on numbers.

Lastly, this piece only looks at the viewing figures for the first half of each individual season, given that this is a half way review. So for 2016, the period from the Australian Grand Prix to the Hungarian Grand Prix is in scope.

The 2016 story
Starting with Sky’s Formula 1 programming. Their show, from 12:00 to 15:30 or equivalent, averaged 617k, their lowest mid-season number in the five years that they have been covering Formula 1. As mentioned, the viewing figures include any simulcasting on Sky Sports 1. For the first half of 2015, the average was 657k, which at the time was a record low in itself. So, year-on-year, average audiences for Sky have dropped 6 percent. Compared with 2012, which was the high point at 772k, average audiences have dropped 20 percent.

The peak audience metric for Sky though has increased by 0.9 percent, from 980k in 2015 to 989k in 2016. I appreciate those two numbers are within the margin for error (in terms of my own calculations), but the average programme audience decreasing, yet the peak audience holding up would imply that Sky’s pre and post-race programming has dropped disproportionately to the race itself. Year-on-year, three races have seen their average audience increase: Canada (up 15.8 percent as a result of no live free-to-air coverage), Austria (up 15.1 percent) and Britain (up 13.9 percent). In Sky’s defence, the substantial drops occurred in the early phase of the season. Australia (down 30.4 percent) and China (down 26.4 percent) are two examples of this.

If Sky were hoping to capitalise on the BBC’s exit by hooking ex-BBC F1 viewers onto their product then unfortunately for Sky, that has not happened so far. The way the championship battle shaped up in the early races hurt both them and Channel 4. Only recently have both broadcasters started to improve their audiences. Had Lewis Hamilton’s championship defence not got off to a poor start (relatively speaking) then the first quarter of 2016 may well have performed better for Sky.

Normally at this stage in the article I would analyse the free-to-air broadcaster and look at year-on-year trends. This year, the situation is different. Channel 4 have taken over from the BBC. Channel 4 reaches less viewers than BBC One, so of course Formula 1’s viewing figures have dropped. To some degree, it is comparing apples and oranges, but this site aims to report Formula 1 viewing figures accurately and to do that, the comparison needs to be made. The key is, how much have audiences declined. The answer? At the half way stage of 2016, Formula 1’s terrestrial television viewing figures have dropped 40 percent.

On race day, Channel 4’s programming has averaged 2.01 million viewers, down 1.5 million on the 3.51 million viewers for the same period last year on the BBC.  In my opinion, seeing a 1.5 million drop year-on-year is on the more extreme side of what I expected. Channel 4’s viewing figures are around half a million lower than I anticipated. Unsurprisingly, every race has dropped year-on-year, from the very extreme of Canada (down 71.9 percent due to no live free-to-air presence) to Britain (down 26.7 percent).

The peak audiences that Channel 4 have recorded do not clock up much better, with an ‘average peak’ audience of 2.78 million, down 36.4 percent or 1.59 million on the ‘average peak’ audience of 4.37 million that the BBC hit in the first half of 2015. The commercial impact does hit the average audience metric slightly, but not big enough that it would wildly affect the overall year-on-year trend. Looking at the breakdown across the season, viewing figures have improved in recent races, hitting a peak audience of three million viewers for both Britain and Hungary.

The demographic gap
Channel 4 aims the content that it produces at a younger audience. That is the DNA of the corporation, hence channels such as E4. Whilst the overall audience drop is disappointing, this is largely concentrated amongst the older viewers, who simply have not transitioned across from the BBC. The younger audience has dropped, but at a far less rate than older viewers. Whilst the overall drop is major, there is a headline within the headline, and the numbers are not all bad news.

Speaking exclusively to this site, Channel 4’s Head of F1 Stephen Lyle is keen to emphasise this: “Viewing to both live races and highlights on Channel 4 has been strong with our live race coverage regularly making Channel 4 the most watched terrestrial channel over the time slot with the largest share of young viewers, which is important to the legacy of the sport.”

It should be noted that this piece does not include on demand viewing, such as Sky Go or All 4. With Sky Go slowly on the rise along with Now TV, this may account for the drop in Sky’s Formula 1 television viewing figures. However, All 4’s Formula 1 programming is unlikely to receive as many requests as BBC’s programming did on iPlayer, due to the respective size of both platforms. So, it is swings and roundabouts really.

Elsewhere, BBC 5 Live’s Formula 1 coverage is not included. The radio station benefited from Formula 1’s switch to Sky in 2012, so they may have benefited again as a result of the move from BBC to Channel 4. The methodology for measuring radio listening figures is different to television viewing figures, so numbers are difficult to compare. However, in the latest RAJAR figures released for Q2 in 2016, 5 Live was up year-on-year whilst 5 Live Sports Extra was down.

Combined audience and final thoughts
The combined television average audience in the UK at the half way stage of 2016 is 2.63 million, a decrease of 36.8 percent on 2015’s average audience of 4.16 million. Currently, it stands as the lowest number on record, dating back to 2006. I expect the second half of the season to do better than the first; the last race which rated lower than 2.63 million was Canada. In fact, both Canada and China drag the average audience down.

In a perfect world, the numbers would be higher. Audiences are slightly lower than what I expected on Channel 4. Can that be reversed? Absolutely. If the championship race goes down to the wire, there is no reason why audiences cannot increase. Channel 4 and Sky have been unlucky this season. The on-track battle between Mercedes and Ferrari which I thought and hoped would occur simply has not materialised. You can only talk about what you see on-track, and the Mercedes duel for the third season running, irrespective of channel, pay walls or anything else, is not the most appealing to the casual viewer even if there is British interest.

We saw at the back of last season that Hamilton wrapping the championship up early will not be good for viewing figures. Seeing as Hamilton vs Sebastian Vettel has, for the moment, turned to star-dust, we look towards Max Verstappen. Verstappen vs Hamilton is something that has yet to happen but should happen on-track either in the latter half of this season or next. That battle should spice up interest up front and potentially bring new fans.

As of writing, I have received no comment from either the BBC or Sky, but if I do, I will amend this article.

Update on August 13th: The BBC have supplied this site with the following statistics. Over one million audio requests have been made for BBC’s Formula 1 coverage online, with their Formula 1 website receiving five million unique browser hits during its highest week. Furthermore, 1.37 million hits were received for their British Grand Prix live page, their largest number so far this season.


ITV and Formula E part company

ITV will not broadcast season three of the Formula E championship in the UK leaving the series without a terrestrial television free-to-air partner, this site can confirm.

The broadcaster has shown the series since its inception on ITV4, with the London ePrix aired live on ITV’s main channel. Overnight viewing figures, supplied by Overnights.tv, show that appetite for the series in the UK has declined across the two seasons so far. The inaugural 2014-15 season averaged 216k (2.6%) across the eleven rounds live on ITV and ITV4, but live coverage of the 2015-16 season averaged just 138k (1.3%) across ITV and ITV4, a drop of 42 percent. 2015-16’s number includes the Mexico ePrix which was aired live on BT Sport Europe.

Formula E’s highlights programming have not fared well on ITV’s main channel for the 2015-16 season, averaging around 170k and being beaten by all five of its terrestrial television competitors on numerous occasions. The fact of the matter is, Formula E rated below the relevant slot averages for ITV wherever and whenever it was aired. This news is not a major surprise, when you consider that horse racing will fill up most of ITV4’s Saturday content from 2017.

> February 2016: Addressing Formula E’s issues in the UK

Sources have indicated to this writer that Channel 4 or Channel 5 are candidates to pick the series up. For Channel 4, it would fit well into their growing motor sport portfolio following their recent acquisitions of Formula 1 and the World Endurance Championship. Formula E will be a nice addition to Channel 5 alongside the World Rally Championship. The BBC are not expected to get involved, but time will tell.

There is also the possibility that Formula E will be placed exclusively behind a pay wall, in which case BT Sport or Eurosport are the likely homes for the electric series. Both channels already air highlights as filler content throughout the week. It will be fascinating to monitor events as the next few weeks unfold. In my opinion, Formula E needs to stay live on free-to-air television. But, I am not convinced the ratings on ITV and ITV4 have been strong enough to persuade Channel 4 and 5 to get in on the act. Hopefully I am proven wrong on that front.

Sky’s F1 coverage increases to 2016 high

The 2016 German Grand Prix may not have been the most spectacular race of the year so far, but it did help Sky Sports hit a 2016 high where its Formula 1 coverage was concerned, overnight viewing figures show.

Live coverage of the race, broadcast across Sky Sports 1 and F1 from 12:00 to 15:30, averaged 932k (11.8%). Even taking into account the simulcast on Sky Sports 1, that is a really strong number, the highest for a European based round for Sky since the 2014 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, which averaged 963k (7.1%). The audience was split 75:25 across Sky’s channels: 700k (8.9%) on the F1 channel compared with 232k (2.9%) on Sky Sports 1.

Sky’s audience peaked with 1.47m (17.4%) at 14:30, the highest for a European based round since the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix. Considering the race was a largely dull, the numbers are higher than what I expected for Sky by some margin. A 17 percent share for an event on pay-TV is impressive. Okay, this includes Sky Sports 1, but I would argue that simulcasting Sky Sports 1 makes no difference to the overall number, although it will be interesting to see if Sky’s number drops further than expected come Spa.

Channel 4’s highlights, broadcast from 18:00 to 20:00, averaged 2.27m (14.1%). This is their second highest highlights audience of the season; a meagre 12,000 viewers lower than their Austria highlights show! Their coverage peaked with 2.86m (16.2%) at 19:30, also slightly down on their Austria figure.

The combined average audience of 3.20 million viewers is the highest of 2016 so far, surpassing the previous highest of Austria. The combined peak of 4.33 million is the second highest of 2016, only behind Britain. However, we do not escape the fact that the combined average and peak is still the lowest since 2006 for Germany (albeit 2012 is not a million miles away).

Live coverage of qualifying, broadcast across Sky Sports 1 and F1 from 12:00 to 14:35, averaged 447k (6.7%). Channel 4’s coverage averaged 1.24m (9.8%) from 17:45 to 19:30, resulting in a combined audience of 1.69 million viewers.

After a slight dip in Hungary, the trajectory is upwards… slowly. The past four races have all recorded peak audiences of above 4 million viewers. That is a good sign, it appears having four races in five weekends has helped maintain momentum. Whilst Lewis Hamilton leading the championship is a good, a comfortable lead for him will send viewing figures decreasing again. So, there is a balancing act to be had.

Spa is next on the calendar. Belgium tends to be low, more often than not below three million viewers. There is a slight chance that the audience could hold up more over on Channel 4, and that Spa could pose the first chance for 2016 to realistically beat 2015 in the TV audience figures, maybe.

The 2014 German Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.