The story that is the 2016 Formula One season continued in Mexico to a strong audience in the UK, overnight viewing figures show. The previous sentence sounds confusing given that seven days ago we were reporting a ten-year low for the United States Grand Prix. But, as always there are stories beyond the headline, this one included.
Live coverage of the race, broadcast on Channel 4 from 18:00 to 21:05, averaged 2.89m (12.6%), peaking with 3.93m (16.0%) at 20:40 as Lewis Hamilton claimed victory. For a commercial channel, up against Strictly Come Dancing and The X Factor, these are good numbers and comfortably ahead of Channel 4’s slot average.
Sky’s live coverage, simulcast across Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports 1, attracted a weighted average of 876k (3.8%). The dedicated F1 channel averaged 653k (2.8%) from 18:00 to 21:30, with Sky Sports 1 adding a further 261k (1.1%) from 18:30 to 21:30. Sky’s coverage peaked with 1.21m (5.4%) at 19:05. Considering this wasn’t an exclusive race for Sky, the numbers are good all round in the context of the season.
The race began with 4.89m (21.5%) at 19:05, but viewing figures started to drop from the offset, declining to 4.3 million by 19:30. There are two main factors here: the race simply was not good enough to keep viewers tuned in, and the first half of the race clashed with Strictly Come Dancing on BBC One. This is noticeable in the breakdown at 19:55: viewing figures ‘jumped’ by 300,000 viewers from 4.4 million to 4.7 million as viewers switched from BBC One to Channel 4.
The audience hovered around the 4.6 million mark, hitting 4.66m (19.1%) at 20:10. As is usually the case, the audience improved to a high of 5.13m (20.9%) at 20:40 as the race came to a fascinating climax. At the time of the peak, the audience was split 77:23 in Channel 4’s favour.
Analysis and Qualifying
The combined average audience of 3.77 million viewers is comfortably the highest of 2016 so far, and the highest since the 2015 Brazilian Grand Prix. The combined peak audience referenced above of 5.13 million is also the highest since Brazil last year. The numbers are extremely positive for the sport, especially considering Mexico was against The X Factor and Strictly. Canada, when live on the BBC, did tend to rate a bit higher, although it had easier competition in its June slot. It is fair to say Formula 1 has gone through a very rough patch in recent months where UK viewing figures are concerned.
Unlike a lot of analysis on this site, the reason for the upsurge can be painted in five words: live, and free-to-air. USA recorded the lowest UK F1 numbers in ten years last weekend. The reason? The race was exclusively live on pay TV, consigning free-to-air highlights to a graveyard timeslot. Mexico had a live, free-to-air shop window and the viewers came. It is something Liberty Media need to remember: money cannot buy you viewers. But free-to-air television can. Nine times out of ten, it will pay off.
Elsewhere, live coverage of qualifying attracted 1.22m (6.0%) across an extended timeslot from 18:00 to 21:00 on Channel 4. Sky’s coverage on their F1 channel and Sky Sports Mix added a further 350k (1.7%), bringing the combined audience to 1.57 million viewers, in line with the season average so far.
The 2015 Mexican Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.