Formula 1’s UK viewing figures soar to season high in Mexico

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.


Scheduling: The 2016 Mexican Grand Prix

This weekend sees Formula 1 return to Mexico in its second year back on the calendar after a successful debut weekend in 2015. The weekend could also see Nico Rosberg claim his first Formula 1 championship.

Channel 4 are running extended programming on Saturday, with their practice three show 95 minutes long and their qualifying programme a whopping three hours long. This partially makes up for the fact that their race programme is shorter than usual, due to the new series of Humans following straight after the race has finished. We could see Channel 4 “running off the air” as soon as a new world champion is crowned, which I hope doesn’t happen. Hopefully More4 is used in the event of that happening. The channel have Eddie Jordan and Mark Webber back with them this weekend.

Elsewhere, live coverage of the World Rally Championship returns to free-to-air television for the first time in over a decade with the Power Stage from the Wales Rally GB being aired live on Channel 5, as part of the agreement announced back in January. Channel 5’s live programme will be presented by Nicky Grist and Matthew Lorenzo; the latter name long-time readers will recognise well from Sky’s F1 Digital+ coverage back in 2002.

NOTE: Clocks go back one hour on Sunday 30th October, with the change from British Summer Time to Greenwich Mean Time. The times listed are for BST on Saturday and before; GMT for Sunday and afterwards…

Channel 4 F1
28/10 – 15:55 to 17:40 – Practice 1 (More4)
28/10 – 19:55 to 21:35 – Practice 2 (More4)
29/10 – 15:55 to 17:30 – Practice 3 (Channel 4)
29/10 – 18:00 to 21:00 – Qualifying (Channel 4)
30/10 – 18:00 to 21:00 – Race (Channel 4)

Sky Sports F1
28/10 – 15:45 to 17:50 – Practice 1
28/10 – 19:45 to 22:00 – Practice 2
29/10 – 15:45 to 17:15 – Practice 3
29/10 – 18:00 to 20:45 – Qualifying (also Sky Sports Mix)
30/10 – 17:30 to 22:15 – Race
=> 17:30 – Track Parade
=> 18:00 – Pit Lane Live
=> 18:30 – Race (also Sky Sports 1)
=> 21:30 – Paddock Live

Supplementary Programming
27/10 – 17:00 to 17:30 – Driver Press Conference
27/10 – 20:45 to 21:00 – Paddock Uncut
28/10 – 22:00 to 22:30 – Team Press Conference
28/10 – 22:30 to 23:00 – The F1 Show
02/11 – 20:30 to 21:00 – F1 Report: Review

BBC Radio F1
27/10 – 21:00 to 22:00 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
28/10 – 15:55 to 17:35 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
29/10 – 18:55 to 20:35 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
30/10 – 19:00 to 21:00 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live)

MotoGP – Malaysia (BT Sport 2)
28/10 – 02:00 to 09:00
=> 02:00 – Practice 1
=> 04:45 – Reaction and Build-Up
=> 06:00 – Practice 2
29/10 – 02:00 to 09:15
=> 02:00 – Practice 3
=> 05:00 – Qualifying
30/10 – 01:30 to 03:15 – Warm Up
30/10 – 03:30 to 08:15
=> 03:30 – Moto3 race
=> 05:15 – Moto2 race
=> 06:45 – MotoGP race

MotoGP – Malaysia (ITV4)
31/10 – 20:00 to 21:00 – Highlights

Euroformula – Jerez
29/10 – Race 1
=> 14:00 to 15:00 (BT Sport X3)
=> 14:05 to 15:15 (Motors TV)
30/10 – Race 2
=> 11:15 to 12:15 (BT Sport X1)
=> 12:05 to 13:10 (Motors TV)

Formula V8 3.5 – Jerez
29/10 – 12:45 to 14:15 – Race 1 (BT Sport 2)
30/10 – 12:15 to 13:45 – Race 2 (BT Sport X1)

World Rally Championship – Wales Rally GB
28/10 – Day 1 Highlights
=> 22:00 to 22:30 (BT Sport 2)
=> 22:35 to 23:05 (Motors TV)
29/10 – Day 2 Highlights
=> 21:45 to 22:15 (BT Sport 2)
=> 22:35 to 23:05 (Motors TV)
30/10 – Live: Stage 1 (BT Sport 1 / 4K)
30/10 – Live: Power Stage
=> 11:50 to 13:10 (Channel 5)
=> 12:00 to 13:00 (BT Sport 1 / 4K)
30/10 – Day 3 Highlights
=> 22:15 to 22:45 (BT Sport 1)
=> 22:35 to 23:05 (Motors TV)
31/10 – 19:00 to 20:00 – Highlights (Channel 5)

World Superbikes – Qatar (British Eurosport 2)
29/10 – 15:15 to 19:00 – Qualifying and Race 1
30/10 – 16:00 to 19:00 – Support and Race 2

UK’s Formula 1 ratings hit new low as pay TV beats free-to-air highlights for first time

The United States Grand Prix dropped to a new low for the 2016 Formula One season as Sky Sports’ coverage of the race beat Channel 4’s highlights programme, overnight viewing figures show.

Live coverage of the race, broadcast on Sky Sports 1 and F1 from 19:00 to 22:30, averaged 984k (4.6%). An audience of 569k (2.7%) watched on Sky Sports F1, with a further 416k (1.9%) watching on Sky Sports 1, the audience split 58:42 in the dedicated channel’s favour. Sky Sports 1’s coverage benefited from following Chelsea’s 4-0 thrashing of Manchester United, which 1.47m (10.3%) watched from 15:30 to 18:30.

The numbers are Sky’s lowest for USA since 2013 when the championship was already wrapped up. Since then, Sky Sports F1’s numbers have dropped, with Sky Sports 1’s simulcast increasing slightly, arresting the decline. Sky’s average is down 13 percent on 2015 and down 26 percent on 2014. On the other hand, Sky’s USA viewing figures are their highest of the season so far.

Channel 4’s highlights programme averaged 841k (13.5%) from 23:00 to 01:00. In the Channel 4 landscape, based on that timeslot, it is a good number and will be above their own slot average. In the Formula 1 landscape, this is a frankly awful number and one that raises a lot of questions. There are a lot of takeaways from this number that are worth mentioning.

Sky Sports beat Channel 4’s highlights programme. Only just, at a ratio of 54:46, but they can say that they’ve done it, although I wouldn’t shout about it considering both channels averaged less than one million viewers. The time slots are imbalanced and in Sky’s favour, but it shows how times have changed from BBC’s viewing figures last season. Let’s make it clear: viewers have not switched from free-to-air to pay TV in how they consume Formula 1. They’ve either switched off completely or moved to other methods of viewing, such as Now TV and Sky Go.

“Viewing of F1, EFL and cricket is up strongly year on year, and The Open saw a reach of 8m on TV and 2.8m unique users online. Through our growing digital platforms and apps, On Demand service and Now TV offering, there is something for every sports fan.” – Sky Sports’ Managing Director Barney Francis, speaking to The Guardian in response to press articles about declining football viewing figures

The shared contract between Sky and BBC/Channel 4 has underlined how poor the deal has been with respect to the North American races. Historically, North American races would have been a four to five million plus banker rating. Now, thanks to the way the ‘pick’ system works, America has been reduced to being aired on the fringes of primetime to a depleted audience. It simply is not good enough. Nothing will change on this front anyway, but Channel 4’s number illustrates the point well in my opinion.

The other point is that Channel 4’s scheduling was poor. Scheduling a film premiere before it is good, but it was not blockbuster power. The Grand Budapest Hotel averaged 1.22m (6.7%) from 21:00 to 23:00. Formula 1’s highlights programme ideally should have started at 22:30, with a 90-minute run-length. Stretching it out until 01:00 was only going to deplete viewing figures, which should have been considered when scheduling the highlights. It was by choice as opposed to a contractual obligation: in 2014, the BBC’s highlights programme started at 22:30 despite the race starting at 20:00.

The combined audience of 1.83 million viewers is the lowest Formula 1 has averaged in the overnight viewing figures since the 2006 French Grand Prix. That race averaged 1.82m (23.2%) from 12:05 to 14:55 on July 16th, 2006 on ITV. It is a desperately poor number in a season that has continued to lose interest since the Summer break. The consolidated numbers won’t change the picture too much unless a significant number of people time shifted the highlights programme.

Live coverage of qualifying averaged 306k (1.5%) on Sky Sports F1 from 18:00 to 20:45, a record low for USA. 2014’s qualifying session averaged 532k (2.8%), airing an hour earlier.

Channel 4’s highlights programme averaged 1.00m (7.1%) from 22:00 to 23:30 meaning that their qualifying programme beat their race programme, which is extremely rare. It probably isn’t too surprising when you compare the respective time slots but underlines why the highlights need to be aired in the earliest possible time slot for the American races.

The combined average of 1.31 million viewers is the second lowest of 2016, only ahead of Japan from two weeks ago.

The 2015 United States Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.

Live in-car footage set to take centre stage in revamped F1 app?

The official Formula 1 app is reportedly set to get an overhaul, with a new version of the app currently in beta testing.

Images have been circulating on social media with Dutch users testing the app. The new app appears to give users the ability to customise which of the 22 cars they wish to ride on-board with. The key word in the linked tweet is “all”. In previous iterations of Sky’s Race Control app, there was always the limitation of how many cars the user could choose from. That is about to change.

This is clearly a significant development as the F1 app has never featured live footage of any nature before, and is a major step in the right direction from Formula One Management (FOM). I assume the testing is in preparation for the 2017 season, but as of writing we do not know yet.

What we do know is that there has been a lot of advances in the way data is transferred by Tata Communications, which will open up avenues such as every on-board camera being open at one time, and available for the viewer to use. Ideally, FOM need to be looking at MotoGP’s Video Pass and beyond for what content they need to be delivering to the consumer.

Of course, there are further questions: will this come at a cost to the customer (almost certainly an increase for F1 Access) and will it be geo-blocked where rights restrictions are in place (UK with Sky for example). On the surface, this looks like a very promising development.

As ever, we await further information and I’ll update this post when we hear anything, but it looks like 2017 will see a significant change in this landscape.

Scheduling: The 2016 United States Grand Prix

17 down, four to go. For Nico Rosberg, there’s a very good chance that he could become Formula One Drivers’ Champion before Abu Dhabi if he secures a win in Austin this weekend. Elsewhere, the MotoGP championship was clinched by Marc Marquez in Motegi last weekend, meaning that the paddock will be slightly more relaxed than last year in Australia!

Sky Sports are airing F1 every session exclusively live, with the race being simulcast on Sky Sports 1. There is a special documentary on the F1 channel following the race entitled ‘Two Weeks to Win’ looking at Mercedes F1’s turnaround from the Spanish Grand Prix to the Monaco Grand Prix this season. The documentary was released by UBS in August and produced by Whisper Films, who of course also produce Channel 4’s Formula 1 coverage (although a good handful of Whisper’s staff used to work for Sky F1). Either way, it is not a Sky produced exclusive.

For those of you without Sky, the bad news is that Channel 4’s highlights programme is not on until 23:00 which is frankly ridiculous. It is the latest a highlights programme has started since the shared deal started in 2012.In 2014, when the race started at 20:00, BBC One’s highlights programme aired from 22:30 to 00:00. So it isn’t that Channel 4 can’t do it, they’ve just chosen not to, instead scheduling a film premiere before the F1 from 21:00 to 23:00.

On the MotoGP front, Suzi Perry is presenting BT’s MotoGP coverage from Australia which is a nice bit of commitment from themselves, even if the timing is somewhat unlucky with the main title already wrapped up. I don’t believe this extends to their speedway coverage which is also in Australia, albeit a two hour drive away.

Channel 4 F1
22/10 – 22:00 to 23:30 – Qualifying Highlights
23/10 – 23:00 to 01:00 – Race Highlights

Sky Sports F1
21/10 – 15:45 to 17:50 – Practice 1 (also Sky Sports Mix)
21/10 – 19:45 to 22:00 – Practice 2
22/10 – 15:45 to 17:15 – Practice 3
22/10 – 18:00 to 20:45 – Qualifying
23/10 – 18:30 to 23:15 – Race (also Sky Sports 1)
=> 18:30 – Track Parade
=> 19:00 – Pit Lane Live
=> 19:30 – Race
=> 22:30 – Paddock Live

Supplementary Programming
19/10 – 20:30 to 21:00 – F1 Report: Preview
20/10 – 17:00 to 17:30 – Driver Press Conference
20/10 – 20:45 to 21:00 – Paddock Uncut
21/10 – 22:00 to 22:30 – Team Press Conference
21/10 – 22:30 to 23:00 – The F1 Show
23/10 – 23:15 to 23:45 – Two Weeks to Win: Mercedes F1
26/10 – 20:30 to 21:00 – F1 Report: Review

BBC Radio F1
20/10 – 20:00 to 21:00 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
21/10 – 15:55 to 17:35 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
23/10 – 19:30 to 22:00 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live)

MotoGP – Australia (BT Sport 2)
21/10 – 00:00 to 07:00
=> 00:00 – Practice 1
=> 02:45 – Reaction and Build-Up
=> 04:00 – Practice 2
22/10 – 23:00 (Friday) to 07:15
=> 23:00 – Practice 3
==> extended following heavy rain on Friday
=> 03:00 – Qualifying
23/10 – 00:30 to 02:15 – Warm Up
23/10 – 02:30 to 07:15
=> 02:30 – Moto3 race
=> 04:15 – Moto2 race
=> 05:45 – MotoGP race

MotoGP – Australia (ITV4)
24/10 – 20:00 to 21:00 – Highlights

Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 – Estoril (BT Sport 2)
22/10 – 13:15 to 14:00 – Race 1
23/10 – 10:00 to 10:45 – Race 2

European Le Mans Series – 4 Hours of Estoril (Motors TV)
23/10 – 13:10 to 18:05 – Race

Speedway Grand Prix – Australia (BT Sport 2)
22/10 – 09:45 to 13:15 – Races

V8 Supercars – Gold Coast 600
22/10 – 04:30 to 07:30 – Race 22 (BT Sport 1)
23/10 – 05:00 to 08:00 – Race 23 (BT Sport//ESPN)

As always, if anything changes I will update the schedule.