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.