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.


7 thoughts on “Formula 1’s UK viewing figures soar to season high in Mexico

  1. Out of interest, are figures for viewers on Channel 4 + 1 included? I imagine there aren’t very many, but I was among their number on both Saturday and Sunday due to other commitments ending just after the action started!

  2. Your comment “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.” does not make sense based upon your previous reporting.
    Most races this year have been reported as ‘Record low…”, with Channel 4 being the main cuplrit by regularly losing 35% of viewers compared to the BBC.

    Clearly, just being free to air does not pay off 9 times out of ten if your main goal is total viewing figures. If Channel 5 took coverage then the numbers would plummet even further. Had C4 run adverts through the race as ITV did, then that would explain the drop off, but they don’t.

    1. Andy, I wrote this back in August and still stand by it. The popularity of the Great British Bake Off is yet another example of how the BBC promote their shows, not only on all their TV channels, but their radio channels and website. I’ve never watched Bake Off, but like F1, I bet their audience will plunge when it goes to CH4.

      The reason is I think, whatever we might think about the BBC’s policies etc, we should never underestimate the huge audience figures its 3 channels pull in every week. A lot of their popular shows still attract many millions of viewers – most of us watch something on the BBC every week. Add to this the fact that they always trail ads prior to big sports events and shows, often at peak times, millions are exposed to what’s available to watch. Whilst I think CH4 is doing an excellent job, they just don’t have a big regular audience to promote their F1 coverage to. This is I’m sure why the casual viewer is disappearing. The true F1 fan will always seek out when a race is to be broadcast, but the casual fan needs to be reminded and excited – the BBC did that well. Their lead up to the Olympics is a good example.

      1. I agree with what you say Golly, I was making the point that just saying free to air was the saviour for F1’s viewing figures is wrong. It varies wildly depending upon which FTA channel it’s broadcast on, and as I said above if it went to Channel 5 it would plunge further.
        If I only had access to FTA then I would be watching C4 because I love the sport, so I struggle to understand why so many have stopped watching, 35%+ is a big number.

      2. @golly

        Agreed. BBC did a good job.

        Mentioning the BBC and considering this is a F1 Broadcasting blog. I hope David won’t mind me mentioning an in depth interview of Ross Brawn, by Tom Clarkson and David Benson. This is available on the the BBC Radio 5 Live web site. At the time of writing, it still had the days news bulletin at the beginning. Running time about 1 hr. Worth a listen, he covers a lot of material, and the questions are well thought out.

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