A peak audience of 4.99 million viewers watched Nico Rosberg clinch his first ever Drivers’ Championship at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, overnight UK viewing figures show.
Live coverage of the race, broadcast on Channel 4 from 12:00 to 16:35, attracted 2.25m (19.1%), peaking with 3.85m (29.5%) at 14:35 as Lewis Hamilton won the Grand Prix. The average was depleted more than usual due to the longer broadcast. From 12:00 to 15:30, an average of 2.57m (22.3%) watched the broadcast.
Of course, Channel 4’s viewing figures were always going to be down on the BBC’s past title deciders, but the scale of the drop is higher than anticipated. In 2014, when Hamilton became a two-time champion, BBC’s coverage peaked with 6.53m (42.1%). So, at the time of the peak, Channel 4’s coverage was down by around 2.7 million viewers (or 41 percent) compared with the BBC in 2014.
Yes, the BBC reaches a lot more viewers than Channel 4. But, on the other hand you would expect Channel 4 to claw back some viewers with it being the championship decider. Channel 4’s coverage did thrash its own slot average, but the audiences were marginally down on Silverstone in July and Mexico last month. In 2010 and 2014, when Abu Dhabi was the last race and played host to the title decider, it soared to season high numbers by a comfortable margin. That didn’t happen yesterday.
Sky Sports’ coverage of the race from 12:00 to 15:30 averaged 770k (6.7%). 557k (4.8%) watched on the Formula 1 channel, with a further 212k (1.9%) watching on Sky Sports 2. Sky’s programme peaked with 1.15m (8.8%) at 14:35. Both metrics are down around 15 percent on 2014’s average of 963k (7.1%) and peak audience of 1.36m (8.8%). So, despite a far more exciting race yesterday than in 2014, viewing figures were down. Sky planting a triple bill of football against the F1 couldn’t have helped.
The race started off with 3.95m (36.3%) at 13:00. Audiences climbed during the first phase of the Grand Prix to 4.55m (39.2%) at 13:25. At this point, audiences stabilised around the 4.4 million mark, which isn’t too much of a surprise as there was a mid-race ‘lull’ as Hamilton temporarily disappeared into the distance. At 14:10, 4.40m (36.0%) were watching and it was at this point where casual viewers started to tune into the F1. The audience climbed again, peaking with 4.99m (38.3%) at 14:35.
The combined audience of 3.01 million viewers is up on last year’s non-title deciding number, but heavily down on 2010 and 2014 by around 2.5 million viewers. The combined peak audience of 4.99 million viewers is the third highest of 2016, only behind Silverstone and Mexico. Again, the peak was down on the 2010 peak audience of 7.35m (46.3%) and the 2014 peak audience of 7.89m (50.9%).
Qualifying and Analysis
Live coverage of qualifying averaged 1.15m (13.7%) on Channel 4, with Sky Sports F1 adding a further 330k (3.9%). The combined audience of 1.48 million viewers is actually on the lower end of the spectrum for the 2016 season as a whole.
I don’t fully blame Channel 4 for this. I do, however, blame them for the lack of advertising in the latter end of the season. A genius move would have been to not only advertise on their own channel but to buy slots on other channels to get word out about the season decider. Advertising through the season is critical, and some of the low figures above may be attributed to failing to get word out to the harder to reach audiences.
However, the figures also tell us that interest simply was not as high as first time around for a battle between Hamilton and Rosberg. For all the previous title battles that went to the wire, the fight was new: Hamilton vs Massa in 2008, the four-way fight in 2010 and Hamilton vs Rosberg in 2014. They were new and would have hooked on a significant portion of new viewers. Hamilton versus Rosberg, part II was not interesting. Unfortunately for Formula 1, the abject failure of Ferrari not turning up in 2016 has meant that we have gone another season without a compelling, multi-team championship battle.
There will be more analysis on this in a next few weeks, but if a Verstappen or Ricciardo or Vettel or Raikkonen challenges Rosberg and Hamilton for the championship in 2017, then viewing figures will rise. That I admit is easier said than done…
The 2015 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.