F1 2017 struggles off the grid, but displays promise

Formula 1 returned to the television screens this past weekend with the Australian Grand Prix, as Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel claimed victory. In the UK, viewing figures continued to struggle off the back off last year, but there are some promising signs going forward.

To start the year, I want to remind readers that all viewing figures presented on the site are Live + VOSDAL (Video on Same Day as Live). As an example, if you recorded Channel 4’s highlights programme, and watched it before 02:00 the same day, you would be counted as a viewer in the Live + VOSDAL viewing figures (also known as ‘overnight viewing figures’).

The overnight viewing figures reported include advertisements. Secondly, the numbers include Channel 4’s +1 service. Over on Sky Sports F1, the reported number of this site is for their three-and-a-half-hour slot which covers Pit Lane Live and the Race itself, so for example from 12:00 to 15:30.

Live coverage of the race, broadcast on Sky Sports 1 and Sky Sports F1 from 05:00 to 08:30, averaged 395k (22.2%), an increase on last year’s audience of 360k (24.8%). The raw share is down slightly year-on-year, which is due to the clocks moving forward by one hour, meaning that the total available audience for breakfast programming was slightly higher. The race peaked with 636k (38.7%) at 06:35 as Sebastian Vettel claimed the lead, a nice increase of 14 percent on last year’s peak figure of 559k (37.4%).

In terms of the split, 315k watched on the dedicated F1 channel, with a further 80k watching on Sky Sports 1. Including VOSDAL, an audience of 552k (37.2%) were watching Sky’s coverage as the race started at 06:05. This grew consistently as the battle between Vettel’s Ferrari and Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes continued in the early stages, hitting the peak of 636k at 06:35. At this point, audiences dropped back down to 585k (35.7%), stabilising just under 600k before jumping back up to 622k (27.1%) as Vettel took the chequered flag. Bear in mind that, in this context, the drops and increases are likely to be viewers ‘fast playing’ through their recordings or vice versa.

Highlights of the race, broadcast on Channel 4 from 14:00 to 16:35, averaged 1.65m (20.6%), a drop of 22 percent on 2016’s average audience of 2.11m (19.0%). The total television audience yesterday whilst Formula 1 was on-air was significantly lower than twelve months ago: 8.0m vs 11.1m, contributing to the audience drop. Channel 4’s coverage peaked with 2.07m (26.0%) at 15:10, a drop of around 600k on last year’s peak audience of 2.67m (21.9%). Again, note the stark difference in share year-on-year. In comparison, the BBC’s highlights coverage in 2014 peaked with 3.15m (26.4%). Therefore, the raw shares for 2017 are not a problem, but the low audience is an issue.

The combined average audience of 2.04 million viewers is the lowest for Australia on record, and down 424k on last year’s audience of 2.47 million viewers. Compared with 2015, the combined audience has dropped 42 percent. The combined peak audience of 2.70 million viewers is down on 2016’s peak audience of 3.23 million viewers.

Live coverage of qualifying across Sky Sports 1 and Sky Sports F1 from 05:00 to 07:40 averaged 254k (12.6%), a slight increase on last year’s audience of 235k (14.7%). The session itself peaked with 481k (14.6%) at 07:05 as Lewis Hamilton claimed pole position. Although the average audience increased year-on-year, Sky’s combined audience is down on the figures recorded for 2014 and 2015 by around 25 percent.

Channel 4’s highlights programme, which aired from 13:00 to 14:45 on Saturday afternoon, averaged 1.22m (18.2%). The number decreased in volume compared to 2016 (1.38m/15.4%), but increased in share thanks to the warmer weather. A peak audience of 1.69m (24.6%) were watching Channel 4’s coverage at 14:20, compared with 1.74m (17.9%) last year. Small drops all around for the broadcaster, but the numbers are healthy enough to not be concerning at this stage.

The combined audience of 1.48 million viewers is the lowest for the Australian Grand Prix qualifying session on record, however the combined peak audience held up with 2.17 million, above last year’s combined peak audience by just 9,000 viewers! The story here is that fewer people watched qualifying ‘live’ (for both broadcasters) compared to previous years, spinning through advert breaks and deflating the average audiences slightly as a result.

One of the beautiful things about working with data is that there is never simply one answer to why a given data point shows X. The Australian Grand Prix viewing figures are a fantastic example of where the data on the surface looks extremely poor, but there are justifiable reasons to back up why the data shows what it does.

On track, both the live coverage on Sky and Channel 4’s highlights programme peaked when Sebastian Vettel took the lead. That should not be a surprise as the main action ‘ended’ at that point. Afterwards in both broadcasts, the audience dropped slightly. Certainly Vettel taking the lead at the stage that he did, combined with no supplementary battles to keep the viewer enticed, led to figures dropping away.

Off track, there were two main factors, both of which relate to Channel 4. The weather was warmer over the weekend. Warmer weather means that there are fewer people inside watching the television. By the time the evening came around, some viewers may have already found out the result via other means, and deleted the recording. Secondly, it was Mother’s Day in the UK, which again would have depleted viewing figures. Formula 1’s audience on Channel 4 was down 424k year-on-year, yet the total available audience for the slot was down 3.1 million year-on-year. Lack of football on Sky should have helped Channel 4, but the warm weather and Mother’s Day countered that effect.

I am not defending the figures by any stretch, but it is critical to place viewing figures into context. It is too early to say whether the drops seen in Melbourne are a sign of things to come, or a one-off occurrence to start the 2017 season.

The 2016 Australian Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.



6 thoughts on “F1 2017 struggles off the grid, but displays promise

  1. Can anyone tell me how much of the race Channel 4 showed this year? To me it looked like they showed almost all the race, if not all of it.
    I can’t remember any clear cuts, I’m guessing this is due to the faster lap times?

    1. There was a significant jump in the middle, it was on lap 27, and then it changed to lap 38 quite quickly after that. But for a race of 1hr 24 I think the official time was, I don’t think there was that much else missing.

  2. The Channel 4 – 2 hour show for grand prix highlights for me is too much. There needs to be an option of a shorter show even if online 30-60 mins would be right for me. I haven’t watched any highlights for this reason.

  3. @DN

    Your defense of viewing figures is ‘interesting’. However there is another way of looking at them, which paints a different picture. Surely most of the highly enthusuastic long term fans would have watched either live/VOSDAL or Chan 4. I would suggest that the missing viewers are mostly the casual viewers, and they might well find other things to capture their interest in future. Whilst it is far too early to judge the 2017 season, this downward trend is possibly indicative of the many people who are losing interest in F1. I hope that I am wrong.

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