Chinese Grand Prix continues F1’s UK ratings turmoil

The Chinese Grand Prix continued what is turning into a difficult start to the year for Formula 1 in the United Kingdom, overnight viewing figures show.

Live coverage of the race, broadcast on Sky Sports F1 from 06:00 to 09:30, averaged 484k (13.5%). This is a relatively strong number, an increase of around 50,000 viewers on last year’s average of 433k (11.1%). However, it is still a drop on 2015’s average audience of 589k (15.2%), which aired in the same time slot.

Sky’s coverage peaked with 813k, compared with 687k last year, an increase of 18.5 percent year-on-year. Certainly, Sky’s numbers appear to have been boosted by a competitive start to the championship between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, which they will be looking to maintain going forward.

Channel 4’s coverage was not boosted to the same effect, dropping slightly year-on-year. Their highlights programme, which aired from 14:30 to 16:45, averaged 1.52m (18.5%), a drop on last year’s average audience of 1.68m (17.0%), although the percentage share did rise. Coverage of Lewis Hamilton’s win peaked with 2.06m (22.3%) at 16:05, compared with a peak audience of 2.25m (21.6%) in 2016.

The combined audience of 2.00 million viewers is for the second year running the lowest for the Chinese round of the championship on record, a drop of 5.4 percent year-on-year. The combined peak audience of 2.87 million viewers is down slightly on last year’s peak audience of 2.94 million viewers.

In response to a Twitter user who wondered how this compared with 2011: yesterday’s average audience was down 57.8 percent on the 2011 average audience of 4.74 million viewers. That is a lot of lapsed viewers… a small portion will have moved onto other forms of viewing (such as Now TV and online streaming), but the harsh reality is that Formula 1 has lost a significant chunk of viewers in the past five years. Some of that can be blamed on the change of television deals, but some of it can also be blamed the haphazard direction of the sport in recent years.

Channel 4’s highlights of qualifying, which aired from 13:00 to 14:30, averaged 861k (13.6%). The raw audience is down 27.8 percent, but the percentage share was down only 3.3 percent on last year’s average of 1.19m (14.1%). Whilst Formula 1 was on air (including VOSDAL), the total television audience was 6.3 million viewers, compared with 8.5 million viewers from 2016. Clearly, the number is also a sizeable drop on historical BBC and ITV numbers for the Chinese Grand Prix qualifying sessions.

Sky Sports F1’s live coverage of qualifying averaged 255k (5.3%) from 07:00 to 10:00, the programme being extended due to the red flag caused by Antonio Giovinazzi. In any event, Sky’s average audience is down slightly on 2015 and 2016’s averages of 324k (6.2%) and 308k (5.9%) respectively. The average is, however, up on the 2014 fiugure of 236k (7.1%), although it should be noted that the 2014 qualifying session occurred an hour earlier than later years.

The combined average of 1.12 million viewers is down 27 percent on the 2016 combined average of 1.50 million viewers, and half of that recorded in 2015.

As with the Australian Grand Prix two weeks ago, the Chinese Grand Prix saw some hefty drops across the board. You could argue that this is the start of a trend, showing that viewers are not interested in the new style Formula 1, and that the lack of overtaking is turning viewers off. It is an easy conclusion to come to, with multiple data points across two rounds supporting that argument.

However, such an argument at this stage is narrow-minded. Let us take a look at the total television audience for the slots that Formula 1 highlights programming has aired in for both Australia and China historically. This takes into account any VOSDAL activity within these slots as well, making up the overnight audience.

2015 2016 2017
Australia – Qualifying 9.3 million 9.0 million (-0.3 million) 6.7 million (-2.3 million)
Australia – Race 10.9 million 11.1 million (+0.2 million) 8.0 million (-3.1 million)
China – Qualifying 8.7 million 8.5 million (-0.2 million) 6.3 million (-2.3 million)
China – Race 12.1 million 9.9 million (-2.3 million) 8.2 million (-1.7 million)

What does this tell us? That, beyond Formula 1, television viewing figures on these particular Saturday and Sunday afternoons are down significantly compared with 2015 and 2016. Clearly with less of an audience around (whether it is sunshine related or not), audiences are bound to drop to some degree year-on-year, although this does not change the long-term problem for the sport.

For those hoping that Formula 1 was going to receive some ratings boost in the off-season, that has not happened – yet. With Hamilton and Vettel tied in the championship standings heading into this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix, live across Channel 4 and Sky Sports, broadcasters and paddock people alike will be hoping for a reverse in ratings fortunes, starting with Bahrain.

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


19 thoughts on “Chinese Grand Prix continues F1’s UK ratings turmoil

  1. When are they going to realise viewing figures are set to continue to fall with the Sky deal? More so once the exclusivity comes in for the 2019 season.

    Liberty Media really need to ask themselves whether this deal is correct for F1 going forward, because the current state of the UK (and indeed global) viewing figures is very concerning.

  2. Judging by the free to air Stats the downward trend started with the loss of any serious technical expert to explain the finer details in the design of the cars.

  3. I do wonder if the ratings for Bahrain is going to be dented as well due to it falling on Easter weekend. Has F1 ever fallen on Easter weekend and dented in the TV ratings?

  4. It is simply the TV deal affecting F1 and, also the broadcaster chosen. Channel 4 do a great job but viewing figures have dropped by an average of 1.5 million since leaving the BBC. F1 should have always been on the BBC and I wonder if a cut price Highlights deal in 2019 would send F1 back to the Beeb.

    1. Even if BBC picked up the highlights for 2019+ it’s highly unlikely it’d pull in the viewers because of the lack of live races. It’s the whole Sky deal that is killing this sport and Liberty need to act fast to do something about it.

      1. You’re completely right, but most of the lost 1.5 million would probably return if F1 was back on BBC1.

      2. Absolutely. I was obsessive about F1 when the full season was available FTA. I grumbled loudly when the half and half deal was struck but still made the effort to avoid all TV and radio on highlights weekends. Now as we approach the time when no races will be shown live FTA in the UK I’m finding my resolve is weakening and I’m less inclined to make concessions for a sport that obviously doesn’t want me to follow it. I didn’t see a single frame of the Chinese qualifying after I inadvertently caught the result on a BBC radio broadcast and do you know what? The world didn’t end.
        I’m less worried about missing future qualifying sessions going forward and I’m even getting used to the 50% coverage of the race in the highlights programmes which I never thought I’d say. That’s heading towards 75% less time that my eyeballs are on sponsors logos (and I’m not even considering the free practice sessions that I had begun to watch in the dying days of the BBC deal). Do non-paying FTA viewers really matter to sponsors? I didn’t used to think so but I did pursue my curiosity after seeing GEOX on the Red Bulls. It was an unknown brand to me and I ended up buying a few pairs of their shoes in subsequent years as their technology appealed to my geeky side.
        (I still use a Prost branded umbrella when the weather gets damp too.)
        We don’t yet know how the FTA highlights coverage will be made available from 2019 and I’m certainly not assuming it will be given to a terrestrial channel. I might just call it quits when it happens and find something else to do for those few hours of subliminal adverts on the 20 race weekends each year, and that’s from someone who’s only missed seeing two or three races since the late eighties.

        Even though it’s an anathema to many purists, Formula E is slowly finding its feet and half the cars are being driven by very familiar names to F1 viewers anyway.
        It might just be the FTA methadone I need to break my addiction as F1 becomes unaffordable.

    2. Channel 4 doesn`t doesn`t work for ME. Perhaps its an age / attention span thing. But the ADVERTS kll it. And to have ads in the highlight programs loses all track of the action. And WHY is Steve Jones there. They have LEE, who is VERY knowledgable and perfectly natural and capable, Steve Jones is the opposite. I have never seen anyone so unsuited to a presenting role. Such a shame. Just watch Suzi Perry on Moto GP to see how to cope with live TV. He always sounds like he is reading a well (or not )prepared script and seems to have little ability to cope with `banter`. The whole build up programs used to be enjoyable on BBC. Something to look forward to. Now its something I FAST forward past.Never mind. Only my opinion. And as I have read recently read that F1 will be lost to Sky anyway, I will not be following it.
      Mike F

  5. I think the best we can hope for 2019 onward is a 90-minute or so highlights show sub-let to BBC2 or C4, broadcast in a Sunday evening slot, that should still bring in a reasonable audience and keep the sport alive in the mind of the casual viewer. Looking at the way TV deals are going worldwide though, we could be stuck with the nightmare scenario of Sky keeping outright exclusivity, and the only FTA coverage (British GP excepted) being a one-hour highlights show going out on Pick in SD on a Monday night.

  6. Gone are the days where BBC 1 is the first channel to appear when you turn on the tv. Those who care about F1 know when the next race is and whether C4 have it live or not. I genuinely do not believe that the die hard fans have switched off.

    1. I agree, seems like a totally stupid reason to not press 4 rather then 1. And I think C4 have done fantastic, they seem to really care, and am loving the length of the highlight shows – nearly full reruns. This will probably change when we get to European rounds due to timings but I still am really liking what they are doing!

    2. But we need to care about the non-die-hards as well. Strange is it may be, they really are affected by whether the F1 is on BBC One, or three channels down the list.

      The relatively (and arguably) more prestigious brand of BBC One, I suspect, also has a part to play.

  7. The sky deal is the problem.
    Even with the very best highlights show you could imagine on the BBC, the wait for the highlights show is too long. Our lives revolve around our phones and devices (sadly) now and you just cannot not look at the news, Facebook, Twitter or even turn on the radio for hours in case you hear the results.

    1. Agreed – it’s becoming increasingly difficult to avoid the result when we all use or need the internet on an hourly basis in most cases.

  8. I think the Chinese GP figures were skewed by the glorious weather on Saturday combined with the Grand National – I ended up in the pub for the whole day, and just couldn’t be bothered to get out of bed to watch the F1 live… As for Bahrain, F1 should not race on the Easter weekend, and it clashes with the opening WEC race at Silverstone too – terrible scheduling by the FIA. At least it will be at a decent time of day though!

  9. And clashes with BTCC as well.
    Even on social media, news channels, websites. It’s difficult to avoid the result especially when the C4 F1 website gives the result away.

  10. F1 has been on Easter Sunday before. The 1997 Brazilian Grand Prix on primetime ITV clashed with the launch of Channel 5 and it still got decent viewing figures.

    1. …and only as recent as a few years ago, Malaysian GP on BBC at 9am (Start). It may have been 2011.

  11. A lot more people watched F1 back then. How much did it get e.g. 1997 Brazilian Grand Prix?. The Mercedes domination, the Sky exclusive deal, the constant rule changes are most likely reasons why people don’t watch F1 on terrestrial TV. I don’t think I’ve had any conversations with people asking if they’re going to watch the Grand Prix compared to ten years ago. Best hope again for 2019, put a replay of the race on BBC2 or C4 on a Sunday evening.

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