Brilliant Baku helps Formula 1 attract season high

Formula 1 attracted its highest average audience of the season thanks to a dramatic Azerbaijan Grand Prix, overnight viewing figures in the United Kingdom show.

Even though this was the first race under the Azerbaijan Grand Prix banner, it was the second race held at the Baku City Circuit. Given that both races in Baku have occurred in June, it makes sense to compare to the equivalent European Grand Prix viewing figures from twelve months ago. Live coverage of the race overran on Sky Sports due to the red flag period, with their programme finishing at 17:45. As thus, the figure in this section is from 13:00 to 17:00 for Sky, whilst Channel 4’s audience is from 13:00 to 16:40 instead of ten past the hour as in previous races.

Channel 4’s coverage from 13:00 to 16:40 averaged 2.26m (21.6%), the channel’s highest Formula 1 audience of the year so far. I should note that Channel 4 have circulated a figure of 2.6m (25.2%) to the written press, which excludes all the pre-race and post-race discussion. The release compares it to last year’s programme average audience of 2.03m (19.3%), an apple and oranges comparison. So, the average audience is up by 227,000 viewers and 2.3 share points, but other media outlets may report a larger increase. Importantly though, the release does note that Channel 4’s programme had “the largest share of 16-34 year old viewers across the afternoon”, which is good news for Formula 1.

Compared with the difference in peak (more on that further down), the average audience increase year-on-year is not as high as you might expect considering that the race filled a higher proportion of the air-time because of the red flag. The explanation for this is that the build-up started poorly, a result of Channel 4 following Sky’s approach of ‘splitting’ their programme into chunks. It may inflate their ‘race’ average, but it is a detriment to the overall average, as they are offering viewers an excuse to by-pass their pre-show completely.

Sky’s programme, excluding Paddock Live, averaged 730k (7.0%) across Sky Sports 1 and their dedicated F1 channel. Sky simulcast their coverage last year to an audience of 613k (5.7%) across the two channels, so the year-on-year comparison is valid. An audience of 541k (5.2%) watched on Sky Sports F1, with the remaining 189k (1.8%) watching via Sky Sports 1. It is good news for Sky to see a healthy increase, aided by no clash with the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

A dramatic race, won by Daniel Ricciardo, helped the combined average audience hit its highest number of the year with 2.99 million viewers, up 344,000 viewers on last year’s average audience of 2.64 million viewers. The audience helps show the power of free-to-air television: Canada just two weeks ago aired in highlights form on Channel 4, with a combined audience of just 1.93 million tuning in.

The action started at 14:00 with 3.39m (35.7%) watching. During the early stages, audiences stayed steady around the 3.65 million mark, reaching a high of 3.75m (36.0%) at 14:45 as Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel collided. Viewing figures dipped during the red flag period to 3.45m (32.4%) at 15:00, but jumped back to 4.07m (35.5%) at 15:20. Impressively, the audience remained above four million as Hamilton and Vettel fought through the pack, with 4.31m (35.4%) watching the closing laps at 16:05.

At the time of the peak, 3.25 million viewers were watching Channel 4, with a further 1.06 million viewers watching across Sky Sports 1 and F1. The combined peak audience of 4.31 million viewers is the second highest of 2017, marginally behind Bahrain’s peak audience of 4.34m (25.9%). In that instance, the majority of the Bahrain Grand Prix was below four million viewers in the overnight viewing figures, showing the difference between a good race and a great one. The peak audience is up 464,000 viewers and 3.2 share points year-on-year.

Channel 4’s live coverage of qualifying, which aired from 12:55 to 15:30, averaged 1.19m (15.4%), an increase of 104,000 viewers and 3.9 share points on last year’s average audience of 1.08m (11.5%).

When factoring in Sky Sports 1, Sky’s programming performed well, averaging 405k (5.2%), compared with an audience last year of 306k (3.2%). Sky Sports F1 alone though was down year-on-year, averaging 281k (3.6%), with no simulcast in play last year.

Coverage of qualifying peaked with 2.21m (25.9%) at 15:05 as Hamilton claimed his 66th pole position. At the time of the peak, 1.59 million viewers were watching on Channel 4, with a further 656,000 viewers watching on Sky Sports, a ratio of 70:30. Channel 4’s coverage peaked slightly higher than 1.59m, with 1.62 million viewers (19.3%) watching at 14:55.

The combined average audience of 1.59 million viewers is up on last year’s audience of 1.39 million, a healthy increase. The peak audience of 2.21 million is up as well, albeit a smaller margin, with an increase of 55,000 viewers on last year’s number of 2.16 million viewers (20.3%).

We are moving into a phase of the season where viewing figures tend to increase, with three European races following in quick succession: Austria, Britain, and Hungary, which normally results in good viewing figures. The championship battle between Hamilton and Vettel will only help viewing figures further as we head towards the half way point of the season.

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


9 thoughts on “Brilliant Baku helps Formula 1 attract season high

  1. This post solely shows why the whole Sky exclusivity deal is going to become a complete shambles in terms of viewing figures.

    Good to see people stuck around for the second half of the race considering Hamilton had effectively lost the win.

  2. I think people stuck with it due to some good onboard camera action for a change captured the overtakes really well down the concrete canyons.

  3. I watched Sky coverage, but just yesterday happened to find an extension of C4 coverage posted on YouTube. I’ve no recollection of this extra Fan Forum billed anywhere (it wasn’t on All4 on Sunday night, as I wanted to watch their post race show, given how little Sky provided in that area) but it was just like the old Fan Forums they used to have as online extras on the BBC.

    Was this a one off special extension, just due to the long race in Baku? It wasn’t on the schedule published here.

    Is this something C4 have done before, and I just missed it? I’d be surprised since I always use YouTube to get bonus post race coverage, such as Will Buxton’s excellent Paddock Pass (but without the horrendous amount of ads they must cram in on NBC!) as well as other interesting stuff.

    It was bittersweet to be honest. I was reminded how good the old BBC coverage was, especially all their complementary online content, second screen material etc. Also it was easy to follow BBC coverage live online if travelling for example, whereas I can never get All4 to work properly like that.

    To answer the question above, I do watch FP sessions on C4 sometimes, just to avoid Sky and the dour Scottish monotone voice of Paul DI Resta or the frequent reminders Anthony Davidson inserts to assure the viewers he has had a real racing career. Fortunately Johnny Herbert filled in last weekend, where he is far better suited than his normal role of standing around the paddock aimlessly offering nothing of interest during breaks from action on the track.

    1. The forum was announced on Friday/Saturday night on C4F1’s Twitter account, and Baku was indeed the first one they’ve done – it was streamed live on their website hence no All4 schedule or upload, although was mentioned at the end of the Baku TV coverage.

      Considering it was highly demanded I can see it continuing for the rest of their live races.

      1. It seems a real waste not to put it on All4 for catch-up viewers. I guess I’ll probably be able to find it on YouTube in future, if needs be.

        One thing I liked was that they didn’t waste time reading out full Twitter handles and names too, unlike when David Croft reads out #askcrofty tweets, where he normally spends more time reading the question and the questioner’s full details than he does providing an answer!

  4. It was on their website, regarding the Fan Forum. I’m hoping that C4 can do this again when their next live race is the British Grand Prix.

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