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.