Mexican Grand Prix loses 40 percent of TV audience with no live FTA presence

The Mexican Grand Prix dropped around 40 percent year-on-year, with live coverage exclusively on Sky Sports, overnight viewing figures show.

Live coverage of Lewis Hamilton’s championship winning race attracted a weighted average of 1.09m (4.8%) from 18:00 to 21:30 across Sky Sports F1 and their Main Event channel. The weighted average represents an increase of 23 percent on Sky’s 2015 average audience for Mexico of 885k (4.0%).

Sky Sports F1’s coverage averaged 768k (3.5%), with Sky Sports Main Event bringing in 373k (1.6%) across a shorter three-hour time slot from 18:30. As always, audience figures presented here exclude viewers who watched via Sky’s online Now TV and Sky Go platforms.

Channel 4’s highlights programme aired from 22:30 to 00:45 to an audience of 1.05m (15.4%), slightly lower than Sky’s live programme average. Saying that, for the time slot, the audience share for Channel 4’s show is solid, even if the average audience is low by Formula 1’s standards.

The combined average audience of 2.13 million viewers is the lowest since the Canadian Grand Prix in June, which averaged 1.93 million viewers in similar circumstances. The audience for Mexico is the reverse of the previous round in Austin, with Austin live on free-to-air television.

Last year, the Mexican Grand Prix aired live on free-to-air television, and the year-to-year decline of 43 percent reflects that fact. An audience of 3.77 million viewers watched the race last year live on Sky and Channel 4. This year’s average audience number also ends the streak of five races on the bounce where F1’s audience has increased compared with 2016.

Compared with the 2015 United States Grand Prix, where Hamilton claimed his third World Drivers’ Championship, Sky’s audience is marginally lower this year, whilst Channel 4 as you would expect is significantly down on the BBC’s numbers from back then.

USA 2017 Mexico 2017 Difference
Channel 4 2.78 million
1.05 million (highlights) 1.73 million
Sky Sports 0.73 million 1.09 million 0.36 million
Total 3.51 million 2.13 million 1.38 million

A peak audience of 1.63m (6.5%) watched Max Verstappen win the Grand Prix live on Sky, with 1.05m (4.2%) watching via the dedicated F1 channel, and a further 572k (2.3%) watching via Main Event. Later, a peak of 1.55m (16.6%) watched Channel 4’s race edit begin at 23:00.

The combined peak audience of 3.17 million viewers is also the lowest since Canada in June, with a similar trajectory to the average. The peak figure is down 39 percent compared with the equivalent number of 5.13 million viewers recorded last year.

Qualifying and Analysis
Sky Sports aired coverage of qualifying across the F1 channel and Main Event to a weighted audience of 423k (2.1%). The F1 channel averaged 343k (1.7%) from 18:00 to 20:40, with Main Event averaging 129k (0.6%) from 19:00 onwards.

Highlights on Channel 4 averaged 873k (6.1%) from 22:00 to 23:35, resulting in a combined average of 1.30 million viewers, a drop of around 270,000 viewers compared with last year’s figure of 1.57 million viewers.

The fact of the matter is that Formula 1 suffers badly when race highlights air in a late-night time slot. Those of you that have followed this site historically will know that the free-to-air broadcaster cannot air the race until a specific number of hours after the race has ended. In the case of Mexico, Channel 4 will have been unable to air the race earlier, I dare say costing the broadcaster at least half a million viewers if not more.

So, where did the 1.38 million viewers ‘disappear’ to between USA and Mexico? Sky Go and Now TV will make up some of the gap. Both of those outlets would have recorded a higher audience than USA, with some Channel 4 floating viewers opting to buy a Now TV day pass for the race. Sky never release the numbers publicly, and in any event, the numbers are likely to be small in the context of the 1.38 million viewer gap.

Channel 4’s highlights programme will have a larger proportion of ‘catch-up’ viewing compared with usual, some recording their show to watch on Monday. Lastly, BBC’s Radio 5 Live programming will have benefited with no live free-to-air television coverage. Combined, those three factors will claw some of the gap back, but not all of it by any stretch of the imagination.

The harsh reality is that floating viewers will not chase down Formula 1 on Sky. When Formula 1 is not live on free-to-air, viewers choose other options. On Sunday evening, that may have been BBC One’s offering of Strictly Come Dancing and Blue Planet II, both of which attracted over ten million viewers.

I cannot emphasise just how much F1 loses out when prime time races air exclusively live behind a pay-wall. The sport is missing a vital opportunity to reach thousands of new motor racing fans. You cannot get that level of exposure anywhere else. Arguably, this element is by far the biggest failing of the 2012 to 2018 contract cycle, initiated by the BBC in July 2011.

Because of the championship battle ending in Mexico, Channel 4 have decided to air the Brazilian Grand Prix in the same time slot as Mexico, when they are contractually able to air it from 20:00 onwards (last year they chose 22:00). I suspect the rating for Brazil will be nasty…

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


8 thoughts on “Mexican Grand Prix loses 40 percent of TV audience with no live FTA presence

  1. As f1 fan since 1988 I feel this year as been turning point for me. I did not watch any of the Japan or Mexico races all though the box recorded the high lights . Would like to watch Brazil live but can’t be bothered with Abu Dhabi race as I think the track is dull.

  2. It’s ruined as well because the news always broadcasts the result before C4 have shown the highlights. ITV news, Sky news and news app notifications totally ruined it so there was no point in watching it really.

  3. This might be an arrogant thing to say, but Bernie didn’t care for the viewers, all he cared about was money, Sky offered the most and he went with it. As a consequence of his actions, F1 is suffering – its as simple as that.

    1. Well Bernies job was to get the most return on CVC’s investment in the shortest period so he did exactly that. I don’t recall that much hue and cry from the teams or FIA at the time.

      Personally it’s turned me right off F1 that I can’t watch all the races live. By the time it’s Sky only I won’t really be missing it. I refuse point blank to give any money to the likes of Murdoch.

  4. And after 2018 the viewing figures will get lower and lower, I have Sky Sports Mix which I remember reading that highlights and some live races would be shown on that , so I am hopeful this still stands.

    However live coverage behind paywall only will damage the sport massively and only diehards will be watching it, no casual viewers or anything like that, I got hooked watching f1 because my Dad watched it on a Sunday afternoon on BBC 2, how many kids will miss out this chance because its not payable only?

    My mate watches the race live if on C4 but if highlights never bothers, he always asks me if it’s live and if not he doesn’t bother watching it.

    Maybe there will be a good option of legal streaming from the F1 website from 2019 ? it’s possible I guess.

    It’s a shame that something that I have watched since about 1986 will now cost me a minimum of £40 to watch it in the future, whether I do or not I don’t know. That said I did use Now TV for the Mexican GP as it was the potential title decider, but otherwise I would of stuck with the highlights.

  5. It’s a shame you were unable to give Sky even a minuscule bit of credit. That’s still a great rating considering it was up against Strictly, Blue Planet and X Factor.

    For an independent blog, your bias towards C4/Whisper seems fairly clear.

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