Poor scheduling from Formula One Management hurt viewing figures for the Austrian Grand Prix in the UK this past weekend, overnight viewing figures suggest.
The race aired live across Channel 4 and Sky Sports, starting at 14:10 UK time. The latter phase of the Grand Prix clashed with the World Cup round of 16 clash between Spain and Russia, which had an adverse impact on audience figures. Last weekend was the first time Austria aired live on free-to-air television since 2003.
Live coverage of the race averaged 1.52m (15.8%) on Channel 4 from 13:00 to 16:30, their worst average audience for a live European round. Their previous lowest was for last year’s Belgian Grand Prix, which averaged 1.65m (19.6%) in the August Bank Holiday slot.
Sky’s race day show aired across their F1 channel and Main Event from 13:00 to 16:25 to an audience of 423k (4.4%), Sky’s lowest European audience since the 2015 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. 327k (3.4%) watched via the F1 channel, with 97k (1.0%) watching on Main Event.
The race started with 3.25m (35.5%) at 14:15 watching across Channel 4 and Sky Sports, around half a million viewers lower than other European races this season, such as Azerbaijan and Monaco. Nevertheless, the audience remained above three million, with 3.03m (29.9%) watching at 14:55.
However, the audience share dropped rapidly throughout the race, with new viewers heading straight for the football on BBC One. By 15:05, around half a million viewers had switched from the F1 to the football: 2.57m (23.4%) were now watching the Grand Prix, significantly lower than you would expect for a live free-to-air round at this phase of the season.
An audience of 2.50m (21.2%) watched Max Verstappen win the race at 15:30, with 1.87m (15.9%) watching via Channel 4, and 625k (5.3%) watching via one of Sky’s two channels covering the race. The audience dropped more than usual during the post-race analysis: Channel 4’s post-race show averaged fewer than half a million viewers from 16:15 onwards.
The combined average audience of 1.94 million viewers is the third race in a row where Formula 1 has recorded an average below two million viewers. The average is down 16.9 percent on last year’s figure of 2.34 million viewers when Channel 4 aired highlights, although there are clearly other factors in play this year.
Due to the unique circumstances, the peak audience came at the start of the race, with the aforementioned 3.25 million viewers at 14:15, slightly higher than last year’s peak of 3.20 million. At the time of the peak, 2.52m (27.5%) were watching on Channel 4, with 733k (8.0%) watching on Sky. Sky’s own peak actually came at 14:55, 743k (7.3%) watched the race with them during the five minutes before Spain versus Russia started.
Qualifying and Analysis
The audience quickly bolted following the qualifying session, in the same way they did the following day. Channel 4’s programme averaged 948k (12.6%) from 12:55 to 15:40, with Sky’s show averaging 246k (3.3%) from 13:00 to 15:40.
Qualifying itself peaked with 1.95m (22.1%) at 14:55, with 1.46m (16.6%) watching via Channel 4, and 489k (5.5%) watching via Sky’s F1 channel. As soon as qualifying finished, the audience slumped to under one million viewers. By 15:15, 589k (6.2%) were watching analysis on either Channel 4 or Sky.
The combined audience of 1.19 million viewers and peak audience of 1.95 million viewers are roughly around where you would expect given the strong competition and the warm weather conditions. However, both figures are down on last year’s qualifying audience for Austria.
In my piece last week, I mentioned that F1 would suffer trying to face the World Cup, and that is now turning into reality. Why F1 is being stubborn, I do not know. Next Sunday’s British Grand Prix does not face the World Cup; however, the qualifying session could clash with the build-up to England’s quarter-final clash, assuming they beat Colombia tomorrow.
The 2017 Austrian Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.