Channel 4 benefits from thrilling Italian Grand Prix

Channel 4 benefited from a thrilling Italian Grand Prix last Sunday, with the Whisper Films-produced highlights programme delivering their second biggest Formula 1 highlights audience on record, overnight viewing figures show.

What do these figures cover?
For newer readers of the regular viewing figures articles on this site, it is worth a reminder of what we are comparing. From the outset, all the numbers presented are overnight viewing figures, known in the industry as live plus VOSDAL (Video on Same Day as Live), supplied by and exclude on demand outlets such as Sky Go and Now TV.

To ensure we paint a consistent picture across different seasons, this site typically uses a three-and-a-half-hour time slot for Sky’s Formula 1 coverage. As a general guideline, for European races, the slot is from 13:00 to 16:30, or 12:00 to 15:30 from 2012 to 2017.

The 210-minute block currently covers the final half of Sky’s ‘Pit Lane Live’ programme, ‘On the Grid’, and their billed ‘Race’ programme. There may be slight deviations to the time slot if the race ran shorter or longer than anticipated. Using just the ‘Race’ block paints an inaccurate picture as Sky have shortened the length of their ‘Race’ billing over the years.

For Channel 4, this site uses their complete highlights programme, and their ‘Build-Up’ and ‘Race’ segments for their live programming, the reasoning again to present a fair and accurate picture when comparing audience figures to previous years.

Historically, the early season football international break has coincided with the Italian Grand Prix, which allows Formula 1 to hoover up casual sports viewers who may otherwise be engaged in football. This past weekend was the first time since 2011 that the race did not fall during the football international break period, and the UK audience figures echo that.

Live coverage of the race, which aired exclusively on Sky Sports F1, averaged 626k (7.6%) from 13:00 to 16:30, a decrease of 26.9 percent on last year’s average audience figure of 857k (9.5%) across a slightly shorter 200-minute time slot. Last year, Sky aired the race across their F1 channel, and Sky Sports Main Event, as well as going to their post-race show ten-minutes early, which the number published on this site reflected.

The race started with 1.09m (13.5%) at 14:15, quickly reaching a peak of 1.13m (14.0%) five-minutes later at 14:20 as the race restarted following the initial Safety Car period. Viewing figures hovered around one million viewers for the duration of the race, with 1.04m (11.9%) watching Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton overtake Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen at 15:15.

Sky’s peak audience dropped compared to last year’s peak figure of 1.38m (15.0%) across the F1 channel and Main Event. Without any context, a decrease in audience figures considering the quality of the race yesterday is poor. However, the competition on Sky, such as Cardiff versus Arsenal and the conclusion of the cricket test match between England versus India, meant that F1 lost potential viewers yesterday.

Some viewers may have streamed the Grand Prix off a second device, but not all. As a collective, over two million sports fans were watching Sky yesterday afternoon, an excellent number for them, but resulted in an isolated drop for their Formula 1 audience year-on-year. It is easy to go ‘that’s a huge drop’, but there are valid reasons why on this occasion.

Highlights of the race aired on Channel 4 from 18:45 to 21:00, to an audience of 2.33m (12.5%), an increase on last year’s number of 2.15m (11.6%). Against BBC One stalwart Countryfile and ITV’s The X Factor, Channel 4’s number is excellent. It is Channel 4’s second highest number ever for a highlights show, only behind Spain which averaged 4,000 more viewers!

Unlike last year’s highlights programme, which peaked with 2.72m (16.2%) at the start of the edit and lost viewers throughout, this year, the audience increased during the edit. The broadcast climbed to a peak of 3.02m (15.5%) at 20:00, showing how the quality of the racing can also impact the free-to-air highlights positively or negatively.

The combined average audience of 2.96 million viewers is marginally down on last year’s audience of 3.01 million viewers, but up on the 2016 figure of 2.57 million viewers. In contrast, the combined peak audience of 4.15 million viewers is the highest for Italy since 2015, an increase on the past two year’s peak audiences of 4.02 million viewers and 4.11 million viewers.

Coverage of Raikkonen grabbing pole position struggled across both Sky and Channel 4 on Saturday, with decreases in both audience and viewing share.

Live coverage of qualifying on Sky Sports F1 averaged 245k (3.6%) from 13:00 to 15:40. The average audience is down on last year’s number of 363k (5.0%), however this figure is over a much longer five-hour time slot due to the rain delays Formula 1 experienced last year.

The peak audience for Sky year-on-year is roughly identical: a peak of 539k (7.8%) at 14:55 last weekend compared with 543k (6.7%) last year. Nevertheless, Sky’s figures are their lowest ever for an Italian qualifying session.

Channel 4’s highlights programme brought in 1.03m (9.4%) from 17:00 to 18:30, a drop on last year’s figure of 1.39m (11.5%) in a later time slot. Their programme peaked with 1.46m (12.0%), also down on the peak audience in 2017 of 1.92m (14.0%). Certainly, the earlier time slot hurt both metrics for Channel 4.

The combined average audience of 1.27 million viewers is down by half a million viewers on the 2017 number of 1.75 million viewers; with the peak audience of 2.00 million viewers down by a similar margin.

The 2017 Italian Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.


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