F1 jumps to highest peak audience in nearly three years; beats The X Factor head-to-head

Kimi Raikkonen was the man with the X Factor in Austin on Sunday evening, helping Formula 1 climb to its highest peak audience in nearly three years, overnight UK viewing figures show.

As in Japan two weeks ago, live coverage of the race aired across Channel 4 and three of Sky’s outlets. A slight difference year-on-year is that the race started an hour earlier compared with 2017, but this does not make a material difference to audience figures.

Channel 4’s broadcast, encompassing the build-up segment and the race itself, averaged 2.55m (11.9%) from 18:00 to 21:15, a decrease of 8.4 percent on their average audience last year of 2.78m (12.8%) across a time slot of the same length.

Last year, Sky’s coverage aired on the dedicated F1 channel and Sky Sports Main Event, whereas this year Sky 1 also joined the party, boosting their total audience. An audience of 915k (4.2%) watched their output from 18:00 to 21:30, an increase of 184,000 viewers on last year’s Sky audience of 730k (3.5%).

The F1 channel averaged 533k (2.5%), with Main Event and Sky 1 adding 266k (1.2%) and 154k (0.7%) respectively. Main Event’s broadcast was shorter in length, joining the other two channels at 18:30, hence why the Sky total audience is slightly different compared to the three numbers added together.

The audience breakdown tells a fascinating story about F1’s demographics, as the Grand Prix faced multiple top-hitters on Sunday evening. The race itself started with 4.79m (22.0%) at 19:15, reaching 4.96m (22.4%) fifteen minutes later.

However, BBC One’s Strictly Come Dancing sliced nearly 700,000 viewers off Formula 1’s audience from 19:45 onwards, with the race dropping to a low of 4.25m (17.8%) at 20:10. The Grand Prix then gained 706,000 viewers in one five-minute segment as the dancing competition finished, jumping to 5.20m (23.6%) at 20:30.

Despite denting both Strictly and Doctor Who, Formula 1 was some way behind both shows. However, the Grand Prix did defeat ITV’s The X Factor head-to-head, averaging 4.62m (20.3%) in the 20:00 hour, whilst the singing competition averaged 4.02m (17.6%).

The race peaked with 5.54m (25.6%) at 20:40 as Raikkonen claimed victory for the first time since Australia 2013, denying Lewis Hamilton his fifth championship for the moment. At the time of the peak, 4.14m (19.1%) were watching Channel 4’s broadcast, a record high F1 peak for them, with 1.40m (6.4%) watching Sky’s three channels, a split of 75:25 in Channel 4’s favour.

Sky’s peak audience is their highest ever peak for races that they have shared with a free-to-air broadcaster, a remarkable statistic. Whether you are completely comparing apples with apples is up for debate, given that they have had to air the race across three of their outlets to achieve that, but it is an interesting stat nevertheless.

The combined average audience of 3.46 million viewers is the highest of 2018 so far, but marginally down on last year’s average audience of 3.51 million viewers.

The reason for this is that, a portion of the race aired against Strictly, and the race had a lower audience following the chequered flag than last year (no post-race shenanigans this time around), meaning that the average audience suffered.

However, the combined peak audience of 5.54 million viewers is considerably higher than last year’s peak audience of 5.19 million viewers, and the highest peak audience for a Grand Prix in nearly three years. The last race to record a peak of more than 5.5 million viewers was the 2015 Brazilian Grand Prix, which peaked with around 5.7 million viewers.

Channel 4’s extended build-up to qualifying performed solidly on Saturday evening, overnight audience figures show. Their live coverage, which aired from 20:25 to 23:30 averaged 1.35m (8.5%), an increase on last year’s figure of 1.18m (7.0%) across a shorter time slot.

Meanwhile, an audience of 396k (2.8%) watched Sky’s coverage across the F1 channel, Main Event and Sky 1 from 21:00 to 23:30, an increase on last year’s total of 315k (1.9%). 250k (1.7%) watched via the F1 channel, with 76k (0.6%) and 70k (0.5%) watching via Main Event and Sky 1 respectively.

Impressively, apart from the first five-minute segment, Channel 4’s build-up to qualifying remained steady, keeping north of one million viewers. The combined audience of 1.74 million viewers is the highest for USA since 2015 and the second highest of 2018 so far.

The qualifying broadcast peaked with 2.40m (18.7%) at 22:55 as the session ended, the highest for USA since 2012.

At the time of the peak, 1.67m (13.1%) were watching Channel 4, with a further 724k (5.7%) watching Sky’s broadcast. Channel 4’s show peaked earlier in the hour, with 1.76m (10.9%) at 22:15, likely because Match of the Day started on BBC One at 22:30.

This weekend, Formula 1 heads to Mexico, and with free-to-air highlights not airing until 23:00, expect the cumulative audience figures to be significantly lower as a result.

The 2017 United States Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.



3 thoughts on “F1 jumps to highest peak audience in nearly three years; beats The X Factor head-to-head

  1. The 700k drop for Strictly, what is the split between Sky and C4?
    You’ve promoted C5 to covering F1 in the third paragraph under Qualifying.

    The Strictly result is available early Sunday morning so it baffles me why so many watch the Sunday evening show.

    1. The 700k drop is a bit difficult, as it wasn’t an instant drop but rather a prolonged one from 19:45 to 20:10 and there can be noise in that as people generally flick between channels.

      The increase at 20:30 though was instant, and the increase was split 618k vs 88k in Channel 4’s favour.

      Whilst the Strictly result is available early on Sunday, I doubt many of its target audience ventures onto online forums to look. In fact, the result is relatively hidden from the mainstream pages until after the show airs.

      1. So roughly speaking, 10% of Sky viewers switched to Strictly but with C4 it was 25%. I suppose it makes sense that anyone who pays for Sky Sports does so because of their interest and are therefore more likely to continue watching irrespective of what’s on other channels. The 25% loss to Strictly on C4, accepting that this is only one sample, tends to explain the loss of around 35% of viewers when comparing C4 to the BBC. It’s simple that in excess of one million viewers watch F1 on FTA because it’s on, and not because they are regular watchers and/or fans of F1. They’ll watch until something else catches their interest.

        I’ve watched as much F1 as I can since the mid 70s but now I’m ready to give it up. Liberty have become annoying with the unnecessary on screen graphics such as the driver steering angle comparison, but adding the ‘neeiow’ was too much. I assume it was them because it sounded far too clean to be anything else. Then there was Hamilton being told on the radio that he was clear to challenge Kimi on Lap 4, it’s a race FFS. It’s bad enough that drivers need to be told such basics but to broadcast it just drags the sport down even more.
        It won’t be Pay TV that will damage the sport, although they will get the blame, but the it will be the Teams themselves. They have been given too much power and cannot get over their own self interest to see what damage they are doing.

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