A packed weekend of motor sport to kick start the traditional season saw Formula E lead the way on its BBC Two debut, overnight viewing figures show.
Formula E makes BBC Two debut
As part of their commitment to air one race on linear television, BBC aired the Hong Kong E-Prix live on BBC Two this past weekend. The race brought in a solid audience, according to audience numbers supplied by Overnights.tv.
An average of 229k (4.6%) tuned into the broadcast from 07:30 to 09:30. Sunday’s audience is an improvement on the last two seasons for Hong Kong, when the race aired on tape-delay on Channel 5.
In a positive sign, the BBC’s race coverage saw consistent growth throughout the broadcast, increasing its audience in most of the five-minute segments between 07:35 and 09:05. The race peaked with 355k (6.5%) at 09:00 as the race concluded.
It is Formula E’s highest UK audience for an Asian-based race since their first ever E-Prix in 2014. Back then, live coverage of the Beijing E-Prix on ITV4 averaged 266k (4.7%) and peaked with 477k (6.8%).
BT Sport and Eurosport make negligible difference to the overall picture, averaging 5k (0.10%) and 8k (0.16%) respectively, if anything showing the importance of free-to-air for Formula E.
For me, Formula E’s audience is solid, whether it is enough to convince the BBC to move the series off the Red Button for the latter half of the season, I do not know. If the peak was nearer to 500,000 viewers, I think the decision may be easier, that is if there is even a discussion here.
Last weekend’s race was Formula E’s first on a mainstream television channel since June last year, so expectations from a viewing figures perspective are lower as a result. With a bit of promotion, a European race could peak at around 800,000 viewers on BBC One, potentially. Time will tell if the BBC genuinely considers that a viable option this season.
MotoGP’s return peaks with 249,000 viewers on BT
A new season of MotoGP kicked off on BT Sport 2 with the Qatar GP. The leading bike series was unaffected by tough football opposition on Sky.
The race brought in an audience similar to previous years. The 90-minute MotoGP slot averaged 190k (1.3%) from 16:30 to 18:00, a slight decrease on last year’s figure of 211k (1.5%), but an increase on the 2014 and 2017 averages.
A peak of 249k (1.6%) watched as Marc Marquez and Andrea Dovizioso went wheel-to-wheel over the finish line for the second year running. The peak audience is in-line with the past two years, which peaked with 247k (1.3%) and 255k (1.9%) respectively.
Free-to-air highlights of the championship moved from Channel 5 to Quest, with the audience dropping significantly year-on-year. Quest aired two highlights shows at 18:00 and 23:00 respectively. Their premiere airing averaged 140k (0.9%), with the repeat bringing in 50k (0.8%).
The combined Quest audience of 190k is down 58 percent on Channel 5’s highlights audience for Qatar last season of 456k (2.5%). It is lower than all bar three MotoGP races on either ITV4 or Channel 5 since the highlights arrangement started in 2014.
Cumulatively, the drop for the highlights airing meant that MotoGP peaked with 513,000 viewers in the UK over the weekend, when accounting for BT’s live airing and Quest’s two repeats, a disappointing number for the championship.
As with all the figures in this piece, on demand platforms such as BT Sport’s online services and MotoGP’s VideoPass over-the-top offering are not included, which may make a small difference to the total MotoGP numbers.
IndyCar struggles on Sky return as St Pete opener plagued by technical issues
It was not a good Sunday for IndyCar, on all fronts. The series returned for a new season in St Petersburg, and with it came a change of channel for UK viewers, as the championship moved from BT Sport to Sky Sports F1.
Viewing figures struggled, with the race averaging 19k (0.11%) from 16:30 to 20:30, a decrease on last year’s BT audience of 25k (0.16%) over a shorter 200-minute time slot. Sky’s coverage peaked with 56k (0.32%) at 18:40 on Sunday, compared with 56k (0.38%) one year ago on BT.
The season opener faced MotoGP on BT and Premier League football on Sky, which may have impacted figures. Last month, F1 testing brought in a higher audience than IndyCar managed, although testing aired across the F1 channel and Main Event.
Considering the buzz when the IndyCar deal was first announced, Sky’s audience is disappointing. IndyCar, from a UK perspective, failed to move the needle outside of the Twitter bubble. However, IndyCar could benefit from cross-promotion during Sky’s main F1 coverage this year, so the picture could change as the season progresses.
The problems with Sky’s IndyCar broadcast may not have helped audience figures, although I doubt it caused a significant dent given the low base to start with.
IndyCar produces two feeds: a domestic feed for NBC, and an international feed. The feeds contain different graphics set, whilst the former is also not a continuous feed of the racing action. For St Pete, Sky aired the domestic feed ‘as-is’, breaking away to their own commercials when NBC in America went to adverts or went ‘side-by-side’.
What this meant was a downgrade on coverage offered by BT Sport in previous years. It was expected that Sky would take some commercials (@IndyCarUK understands four ad-breaks), but also utilise the feed to stay on the action for most of the race outside of yellow flag periods.
Whether Sky were unaware that the domestic feed was going to break away from the action or not is unclear. Either way, the communication between Sky Sports, NBC Sports and IndyCar needs to be clearer ready for Austin in two weeks’ time.
In a separate issue, IndyCar’s broadcast lost pictures completely for around 15 minutes on Sunday, affecting both the domestic NBC feed and the international feed. IndyStar Sports writer Jim Ayello reports that there was “a power supply failure to one of IMS Productions’ up-links due to two amplifiers overheating,” which caused the feed to go down.