A peak audience of nearly 1.4 million viewers watched the season opening Australian Grand Prix across Sky’s portfolio of television channels, overnight viewing figures show.
The figure includes those who watched either live, or one of Sky’s repeat airings before Channel 4’s highlights programme started.
As always, this site reports overnight viewing figures supplied by Overnights.tv. The figures include those who watched between live and 02:00 the following morning, known in the industry as Live + VOSDAL (live and ‘video on same day as live’).
The audience figures reported exclude those that watched the programming via platforms such as All 4, Sky Go and Now TV.
For 2019, to present an equal measure across years, this site will continue to use a 210-minute time slot for Sky’s coverage, covering 70 minutes before lights out, to around 50 minutes after the chequered flag. This covers the last half of Pit Lane Live, all of On the Grid, the race itself, and the first half of Paddock Live.
Race – Sky live
Sky aired live coverage of the race across their F1 channel, Main Event and Sky One from 04:00 to 07:30 on Sunday morning.
An average audience of 441k (31.5%) watched the broadcast, a strong increase on last year’s figure of 344k (18.4%), and their highest Melbourne average since 2015. 291k (20.7%) watched via the F1 channel, with a further 66k (4.8%) and 84k (6.0%) watching via Main Event and Sky One respectively.
Impressively, the broadcast hit a five-minute peak of 803k (38.0%) at 06:35, an increase of 43 percent on their 2018 number of 562k (20.4%), and their highest peak audience for Australia since 2014.
The peak audience increased proportionally more than the average because Sky’s wrap around segments have rated lower in recent years than compared to their 2015 numbers.
For Sky, the story does not stop there.
Race – Sky repeats
Following the race, the broadcaster aired five repeats of the race, before Channel 4’s highlights show aired at 14:00. The first repeat began at 08:00 across the same three channels, with another repeat across F1 and Sky One afterwards.
Normally, repeats do not make a statistical difference to the overall picture, and therefore go unreported. However, the difference for Australia is significant enough to report. Accounting for the different time slots, the five repeats recorded a combined peak of 574,000 viewers as Valtteri Bottas won the Grand Prix.
In totality (from a television perspective), Sky’s audience for Australia peaked with 1.38 million viewers, around double their audience from twelve months ago, and in-line with their peak audience from 2012, including repeat airings.
Sky One is the biggest contributor, as their two re-runs peaked with 382,000 viewers collectively. It is very rare for a sporting event on pay television to add that many viewers, the early start for the race more than likely contributing to the high repeat audience.
Some of the viewers that watched the race live may have watched one of the repeats later, but that number is unlikely to be significant enough to make a major difference. Overall, the viewing figures are fantastic for Sky, and bodes well for them moving forward.
Race – Channel 4
Despite Sky’s strong gains, Channel 4 remained the biggest Formula 1 broadcaster in the UK over the weekend, but with damaged goods.
Highlights of the race averaged 1.38m (13.3%) from 14:00 to 15:55, peaking with 1.81m (17.9%). Both figures are down significantly on last year’s average of 1.71m (16.8%) and peak figure of 2.15m (18.2%).
Given Sky’s strong audience figures, the transition of viewers appears to be from Channel 4 to Sky, as opposed to fans tuning out altogether, which is good news for the sport. The drop is of concern, the highlights programme struggling to pick up any additional casual viewers.
If you look at the live airings only, the combined average and combined peak audiences of 1.83 million and 2.61 million viewers respectively are the lowest on record for Australia. In isolation, the figures paint a very bleak picture, but on this occasion, it is also a false negative.
As referenced earlier, repeats add 200,000 viewers at its limit across multiple airings. Australia was different, with it being the start of a new broadcasting contract as Formula 1 heads into a new era primarily live on pay-TV.
Adding the five repeat airings together (considering the different slot lengths) increases the combined average to 2.09 million viewers, and combined peak audience to 3.18 million viewers, a significant increase, and in-line with the past three years.
Sky’s live coverage of qualifying from 05:00 to 07:30 brought in an average audience of 283k (16.4%) across their F1 channel, Sky Sports Main Event and Sky One, an increase on last year’s audience of 252k (15.2%) over a slightly longer time slot.
The F1 channel averaged 190k (11.3%), with Main Event and Sky One bringing in 29k (1.6%) and 65k (3.5%) respectively. It is Sky’s highest audience for Melbourne qualifying since 2015, when 339k (16.4%) tuned in to watch.
Their programme peaked with 528k (22.9%) at 06:50 as the start of the final qualifying segment started, again Sky’s highest since 2015.
In comparison, Channel 4’s highlights programme averaged 1.02m (11.8%) from 12:00 to 13:25, a decrease of 157,000 viewers on last year’s average of 1.18m (15.1%). Channel 4’s coverage reached a high of 1.37m (14.5%) at 12:55, also down on last year’s figure of 1.62m (20.2%).
The dent in Channel 4’s qualifying audience is likely due to stronger competition from ITV, the free-to-air channel airing live coverage of the Six Nations rugby tie between France and Italy.
The combined audience of 1.30 million viewers is down by around 100,000 viewers year-on-year and the lowest on record, whilst the combined peak audience of 1.89 million viewers is the lowest for Australia since 2006. Neither trend changes when including Sky’s repeats before Channel 4’s highlights programme started.
A better result than Sky could have ever expected.
The worst case scenario here was that Sky struggled to increase their audience year-on-year, despite splashing the cash on blockbuster trailers. To double their audience year-on-year is a major success.
One of the drivers behind the increase was Sky One, which on its own added over half a million viewers. The first three races are airing live on Sky One, but what happens to those viewers when that disappears?
If Sky One’s viewers migrate over to the F1 channel to follow the sport, then that is great news for Sky. Similarly, the opposite is true if Sky One’s audience returns back to Channel 4’s highlights package from Baku onwards.
Australia is always one of the lowest rated races, with viewing figures tending to pick up in Bahrain, where F1 heads to next. The Sakhir race has aired live on free-to-air television since 2015, and will be a good indicator of how Formula 1’s viewership could change moving forward.
Update on March 18th at 20:10 – Not long after I posted this, Sky’s F1 lead commentator David Croft posted on Twitter that Sky’s coverage reached 2.1 milllion viewers, and combined Sky and Channel 4 reached 3.5 million viewers. For those unaware, that is the amount of viewers that watched three consecutive minutes of coverage.
The 2018 Australian Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.