Lewis Hamilton’s victory in a dramatic Bahrain Grand Prix peaked with 3.8 million viewers across Sky’s and Channel 4’s television platforms, overnight audience figures show.
As in Australia two weeks ago, live coverage of the race aired across Sky Sports F1 and Sky’s general entertainment outlet Sky One. Viewing figures exclude those who watched via on demand platforms, such as Sky Go, Now TV and All 4.
> Ratings: an explainer
Sky’s offering from 15:00 to 18:30 averaged 1.00m (9.2%), their highest ever audience for Bahrain.
An audience of 607k (3.6%) watched via the F1 channel, with a further 397k (3.6%) watching on Sky One, whereas the F1 channel only last year averaged 524k (3.7%) when live coverage also aired on Channel 4.
What is fascinating is the trajectory of the two channels during the race, as the race faced fierce opposition from Liverpool versus Tottenham, also on Sky.
The F1 channel peaked with 1.04m (10.7%) as the race started, but dropped below one million viewers from 16:30 onwards when the football match started. In contrast, Sky One’s simulcast, which may have attracted a different type of viewer, rose significantly throughout the race, peaking with a strong 755k (5.9%) as the race concluded.
All of this leads to a combined peak audience of 1.71m (13.9%) for Sky’s programme at 17:30. At the time of the peak, 994k (8.1%) were watching via Sky F1, with 715k (5.8%) watching via Sky One.
Channel 4’s highlights programme struggled against BBC One juggernaut Line of Duty, averaging 1.39m (8.2%) from 21:00 to 23:00.
However, Channel 4’s audience jumped by half a million viewers as the BBC One programme finished, peaking with 2.05m (13.4%) as the race edit finished. Channel 4’s audiences dropped by over 40 percent from last year, when they covered the Bahrain race live.
The lack of live free-to-air presence, amongst other factors, meant that the combined audience of 2.39 million viewers is down by 504,000 viewers on twelve months ago. The combined peak audience of 3.75 million viewers is down by 698,000 viewers, both down by around 16 percent year-on-year.
The Bahrain average is the lowest on record for the Sakhir circuit, whilst the peak figure is the lowest since 2007.
Live coverage of qualifying also aired across both Sky’s F1 channel and Sky One, with an audience of 340k (5.1%) watching from 14:00 to 16:30. 228k (3.4%) watched via the F1 channel, with 111k (1.7%) watching on Sky One.
Sky’s average is up on their 2018 combined audience of 273k (2.5%) when Channel 4 covered the action live. However, their average audience is down on their qualifying numbers from 2012 to 2017 for Bahrain.
Qualifying unusually recorded a five-minute peak figure at 15:05, with 568k (8.7%) watching half way through Q1. The individual Sky Sports F1 and Sky One peaks came at different times: Sky F1 with 431k (6.6%) at 15:15 and Sky One with 176k (2.4%) at 15:50.
The peak audience is up on last year’s Sky figure of 497k (3.9%), but again down on the 2012 to 2017 figures.
Channel 4’s highlights programme averaged 1.13m (7.2%) from 19:00 to 20:30, peaking with 1.52m (9.7%) as their qualifying edit ended.
The combined average audience of 1.47 million viewers is up by 114,000 viewers on last year’s figure, but the peak metric of 2.09 million viewers is down by over 200,000 viewers on last year’s equivalent number.
For various reasons, Australia is a bit of an outlier where viewing figures are concerned, and Bahrain tends to give a ‘truer’ picture of the state of play.
A drop of over half a million viewers year-on-year looks bad, and rightly so. However, the race last year clashed with Chelsea versus West Ham, whereas this year it clashed with Liverpool versus Tottenham.
Even if F1 aired live on free-to-air television yesterday, audiences may still have dropped with the tougher football opposition, maybe not by half a million viewers though. Yesterday’s peak audience of 3.76 million viewers is closest to the 2016 peak of 4.01 million viewers.
When you combine the football with Line of Duty, and Mother’s Day in the UK, it makes for the perfect storm, where actually F1’s viewing figures look worse than what they are.
However, to swing the debate the other way, a dramatic race such as yesterday’s may have sent more viewers towards the F1 had it aired live on free-to-air television instead of behind a pay wall on Sky, an argument supported by the trajectory for Sky One’s audience figures.
As in Australia two weeks ago, Sky One’s viewing figures were strong in Bahrain. But again, where are those viewers heading after China? Does Sky continue to air F1 races on Sky One, which in turn would make a mockery of their ‘best-ever offer‘?
It is a worry because Sky One’s figures could be hiding the true drop that is yet to come moving forward, unless all of Sky One’s viewers migrate either to the Sky F1 channel or to Channel 4’s highlights.
If few of Sky One’s viewers have opted in to Sky Sports F1, then that is a major concern beyond the Chinese Grand Prix, which takes place in two weeks’ time.
The 2018 Bahrain Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.