Lewis Hamilton’s victory in Formula 1’s 1,000th race failed to lift the UK’s television audience for the sport significantly according to overnight viewing figures.
For the third race in succession, live coverage aired across Sky’s Formula 1 channel, Sky Sports Main Event, and Sky’s general entertainment outlet Sky One, to boost their total reach during the early phase of the season.
As always, all audience figures exclude those who watched on demand, via the likes of Sky Go, Now TV and All 4.
Race – Sky live
To present a fair and transparent picture historically, this site continues to use a 210-minute time slot for Sky’s F1 coverage on race day. For China, this covers the period from 06:00 to 09:30.
> Ratings: an explainer
During this time slot, Sky’s coverage averaged 543k (14.5%), their highest audience for China since 2015, and a year-on-year increase of 9.7 percent, or 48,000 viewers. An audience of 301k (8.3%) watched via the F1 channel, with an additional 82k (2.3%) watching via Main Event and 159k (3.9%) watching via Sky One.
Worryingly, the proportion of viewers watching via Sky Sports F1 has dropped since Australia. 66 percent of Sky’s audience for the Melbourne live race day programme came from Sky Sports F1, compared with 60% in Bahrain and 56% in China.
Sky’s broadcast peaked with 1.02m (18.9%) at 08:40 as Hamilton won the Grand Prix. At the time of the peak, 498k (9.2%) were watching via Sky Sports F1, with 164k (3.0%) and 360k (6.7%) watching via Main Event and Sky One respectively.
Aided by the Sky One simulcast, Sky’s collective peak audience increased by 20.6 percent year-on-year, resulting in their highest peak audience for China since 2014.
Race – Sky highlights and Channel 4
Following the race, four repeat airings aired across Sky’s three outlets.
As in Australia four weeks ago, the repeats make a (smaller) statistical difference to the result, with a combined peak audience of 357,000 viewers watching. Sky One contributed the most: their single repeat airing peaked with 162k (2.6%) at 11:30.
Channel 4’s highlights show fared badly on Sunday afternoon, with opposition from both The Masters golf on BBC Two, as well as Premier League football on Sky Sports.
Highlights of the race averaged just 1.28m (10.9%) from 15:00 to 17:00, peaking with 1.68m (14.3%), one of their lowest ever audiences for an F1 highlights programme. Both measures dropped by 32 percent year-on-year, with their peak audience down 800,000 viewers on last year’s figure of 2.48m (20.6%).
Last year’s programme did unusually well, helped by the dramatic finale involving Daniel Ricciardo. In 2016 and 2017, the Shanghai highlights show averaged around 1.6 million viewers, which would result in a slightly less severe drop of around 20 percent for 2019.
Based on Sky’s live airing only the combined average audience of 1.82 million viewers and combined peak audience of 2.70 million viewers are the lowest for China on record, by some margin.
Adding in Sky’s repeat airings brings the average to around 1.98 million viewers, with the peak audience lifting to 3.01 million viewers, resulting in a higher peak figure than both 2016 and 2017.
The fact that we need to perform an additional calculation to bring F1’s 2019 viewing figures in line with previous years, which in turn was down from the phase before that, shows that the situation is not ideal by any stretch of the imagination.
Qualifying and Analysis
Live coverage of qualifying averaged 288k (9.8%) from 06:00 to 08:30 across Sky’s three channels, their highest qualifying audience for China since 2016. 171k (6.1%) watched via the F1 channel, with 45k (1.6%) watching on Main Event and 72k (2.1%) watching on Sky One.
Later in the day, 770k (10.6%) watched Channel 4’s highlights from 13:00 to 14:30, a decrease on last year’s figure of 840k (11.0%) and their lowest ever for China.
The combined audience of 1.06 million viewers is slightly higher than last year’s figure of 1.02 million viewers, but down on the 2017 figure of 1.12 million viewers.
Three races in, and it is increasingly clear that Sky’s decision to air the first three races of 2019 on Sky One is skewing the audience figures presented, with a large audience choosing to watch via the entertainment outlet.
Inevitably, and also by design, the Sky One simulcast has resulted in a deflated audience for Channel 4. With Sky One’s simulcast disappearing from Baku, expect Channel 4’s viewing figures to increase by a significant margin moving forward.
Based on the early evidence, it appears that F1’s UK viewing figures in totality will drop across the course of the season. By how much, and on what scale at this stage is difficult to quantify.
As I said after Australia, and again after Bahrain, Azerbaijan is the decisive test for F1 this season, and should give us our first sign of what ‘the new normal’ is moving forward.
The 2018 Chinese Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.