F1 1,000 fails to lift UK television audience

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.



9 thoughts on “F1 1,000 fails to lift UK television audience

  1. Is the Sky deal falling apart for them already or is this just a blip? With docial media, you can see the result pretty much straight after the race has finished, so what’;s the point of watching highlights?

  2. I’m not sure that you can use Premier League footie on Sky at the same time as C4 highlights show as a reason for the C4 shows poorer performance, can you David?
    Surely, if you are a Sky subscriber with any interest in F1, you will have already watched it on Sky 1/Main Event/F1 or will watch the Sky repeats. It would seem perverse to pay for Sky then choose to watch the highlights on C4 instead (barring those who don’t get on with the Sky presentation, natch!).

  3. 1000th Race of Formula 1 was achieving a big milestone but China race disappointed the Fans, Many viewers protested this by now seeing the race live and those who watches the race live were disappointed too. AS per Formula1Online Highlights they received very less visitors at race time as compare to previous races.

  4. Sky have a big problem on there hands. Putting the first 3 races on ‘free’ Sky channels in order to get new viewers has kind of backfired on them with 2 dull races and a Merc 1-2 for all races so far.
    Older fans are calling time on F1 and younger, new ones certainly won’t subscribe after watching the first 3 races.
    If you offer free or teaser content, it has to be GREAT to get people join/sign up when there are so many other options these days.
    I guess its not really Skys fault but they also don’t help themselves with pretty poor pre-post coverage either. Its tired and stale.
    I feel for Channel 4 as they did have very good coverage but having highlights hours after the race will never work in this day and age. Years ago, it worked but with everyone prob spending more time on Fakebook, Twitter etc and having news in the palm of yout hand, its very hard not to stumble over the result… and when they see a Merc 1-2, its probably not watching is it?

    1. You’re right about the results being ‘in your face’. The BBC, naturally because they broadcast live on 5 Live, often show it on page 1 of their Website. Curiously though it quickly disappears from their TV news in the evenings – they have never truly believed in F1 since losing TV rights many years ago and don’t give it a fraction of the coverage as football gets. I usually refer to 5 live as radio football, it’s everywhere.

  5. Ch4’s coverage has suffered dramatically since the stringent SKY-imposed reduction in content this year such as the grid walk, paddock interviews and so forth. There was barely an interview with any driver or team principal. SKY’s figures speak for themselves, hardly a mass exodus from FTA. Disastrous. I don’t expect the situation to improve once European races force Ch4’s coverage into an unfavourable time slot in peak Sunday night viewing.

    1. It was particularly galling when Steve Jones had to plug the live race coverage on Sky at the end of Channel 4’s qualifying programme, concluding with “but I hope you’ll stay here on Channel 4 for the highlights”. I guess that’s part of the deal now as well. Thanks a lot Bernie!

  6. I wouldn’t be surprised if Ch4 don’t renew their contract for 2021. This deal with Sky is already damaging F1 and will continue to do so.

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