Young: Sky “need to do a better job” explaining different options to audience

Sky Sports’ Head of Formula 1 has admitted that the broadcaster needs to do a better job of explaining the different viewing options available to fans.

Scott Young, their Head of F1, was speaking in front of industry experts, including Motorsport Broadcasting, on stage at the Black Book Motorsport Forum event. In a session that also included broadcaster Steve Rider and Eurosport’s incoming Head of Motorsport Gernot Bauer, the three discussed the future of motor sport broadcasting.

Young was clear stakeholders need to do more to articulate the different options available to the viewing public.

“You can either subscribe to Sky and then upgrade to Sky Sports for a year, or you can go to Now TV, which is our streaming platform, and buy the race for a day,” Young said.

“Our app has our live feed, plus our race control channels, which has nine on-boards and some data feeds on it. Sky Go, if you are a customer, you can take it out to the pub and set it up the way you want to.”

“I think we need to do a better job of explaining that we are portable and that you don’t need to commit to us for a year to actually enjoy Formula 1.”

The statement comes off the back of an extensive pre-season marketing campaign from Sky, which saw them launch their ‘best ever’ F1 television offer encompassing the whole season.

Sky’s television offer received far more publicity than their Now TV season pass offer, which allowed F1 fans to watch all 21 races for a one-off payment of £195.00.

Young outlined that Sky have done “a lot of research” which shows that the average fan dips in and out of the F1 action each season, watching around a third of the races. “The audience, it taps out at about seven. So, after seven races pretty much you can repeat everything you do,” he added.

Sky “taking a deep dive look” at how people consume F1
One of the major topics of conversation throughout the session was how motor sport can entice younger people towards their offering, and Young noted that Sky are currently reviewing how audiences consume the sport.

“We know that we need to tap into a new and younger generation if we’re going to have a successful run of five and a half years,” Young said.

“We’ve got the youngest average age of 47 across all the sports channels. That means we should be focusing on a decade and a half under that, and how we target those people. We need to work with Formula 1 and others to make it happen.”

“A key part of F1’s strategy as well is to make sure there is a growth audience coming through, and what is it that they want to consume. We need to work out where the audience is coming from and what the audience wants.”

“Whether it’s long or short form programming I don’t think that’s necessarily to answer at the moment.”

Sky’s statistics, which Young quoted, show that 82 percent of their F1 audience watch the race from lights out to the podium, but Young ruled out tailoring their output to cover just the World Feed content, instead creating different content for different audiences.

“If the Grand Prix is 90 minutes, we want people to watch not only the 90 minutes, but the extraordinary effort that our amazing team puts into the pre and post-race packaging programming that goes around it. I think you need to make programming curated for a different audience, on an A.M. and F.M. level at the same time,” Young believes.

“After the 90-minute lead-up shows that we typically make, we hope that everybody understands the full picture from the lead up days.”

“They’ve heard from the stars and heroes of the sport and they understand that when the lights go out and Crofty picks up his famous line that there is knowledgeable they can possibly be across the depth of knowledge that they have, and that’s an art that every sports producer needs to be able to work on how you do that.”

“And that’s why we have a fairly deep roster of people, because each time that our talented hosts asks each one of the numerous people next to them what the answer is, they all know the answer, but it’s the way in which they interpret the question back that the audience picks up, is how they see this to be different.”

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New circuit, new challenges: preparing for MotoGP’s KymiRing adventure

A new circuit on the motor racing calendar is a challenge, not only for the racers, but for everyone involved in the championship, with many hours involved to ensure everything goes swimmingly.

Next year, MotoGP heads to the new KymiRing circuit in Finland for the first time, and preparations are already underway to ensure that the event happens without a hitch. Last week, six riders participated in a two-day test session, inaugurating the track.

The test was also the first time that MotoGP’s production team had visited the facility. Sergi Sendra, who is Dorna’s Senior Director for Media Content, Television and Production, gave me the low-down on how the test went, from a broadcasting perspective.

The logistics of a new event
For readers unaware, Dorna are MotoGP’s commercial rights holder, and have been since 1992. “I remember at the beginning it was tougher for us to arrive to a place and design which positions we would have, but now it is easier with experience,” Sendra tells me.

Races on the MotoGP calendar broadly fit into two categories from a logistical perspective: European and non-European. Sendra does not expect any surprises on the logistical front for Finland, as all the logistics from a broadcasting perspective sits within Dorna instead of third-party suppliers.

“The resources to accomplish the goal of having a stable Grand Prix in terms of logistics is going to be the same as at any other European round,” Sendra adds.

“We shouldn’t have any surprises on that front. We bring the scaffolds, the power supplies (with a triple generator group), the posts for the antennas, the cables, the fibre, it’s all ours. We never expect the local people to provide the key things. We make sure we have the same conditions, comfort, and practicability that we have in other circuits.”

The main difference, of course, is the layout of the circuit which varies from weekend to weekend. A typical MotoGP event has between 20 to 25 cameras track side, which gives Dorna enough scope to change the perspective on offer lap-by-lap.

“One camera should have a wide range of coverage from the in-point to the end-point,” he says. “This will help to have no gap in the coverage, when you cut from camera to camera.”

“What you want is a comfortable zone, where both cameras overlay for us to cut and have a good continuity for the viewer.”

Even with existing events, Dorna are always reviewing the existing camera angles on offer, to see if there is further room for refinement. Sendra gives Brno as an example, where Dorna have changed some angles in recent years to give MotoGP fans a different view of the circuit, whilst keeping to the core principles.

> Behind the scenes with BT Sport’s MotoGP team [2018] (planning, evolution)

What Dorna does not currently have for new circuits is the ability to simulate camera angles using 3D graphics months before the event which, although Sendra says would be beneficial, is not worthwhile given that new races are rare.

“This map [for Finland] in 3D will arrive later. We would make simulations if we had a 3D map that we could put in our computer and then start playing.”

“We wanted to do this a long time ago, but it takes a team to prepare the maps, and we don’t have this yet,” Sendra explains. “If we had five or six new circuits every year, then we should have it, but actually going to the circuit is better.”

“When you go to the circuit, you see it changing in front of your eyes, you can experiment with it, take cameras and film, which is the best way. We take the GPS positions exactly, and photos of everything to refer to later.”

“In any case, I think with the knowledge we have, we can presume and predict things that can also be done with computer.”

Visiting KymiRing
Normally when a new race is added to any Grand Prix calendar, whether it be Formula 1, Formula E, or in this case MotoGP, the production team working on the series will visit the circuit to perform a recce. The purpose of the recce is to firm up the exact details (i.e. deciding camera angles), and to iron out any potential risks ahead of time.

On the desk in front of myself and Sendra at Silverstone is a map of the KymiRing circuit, which Sendra and his team have heavily annotated, during and following their two-day visit.

2019 MotoGP - KymiRing.jpg
A map of the KymiRing, annoted by Dorna showing their current line of thinking ahead of MotoGP’s inaugural race at the circuit. All the red circles with numbers written inside (from 1 to 23) are the current proposed track side camera positions.

With only a handful of laps on the board during day one due to heavy rain, the TV team walked the track to scope out their initial thinking.

Immediately obvious to all was the scenery that surrounds the circuit, the nearest city twenty minutes away by car. The scenery, along with the elevation change from corner to corner, presents Dorna with an opportunity to highlight the best of Finland.

“The nice thing about this track is that it is surrounded by beautiful trees, nice Finland forest. We were looking for positions where we can see more of the nature,” Sendra tells me.

“It’s quite wild, and I’m sure we will look for the animals to capture the atmosphere. There are a lot of animals, not here, but close to here!”

“The second thing is the shape of the corners, the vision of the corners from the positions. It’s very different to Thailand, which is flat and very easy from that perspective, whereas Finland has a lot of up’s and down’s.”

“Here, there are spots that you cannot see, where there are trees in between. We like that, because it will give personality to the event.”

Throughout their visit, Sendra and his team are comparing KymiRing to MotoGP’s existing portfolio of circuits, although this is a challenge (in a good way for Sendra). Sendra says that KymiRing “is a completely different shape which is very good, because it enriches the championship.”

The second day allowed Dorna to confirm their thinking from day one, adjusting the positions slightly based on the action that was unfolding in front of them.

During the visit, Dorna try to ‘second guess’ where the hot spots are in terms of action. Turns 1, 4, 5 and 13 all have two camera angles to capture potential overtakes, whilst the 1.2 kilometre back straight requires a different approach.

Sendra continues “At the end of a straight, there will be braking points, so two cameras are necessary. If the straight is as long as this, we will have to split it, because with one camera will be boring. In the case of Finland, there are three spot cameras.”

“One at the beginning, let us say 350 meters, another one at 300 more, and then two at the end. There will be, for sure, overtaking at the end of this straight.”

One area of the circuit that Dorna believes will be a hot spot is the final bend, which may remind readers of the Fuji Speedway in Japan. Sendra expects the final corner to be “crazy” with Dorna opting to place more cameras down at that section than they usually would, for 2020 at least.

“It’s quite wide here, and we wanted to see a camera from outside and inside at the same time. We believe the corner is going to be better seen from outside than inside, but then all the cameras are inside so this is something you solve when you’re directing.”

“The final bend goes up, then goes down [heading to the finish line], it’s really very different compared to other places. All are quite flat to the finish line, only Saschsenring goes up.”

“We will have more cameras here the first time to make sure we don’t miss anything. If somebody likes to make a last lap overtake here like in Austria, then we must see it from various angles.”

Outside of the circuit itself, Dorna are figuring out their own logistics. The paddock being on the outside as opposed to the inside means that the television compound will be in a different location to usual, more than likely on the outside of turn one, Sendra tells me.

Moving forward
Whilst the track itself is finished, the surrounding area is still under construction, and it will not be long before the production team are back.

“Once we’ve set the camera spots, then it will be the people from the technical side to calculate lengths, accesses and everything else that surrounds this,” Sendra says.

“Normally we do two or three rehearsals. For TV, two rehearsals is the minimum to make sure we arrive during the week of a Grand Prix and nothing is forgotten, and everything is on the spot.”

Even with rehearsals, nothing is better preparation than a race weekend, and Sendra says that, it can take two or three year for the direction to gel on a new circuit.

“Honestly, we will have to wait until the first race, wet or dry, to understand if we made the right choices. The first weekend we will spend in Finland with a real experience, with three classes, races and practices, it will allow us to improve for the next year.”

“And I can more or less tell you that for us it takes between two and three years to stabilise the circuit, to have a good knowledge, because one year it will be hotter than the other, maybe it rains, it’s never the same.”

Now with a lot more information than before following the inauguration of the circuit, Dorna’s television team have a better sense of what they are dealing with ahead of the first MotoGP race at KymiRing next year.

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Scheduling: The 2019 Belgian Grand Prix

After the Summer break, Formula 1 heads to Spa for the Belgian Grand Prix! With nine races remaining until the season finale in Abu Dhabi on December 1st, can anyone stop Lewis Hamilton from winning his sixth Drivers’ Championship?

All nine races air exclusively live on Sky Sports. Sky will be thin on the ground in Belgium, with both Anthony Davidson and Paul di Resta at Silverstone for the start of the 2019-20 World Endurance Championship season (airing live on BT Sport/ESPN). Ted Kravitz is also absent, returning to the team in Monza next time out.

Meanwhile on the Channel 4 front, Mark Webber joins Steve Jones and David Coulthard in the paddock for their highlights offering. Slightly unusual is the fact that Channel 4’s qualifying highlights air at 18:00 instead of 18:30, but this is still three hours after qualifying ends, so still within their contractual obligations.

Channel 4 F1
31/08 – 18:00 to 19:30 – Qualifying Highlights
01/09 – 19:00 to 21:00 – Race Highlights

Sky Sports F1
30/08 – 09:45 to 11:55 – Practice 1
30/08 – 13:45 to 15:50 – Practice 2
31/08 – 10:45 to 12:30
=> 10:45 – Practice 3
=> 12:10 – Paddock Walkabout
31/08 – 13:00 to 15:35 – Qualifying
=> 13:00 – Pre-Show
=> 13:55 – Qualifying (also Sky Sports Main Event from 14:15)
01/09 – 12:30 to 17:00 – Race
=> 12:30 – Pit Lane Live
=> 13:30 – On the Grid
=> 14:05 – Race
=> 16:00 – Paddock Live

Supplementary Programming
29/08 – 14:00 to 14:30 – Drivers’ Press Conference
29/08 – 17:00 to 17:30 – Welcome to the Weekend
30/08 – 16:30 to 17:00 – The Story so Far
31/08 – 16:45 to 17:15 – The F1 Show
04/09 – 20:00 to 20:30 – F1 Midweek Debrief

BBC Radio F1
All sessions are available live on BBC’s F1 website
30/08 – 09:55 to 11:35 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
30/08 – 13:55 to 15:35 – Practice 2 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
31/08 – 10:55 to 12:05 – Practice 3 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
31/08 – 13:55 to 15:05 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
01/09 – 14:00 to 16:00 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)

European Le Mans Series – Silverstone (BT Sport Extra 4)
Also airs live on YouTube
31/08 – 14:00 to 19:15 – Race

Formula Two – Belgium (Sky Sports F1)
30/08 – 11:55 to 12:45 – Practice
30/08 – 15:50 to 16:30 – Qualifying
31/08 – 15:35 to 16:45 – Race 1
01/09 – 10:05 to 11:05 – Race 2

Formula Three – Belgium (Sky Sports F1)
30/08 – 17:00 to 17:35 – Qualifying Tape-Delay
31/08 – 09:30 to 10:20 – Race 1
01/09 – 08:40 to 09:30 10:05 to 11:05 – Race 2

IndyCar Series – Portland (Sky Sports F1)
31/08 – 23:00 to 00:30 – Qualifying (also Sky Sports Main Event)
01/09 – 20:00 to 23:00 – Race

Porsche Supercup – Belgium (Sky Sports F1)
01/09 – 11:25 to 12:05 – Race

Speedway Grand Prix – Germany (BT Sport 3)
31/08 – 17:45 to 21:15 – Races

World Endurance Championship – 4 Hours of Silverstone (BT Sport/ESPN)
01/09 – 12:00 to 16:00 – Race

As always, the schedule will be updated if plans change.

Update on September 1st at 09:05 – Due to the death of Anthoine Hubert during yesterday’s Formula Two race, the second Formula Two race of the weekend has been cancelled. The second Formula Three race moves into the slot occupied by Formula Two.

Lee McKenzie on the art of broadcasting

Lee McKenzie is a name familiar to many readers of Motorsport Broadcasting, having covered motor sport for many years, as well as other forms of sport.

I sat down with her a couple of weeks ago at the W Series season finale in Brands Hatch, as we discussed a range of topics, from her upbringing and interview style, to giving advice to budding journalists coming through the ranks.

You’ve been around motor racing a lot since you were younger, through your Dad [Bob].

I was going to Formula 1 races when I was ten years old, I’ve known Bernie since I was a small child. My Dad was at Senna’s funeral, and wrote books on both Damon and Nigel. I’ve been surrounded by all this, in different sports, not just motor sport, all my life.

I started out as a rugby journalist and I started in equestrian, my two real passions. People just associate motor racing with me because that’s what they’ve been watching. I love doing the Paralympics, Para sport, Wimbledon, all that kind of thing. I’ve not done a full F1 season since 2012, it’s never been my only job, it’s never been my first job!

You go to other sports, and you think “actually F1 does this really well,” and then you go to other sports and meet other athletes, and think “yeah, we could learn from that.” There’s always a roundness to doing many other things, because it makes you more complete as a person.

I have been fortunate to have had that upbringing, but I wouldn’t have had a job had I not been good. I know that may sound arrogant, but if I was just somebody’s daughter, I wouldn’t have had a long career.

This year you have been presenting the new W Series. Has it been a different style of presenting for you, or do you tackle all sports similarly?

It doesn’t matter what sport I present; I present them all in a similar way. It takes an awful lot of prep, it’s not just the bit you see on camera. But I’ve thought the quality of racing has been fantastic.

It’s hard selling any television programme when the sport doesn’t do it justice, so the fact that the racing has been of such a high quality is great. It’s an easy sell from that point of view.

A lot of what you’re doing is reacting to the sport that’s been. Prepping for an Olympics or a Commonwealth Games is much, much harder. There are so many countries, sports, people. Here, I only need to know about 18 to 20 people, a few of whom I knew anyway.

We do a lot of filming in advance, so not everything we’re doing in that two hours. I’ve written all my scripts by the time I’ve got here; I’ve got the running order.

There’s a lot of blank sections that you fill in after qualifying, the whole of part two I can’t write a single word for yet, but that’s the excitement. And you obviously can’t write the ending of any television programme on sport, not a single thing, but I love that bit.

You’ve covered many different sporting events as you mentioned earlier, as well as non-sporting events before that. How do you get the best out of the different personalities involved?

I’m a journalist, I’m not a TV presenter. I’ve covered the Lockerbie trial, general elections, a lot of different sports. You prep, you can’t be a fan. You go in there as a professional, and if you make friends with people, that’s a bonus.

You have to get that level of respect, and I think that’s something you see in quite a lot of the F1 interviews, that level of respect you get from drivers. That’s something I’ve always tried to work hard on. I don’t need to be someone’s friend who I interview on television, but it helps sometimes.

You can be friendly with someone, but it’s how you conduct yourself in that high-pressure moment. It doesn’t matter who I was interviewing, I would never back down from asking a question should a question need to be asked, whether they were friends or not.

Lee McKenzie interviewing Max Verstappen as part of a wider feature during the BBC's coverage of the 2015 Belgian Grand Prix.
Lee McKenzie interviewing Max Verstappen as part of a wider feature during the BBC’s coverage of the 2015 Belgian Grand Prix.

If we use Formula 1 as an example, I would ask the same question to every driver differently because you get to know their characters. You’ve got to be a little bit clever with it. If I was trying to ask a question to Lewis [Hamilton] and ask a question to Sebastian [Vettel], it would be the same question but phrased differently.

Is there an F1 interview you’ve done that stands out from the rest, or was a highlight for you?

There’s ones that stand out for different reasons. The Lewis interview in 2011 was a big moment at Monaco, it didn’t necessarily feel good but it felt journalistic.

A lot of interviews with Seb, they always go slightly wrong, but all good fun. I did a hard-hitting sit-down piece with Fernando a few years ago, I was very pleased about that one. You get a good feel for when you’ve done a good interview, and a lot of that comes down to knowing the person and a bit of respect.

Lewis is great to sit down with as well when he’s very open, and touches upon a lot of different things.

Michael Schumacher’s probably one I would single out as, doing interviews with that I really liked. I loved working with Michael, I had a great relationship with him, we did some lovely interviews together.

I took the horse over to his yard and competed. Any time I could spend with Michael at that moment felt special, and not just because of the situation now. I went to Kerpen kart track with him and Seb where they both started out, and that was a lovely piece. Interviews like that stand out for me.

Lewis and Sebastian are the veterans of the F1 paddock now, but do you notice a different interview style for those coming through the ranks, such as Lando and George?

It’s easy to be unguarded and open when you first start out, you measure it on what happens in ten years’ time.

Max has been the same. I spent two days with him and his family in Belgium a few years ago, that was a lovely piece. Of course, you wouldn’t get the opportunity to do that now but I don’t think he’s changed as a person. He was hard-hitting as it was.

I think him and Charles are very open, but again it’s what happens in five years’ time when people’s careers progress that makes them have to shut down a little bit and that to me is understandable.

If you were to give advice to budding journalists coming through the ranks, what would you say?

I would say: prep. There’s no doubt that media in the past 15 to 20 years has changed. But don’t copy and paste. Own the content that you make, and do it with pride.

There’s a lot of people that come to me and say “I want to be a motor sport journalist, can you give me any tips” and I would look at their Twitter feed, and it’s like a crazed fan.

You’ve got to conduct yourself in a way that conveys respect. You’ve got to be a journalist; you can’t be a motor sport journalist I would suggest. I would say that the best journalists in sport come from that news background because it’s a very well-grounded thing, and then follow your passion, and immerse yourself in it.

Bringing it back round to the W Series, the series is not only aiding their on-track skills, but also their media behaviour as well in interviews.

Sometimes it feels like that [coaching], not just the Brits but a lot of European based drivers have known me, or have been watching me on TV.

We do sit down a little bit sometimes and talk things through. They want know how to come to a Grand Prix, they want to know how to do more media stuff, and how they should be conducting themselves.

I will never volunteer that, but if someone wants advice, then absolutely, I’m happy to give that advice.

My thanks go to Lee McKenzie for spending the time with me on the above piece.

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Tracking Formula 1’s 2019 UK TV viewing figures at the half way stage

Formula 1’s television audience in the United Kingdom has dropped by between five and ten percent compared with the first half of 2018, analysis conducted by Motorsport Broadcasting suggests.

2019 heralds the start of a new era for F1 in the UK, after Sky Sports snatched exclusive rights to the championship back in 2016, in a deal that lasts until the end of 2024. The broadcaster sub-let the free-to-air element of their contract to Channel 4, in a one-year deal. The free-to-air element covers highlights of every race, as well as live coverage of the British Grand Prix.

Now in their eighth season, Sky have cemented their status in the F1 paddock as one of the sport’s main broadcasters. But how have viewing figures stacked up in the first half of 2019 compared to last year?

Overnight viewing figures
Traditionally at this point, Motorsport Broadcasting would use the UK overnight viewing figures data to generate averages across several years, using the data for comparative purposes. Unfortunately, as of April, due to circumstances beyond Motorsport Broadcasting’s control, this site no longer has access to that data.

To continue to access overnight data would cost a significant amount, and is not a viable option financially for an independent writer. Instead, we must now rely on a limited amount of consolidated audience data via the BARB website.

Overnight audience figures, known in the industry as Live + VOSDAL (live and ‘video on same day as live’), are released the day after transmission, whereas consolidated audience figures include viewers who watched via the TV set within seven days of broadcast, and exclude commercial breaks.

Therefore, the consolidated audience figures in this piece cannot be compared to overnight audience data elsewhere on this site.

The consolidated data in this piece covers the TV set only, to allow for fair and accurate comparisons with 2018. The figures exclude viewers who are watching via on-demand platforms, such as All 4, Sky Go and Now TV, which is likely to make up a larger portion of Formula 1’s audience than in previous years.

Although Motorsport Broadcasting no longer has access to overnight audience figures, I still intend to present a fair and accurate picture of Formula 1 viewing figures in the UK, as increasingly difficult as that becomes over the months ahead.

The analysis in this article covers the first eleven races of the season, meaning that the Hungarian Grand Prix is excluded.

Channel 4
In 2018, Channel 4 aired five of the first eleven rounds live, with the remaining six airing in highlights form. Now in its new contract with Sky, only one of the first eleven rounds have aired live this season, that being the British Grand Prix.

The free-to-air broadcaster splits their live race day programming into three blocks: build-up, the race itself and post-race reaction.

To present a fair comparison between live and highlights, this site uses the first two portions to generate a weighted average. For ease of analysis, we assume that Channel 4’s build-up is 40 minutes long, with 160 minutes for the race segment.

Channel 4’s programming in the first half of 2019 averaged 1.71 million viewers a decrease of 18.4 percent on the equivalent 2018 figure of 2.10 million viewers, a loss of 387,000 viewers on average.

On a like-for-like basis, Channel 4’s six highlights programmes in 2018 averaged 1.93 million viewers, compared with 1.68 million viewers for their ten highlights programmes so far in 2019, a decrease of 12.8 percent, or 247,000 viewers.

If 100 people watch Channel 4’s coverage, but only 40 people on average tune in for the wrap-around analysis (same as other sports events), the average in 2018 would be 75 compared to 68 in 2019, a decrease of 9 percent.

There are two main factors as to why Channel 4’s audience has dropped by between 10 and 20 percent, depending on the metric you use. The first is simply that a portion of Channel 4’s audience has shifted to Sky since 2018 (see below).

However, the make-up of Channel 4’s highlights has changed since 2018, due to restrictions imposed on them by Sky. A two-hour programme, with less on-track action will inevitably result in a lower average audience for the entire programme. A portion of the audience only cares about the on-track action and will skip over the chatter.

2019 started on a painful note for Channel 4, with four of the opening five races recording drops of over 30 percent. It is no coincidence that the first three races also aired live on Sky’s general entertainment channel Sky One, suggesting that Sky’s move did significant damage to Channel 4’s audience in the early phase of the season.

The scale of the year-on-year drop has diminished as the season headed towards the Summer break, but only two races have increased their audience year-on-year on Channel 4. France (up 20.2 percent) and Austria (up 3.8 percent) recorded poor numbers in 2018 due to the FIFA World Cup.

A spectacular German Grand Prix proved to be Channel 4’s highlight in the first half of 2019, averaging 2.10 million viewers, but even that was down by 16.3 percent year-on-year.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, 1.20 million viewers watched the Canadian Grand Prix in a late-night 23:00 time slot which, although it is their lowest number of the year, is a respectable figure, and down a relatively small 5.1 percent year-on-year.

Sky Sports
Ten out of the first eleven races in 2019 aired exclusively live on Sky. That, combined with a huge pre-season advertising campaign, means an increase in Sky’s audience figures is expected. But, has the pay television broadcaster clawed back the loss that Channel 4 has made, or do we end up with a net loss overall?

As highlighted above, Sky aired the first three races of 2019 on Sky One to try to attract further subscribers to Sky Sports F1. As in 2018, Sky split their programming into four blocks: Pit Lane Live, On the Grid, the race itself and Paddock Live.

Calculating a three-and-a-half-hour average, as this site has historically done, is impossible without access to detailed five-minute breakdowns. Instead, we will use the whole of On the Grid (35 minutes in length) and the race itself (around 135 minutes), using those figures to produce a weighted average per race.

Unfortunately, the data on BARB’s website for Sky’s F1 programming is incomplete, with the following data points missing:

  • 2018
    • Australia – Sky Sports Main Event [On the Grid]
    • China – Sky Sports Main Event [On the Grid]
    • Monaco – Sky One [both]
    • Canada – Sky Sports F1 [both]
    • Britain – Sky One [both]
  • 2019
    • Australia – Sky One [both]; Sky Sports Main Event [On the Grid]
    • Bahrain – Sky One [On the Grid]
    • China – Sky One [both]; Sky Sports Main Event [On the Grid]
    • Germany – Sky Sports Main Event [both]

I appreciate this is far from ideal, but it cannot be helped, without paying to access the missing data points.

You might argue that, without these data points, analysis of Sky’s data is meaningless. I would argue in response that writing an analytical article on Channel 4’s viewing figures without mentioning Sky’s own figures only paints one side of the story, and is also meaningless without accounting for the wider context.

Of course, the analysis from this point forward should be treated with a degree of caution. But I would rather write about it and let an informed debate happen, instead of choosing not to publish an article at all.

Based on the published consolidated data, a weighted average of at least 782,000 viewers have watched Sky’s F1 programming in 2019, covering both On the Grid and the race itself, an increase of 27.7 percent, or 170,000 viewers, on the 2018 figure of 612,000 viewers.

The averages above include simulcasts where BARB have reported the data, and excludes Canada, as there is no 2018 data available. Sky’s 2019 audience figures are likely to be significantly higher when accounting for the missing 2019 data.

On balance, the average audience for Sky One’s simulcasts of Australia and China, plus Sky Sports Main Event’s coverage from Germany, will have a greater impact than the two Sky One simulcasts in 2018 (when both races also aired live on Channel 4).

We know that Sky One did very well for the opening rounds (although Australia and China failed to make Sky One’s top 15 in the respective weeks), whilst Germany will add a few hundred thousand viewers on Sky Sports Main Event (for which there is no data for that week).

The Bahrain Grand Prix has been Sky’s highlight of the season so far. Airing across Sky Sports F1 and Sky One, the race itself averaged 1.41 million viewers, a figure double last year’s Sky F1-only figure of 713,000 viewers.

Close behind, a controversial Canadian Grand Prix averaged 1.38 million viewers for the race segment across Sky’s F1 channel and Sky Sports Main Event. More impressively, Sky’s Paddock Live segment for Canada averaged 370,000 viewers from 21:25 to 22:00, one of their highest ever figures for the post-race show.

What can we decipher?
Based on the data we have available publicly, Channel 4’s coverage averaged 1.71 million viewers during the first half of 2019, a decrease of 387,000 viewers year-on-year. Sky’s coverage has averaged 782,000 viewers, an increase of 170,000 viewers (ignoring Canada).

Last year, the split between Channel 4 and Sky was 77:23, compared with 69:31 this year, both in Channel 4’s favour.

Combined, an average audience of at least 2.50 million viewers have watched Formula 1 so far in 2019, compared with 2.71 million viewers in 2018, a decrease of 217,000 viewers, or 8.0 percent. The decrease year-on-year is likely to be smaller than that, given the missing data points for Sky.

If we are to assume:

  • Sky One’s 2019 simulcasts of Australia and China averaged 200,000 viewers each
  • Sky Sports Main Event’s 2019 simulcast of Germany averaged 300,000 viewers
  • Sky One’s 2018 simulcasts of Britain and Monaco averaged 150,000 viewers each

This would bring Sky’s average up to 837,000 viewers, an excellent increase of 201,000 viewers year-on-year. It would bring the combined average audience up to 2.55 million viewers, compared with 2.74 million viewers twelve months ago, a year-on-year decrease of 185,000 viewers, or 6.8 percent.

Whichever way you cut it, Formula 1’s viewing figures in the UK have dropped year-on-year. Whilst any drop is disappointing, the decrease is less than 10 percent, and could well be closer to 5 percent when including all the consolidated data.

Yes, the headline figures are down, but in the context of the changing television landscape and the new television deal, the figures are not actually that bad.

Formula 1 cannot be complacent though; the sport needs to work with broadcasters to try to stop the audience decline. An extension to Channel 4’s highlights package for 2020 is needed to keep the free-to-air, mass audience shop window open.

Research from UK’s telecommunications authority Ofcom, released on August 7th, showed that whilst traditional television viewing is still top dog, viewing is falling at a “slightly faster rate” than in previous years, which Ofcom attributes to “the changing habits and preferences of viewers.”

According to Ofcom, around half of UK homes now subscriber to at least one streaming service, whilst young people spend an hour a day on YouTube. With F1 now releasing highlights in a variety of formats across social media, it is inevitable that their television audience figures for non-live programming will be hit harder as a result.

What we have not mentioned at all so far in this piece is the impact that the on-track action can have on audience figures. Formula 1 has had a fantastic period on-track heading into the Summer break, with thrillers in Austria, Britain, Germany, and Hungary.

But what 2019 lacks that 2018 had is the championship battle up-front, and that could be a turn off for television viewers as the season heads into the final half, beginning with the Belgian Grand Prix in two weeks’ time.

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