Analysis: How F1’s return to action fared around the world

A peak audience of close to four million viewers watched Formula 1’s return to action in the UK, overnight viewing figures suggest.

Highlights of the opening round of the season aired on Channel 4 from 18:30 to 21:00, averaging 1.6 million viewers according to industry expert Liam Hamilton on Twitter, making it the most watched programme outside of BBC One and ITV on Sunday.

The free-to-air offering peaked with 2.3 million viewers. That, combined with an average audience of 1.5 million viewers for Sky Sports F1’s coverage of the race itself from 14:05 to 16:00, meant that a peak audience of near to four million viewers sampled F1’s return on Sunday afternoon.

Both figures are in line with what F1 has broadly averaged during the past few seasons, with Sky’s figures a little higher than expected given the Premier League competition on Sky’s other sports channels.

Down under in Australia, a further 111,000 viewers heard Sky’s Formula 1 commentary via Fox Sports late on Sunday evening, according to Australian website TV Tonight.

Netherlands and Germany shine…
In Netherlands, an average audience of 1.44 million viewers (52.3% audience share) watched from 15:05 to 16:58 across Ziggo Sports and Ziggo Sport Select, according to ratings bureaux SKO.

The ‘Select’ channel, which airs Ziggo Sport’s main attractions, averaged 426,000 viewers (15.5%), with the dedicated F1 channel averaging a further 1.01 million viewers (36.8%).

Interest in Formula 1 has soared in the Netherlands in the past few years, thanks to the rise of Max Verstappen, although the number from this past weekend looks to be slightly higher than in previous years.

Over in Germany, an audience of 4.48 million viewers (28.0%) watched Sebastian Vettel’s poor performance on RTL, as they begin their final year broadcasting F1, before an exclusive deal  between F1 and Sky Deutschland kicks into effect next year. The race peaked with 5.15 million viewers.

Quotenmeter says that RTL’s figure is up slightly on the equivalent 2019 figure of 4.36 million viewers (28.6%).

Suffice to say that, as poor as Vettel has been in the past twelve months, Germany’s interest in F1 has held up remarkably. Time will tell if interest will hold when F1 moves behind a pay wall…

For now, Sky Deutschland and RTL both air F1 live in Germany, however no audience figures for the former for Austria are currently available.

Over the border in Austria, ORF’s live free-to-air coverage of the race itself from 15:05 to 16:55 averaged 609,000 viewers (46.0%), as they head into a shared partnership with ServusTV beginning next season.

ORF says that their coverage from the Red Bull Ring reached 1.91 million viewers across the whole weekend.

Stateside, ESPN’s coverage averaged a strong 752,000 viewers from 09:05, peaking with 890,000 viewers as the race concluded, the highest ever for the event, and an increase of 16 percent year-on-year.

…but a poor showing in Spain
In Italy, audience figures were like that seen in the UK.

Live coverage across Sky Sport F1 and Sky Sport Uno averaged 1.32 million viewers (11.3%) from 15:10, with 1.34 million viewers (10.9%) watching delayed coverage of the Grand Prix on Sky’s free-to-air channel TV8. Both shows peaked with just over two million viewers.

Further down Europe, the picture for Formula 1 in Spain looks bleak.

According to Formula TV, An audience of just 104,000 viewers (0.9%) watched live coverage of the race on Movistar’s F1 channel, a dismal figure for a country that once watched in their millions during Fernando Alonso’s heyday.

F1 has fallen out of the public consciousness in Spain, and McLaren’s Carlos Sainz is not recording on their radar, yet. The announcement that Alonso will return to F1 next season with Renault should give F1’s popularity in Spain a much-needed boost.

To put the Spanish figure into perspective, Polish journalist Mariusz Wójcicki reports that live coverage of the Grand Prix averaged 214,000 viewers in Poland.

Whilst the Polish figure is, understandably, down year-on-year with no Robert Kubica on the grid, it does put into perspective the alarmingly low figure in Spain.

Over in France, 1.06 million viewers watched F1’s return to action on Canal+, which they say is a record for Austria since they first began airing F1.

Days of large audience figures are over
Two figures stand out positively for me.

The first is in Netherlands. The raw audience is nothing to shout above in the grand scheme of things, but when you consider that only 17.5 million people live there, it is important, and shows how much Max Verstappen is cutting through the public eye.

Germany also stands out, because it is the last bastion that falls by the wayside, whenever the 2020 season draws to a close. An average audience of over four million viewers may halve overnight.

Across the above ten territories, an average audience of around 14.5 to 16.5 million viewers watched the Grand Prix on television. I have been generous and rounded that up slightly to account for missing data points.

At its peak, that figure will be higher, and then the reach figures that F1 announces in press even higher than that. There will be additional public data available, it is just a matter of trying to find it in the depths of the internet.

The 2020 average television figure will again be down on yesteryear because of F1’s transition towards pay TV. So, where have the viewers gone?

Some will be watching online via one of the respective broadcasters’ over-the-top platforms, others will have migrated to F1’s over-the-top platform, both of which will take up a larger percentage than in previous years.

We cannot quantify the volumes involved, because the relevant parties choose not to disclose these figures publicly, meaning the picture is incomplete. It is highly unlikely that all the lapsed television fans have migrated, however.

Nevertheless, the above offers a snapshot as to how F1 is performing across Europe. The overriding message is that in many territories around Europe, the days of Formula 1 achieving viewing figures of 4, 5, 6, or even 7 million viewers for its live airing, are over.

Updated on July 8th to account for US audience figures.


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