F1’s new look format, trialled over the British Grand Prix weekend, helped audience figures improve in the UK, consolidated data released by BARB suggests.
The Silverstone weekend was Channel 4’s only live action of the season, the broadcaster sharing live coverage with Sky Sports.
The consolidated data accounts for viewers who watched within seven days of the original transmission.
New format draws the viewers…
Usually, Friday plays host to two practice sessions.
However, only one practice session took place on Friday at Silverstone, with the traditional three-part qualifying session moving to Friday evening.
According to industry website Thinkbox, which publishes BARB consolidated data, 1.08 million viewers watched the qualifying session on Channel 4 from 17:00 to 19:30.
An additional 530,000 viewers watched on Sky Sports F1, across a shorter time slot from 17:25 to 19:30. A caveat here that Sky’s figure includes those that watched on devices, whereas Channel 4’s figure is for the TV set only.
Nevertheless, with a combined audience of 1.6 million viewers, the British Grand Prix marked F1’s highest UK audience on a Friday since at least 2003, if not earlier. Back then, ITV aired highlights of Friday qualifying in a late-night slot.
On Saturday, a combined audience of just over 2 million viewers watched Channel 4’s and Sky’s Sprint programming, including build-up and post-session analysis.
1.40 million watched the Sprint across all devices on Channel 4 from 15:45 to 17:40, with a further 610,000 viewers opting for Sky’s programming across a slightly longer time slot.
The figures are higher than what a normal three-part qualifying session would have achieved in its usual Saturday slot.
Initial analysis from Motorsport Broadcasting suggests that F1 may have recorded its highest Saturday audience for the British Grand Prix since 2013.
Race day saw an audience of around 3.6 million viewers watch Channel 4’s and Sky’s main programming, an average that includes the extended red flag period, but excludes the extended wraparound offering.
2.34 million viewers watched on Channel 4 from 14:26 to 17:07, with 1.21 million viewers watching on Sky Sports F1 from 14:53 to 17:35.
Year-on-year, Sky’s race audience increased by 15%, with Channel 4’s decreasing by around 8.5%, reflecting the positive trajectory Sky’s F1 audience figures continue to take.
Both broadcasters benefited from the Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen collision, with 2 million viewers sticking around for the post-race programming until 18:30.
…what this means…
Although peak audiences are unavailable, we can use the average audience figures already in the public domain, along with programme lengths, to draw some conclusions.
Using the available data, it is likely that Friday’s qualifying session peaked with 2 million viewers, Saturday’s Sprint session with 3 million viewers, and Sunday’s race with 4.5 million viewers.
Having the weekend live on free-to-air television undoubtedly helps the audience figures, but even for Sky, the British qualifying session was their highest ever F1 audience for a Friday – including the plethora of evening practice sessions where they were the exclusive broadcaster.
In some ways, that is unsurprising, but it shows that fans tuned into the idea of having a meaningful session take place on a Friday evening.
Fans did not dismiss Friday qualifying, and instead felt that it was important part of the F1 weekend, and important enough to tune in to.
Whether the Sprint figures were higher than a typical Saturday because of the novelty of it remains unknown, and only something we will know when audience data for the Italian Grand Prix comes in next month.
But, arguably, the events of the Sprint contributed to what followed on Sunday from a sporting perspective.
Speaking to selected media, including The Race, on a conference call, F1’s CEO Stefano Domenicali described the response to the Sprint as “really positive”.
“After the first sprint event at Silverstone, the response that we have from the drivers, from the teams, the media, has been really positive, and also for the promoter,” said Domenicali, as quoted by The Race.
“The outcome of the first event has been dramatically positive. It’s great because that brought attention, interest on TV, and also partners. We have already seen the financial interest be positive.”
The audience data for the weekend, which F1 is no doubt digesting, backs up Domenicali’s statement.
…as W Series beats Formula E
But, Formula 1 was not the only beneficiary of the revised schedule.
The W Series race normally takes place after F1’s qualifying session. For Britain, the race remained on the Saturday, but aired in between F1’s single practice session, and before the Sprint.
An impressive average of 533,000 viewers watched on Channel 4 from 13:05 to 14:17, a figure which excludes those who watched on other devices.
Now in its second season, the all-female championship, retained around 66% of the F1 practice audience. The F1 session, which began at 12:00 UK time, averaged around 800,000 viewers across Channel 4 and Sky.
A week after the Grand Prix, Formula E’s London outing aired live on Channel 4 across the weekend of July 24th and 25th with a double header event.
The electric series reached a high of 382,000 viewers from 13:51 to 15:12 for its second race of the weekend, again excluding the ‘other device’ watchers.
The audience figures demonstrate how W Series benefited from being on the same card as Formula 1, whereas Formula E’s events are largely standalone with no wrap-around support.
W Series also benefited from added exposure through Channel 4’s live F1 coverage, the only weekend of the year that the free-to-air broadcaster covers F1 live.
Moving forward, W Series will not have the luxury of an F1 lead-in on the same channel.
In addition, Formula E faced the opening weekend of the Olympics across the BBC, which took attention away from the E-Prix. In that context, the Formula E figure is good given the lack of support the series has received from free-to-air stations in recent years.
Most importantly, The Race notes that Formula E “surpassed the expectations of the C4 management team,” which bodes well for a future rights deal between the two parties.
Motorsport Broadcasting will publish a full analytical piece looking at the UK F1 audience picture at the half way stage of the 2021 season shortly.
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