A dramatic Saudi Arabian Grand Prix saw Formula 1’s viewing figures in the UK and the Netherlands surge, audience data from both countries reveal.
According to a press release issued by Sky, an audience of 2.23 million viewers watched the Grand Prix itself across Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event in the UK, excluding the build-up and post-race analysis.
The race peaked with 2.66 million viewers at 19:19 on Sunday as title rivals Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton went head-to-head.
Both figures are Sky’s highest ever for Formula 1 in the UK, beating the season opener in Bahrain by around 400,000 viewers. It is only the second time in Sky F1’s ten-year history that their coverage has broken the 2 million viewers mark.
Sources indicate that Sky’s coverage reached 3.7 million viewers overall across the F1 channel and Main Event.
While Channel 4’s figures are unknown as of writing, it is likely a combined audience of 4.5 million viewers watched the action unfold on Sunday.
Meanwhile in the Netherlands, a peak audience of 3.71 million viewers watched across Ziggo Sport and Ziggo Sport Select, in their penultimate race covering the sport, according to data released via KijKonderzoek.
An average of 2.75 million viewers watched the action unfold across the two channels, with an audience share of 44.44% (you read that right).
Ziggo’s figure is marginally below the Dutch Grand Prix from September, a race available on a free-to-view basis.
Pressure grows on Sky to make season finale available on free-to-air basis in UK
Back home, pressure is growing on Sky Sports to make the season finale this weekend in Abu Dhabi available on a free-to-air basis.
Both The Times and The Telegraph report that negotiations are underway between Sky and Channel 4 over sharing the live rights to Sunday’s race, however, a decision may not be known until the weekend itself.
Additionally, The Telegraph notes that the likelihood of the race playing out on one of Sky’s own free-to-air channels is declining.
Speaking to this site, a Channel 4 spokesperson said “We are looking forward to showing the highlights of what is set to be a gripping finale to the F1 season.”
Motorsport Broadcasting understands that discussions are also ongoing between Sky and F1, with Sky hoping to air their race day build-up live on YouTube as well as their linear F1 channel.
There is precedence for Channel 4 airing major events live in collaboration with Sky. In 2019, the free-to-air broadcaster shared live coverage of the Cricket World Cup final between England and New Zealand with Sky, airing a simulcast of Sky’s broadcast.
Earlier this year, Channel 4 also aired coverage of Emma Raducanu’s victory in the US Open final after striking a late deal with Amazon Prime.
Both events peaked with an excess of 8 million viewers, a mouth-watering figure which shows what could be on offer here for F1, if Sky and Channel 4 agree to suitable terms.
What are the sticking points?
The first sticking point in any deal between Sky and Channel 4 is cost. Currently, Sky pays F1 around £166 million for a season of F1 which, in 2021 terms, equates to £7.6 million per race.
It is unclear how much Sky recoup from Channel 4 for their highlights package, but it is likely to be a relatively small figure in comparison.
If one F1 race is worth £7.6 million to Sky, they will likely be looking for Channel 4 to provide them with a multi-million-pound payment to air season finale.
Although the exact terms remained undisclosed, media reports at the time noted that Channel 4’s deal with Amazon went into seven figures.
The Raducanu deal came together less than 24 hours before the event. If the same happens here, it is plausible we will not know whether Channel 4 will cover Sunday’s race live until after qualifying on Saturday afternoon.
Assuming the two parties agree financial terms, the next question to answer is what will Channel 4 air?
When Channel 4 aired live coverage of the Cricket World Cup, the broadcaster took Sky’s broadcast as part of the deal, including graphics and commentary team.
This presents an interesting conundrum for Channel 4, given that Whisper produces Channel 4’s F1 coverage, and is independent from Sky’s own production.
If Channel 4’s only option is to air simulcast Sky’s live offering – do they take it, or walk away? And if they take it, does that negatively impact Channel 4’s relationship with Whisper?
Presenting that scenario to Channel 4 would be an ideal way for Sky to argue that they gave Channel 4 the option to air F1 live, but they failed to take up the offer.
I hope it does not come down to that, but Sky may consider simulcast of their coverage a ‘red line’ in negotiations with Channel 4.
It is all to play for over the next few days, both on and off the circuit.
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