Belgian Grand Prix records highest peak audience in five years

Formula 1 benefited from poor weather across the United Kingdom last Sunday, with excellent audience figures for the Belgian Grand Prix, overnight viewing figures show.

Live coverage of the race aired on Channel 4 from 13:00 to 16:30, with 2.15m (18.4%) watching, an increase of around half a million viewers on last year’s audience of 1.65m (19.6%) across a shorter 190-minute time slot. It is the highest Belgium figure for the free-to-air component of the audience since 2015, when BBC One’s broadcast averaged 2.44m (22.3%).

Sky simulcast their programming across their F1 channel and Sky 1 to a weighted total audience of 657k (5.6%). Sky Sports F1’s broadcast averaged 582k (5.0%) from 13:00 to 16:30, with Sky 1’s shorter show from 14:00 averaging 104k (0.9%). It is Sky’s highest audience for Spa on record, beating their previous highest of 617k (6.3%) in 2016.

For both broadcasters, the audience shares are slightly down on previous years, the dip representative of a higher viewing audience due to the poor weather conditions experienced across the United Kingdom. However, the dips are marginal rather than anything profound, showing that F1 grew almost in-line with the total audience increase.

The race started with 4.26m (36.1%) at 14:15 across Channel 4 and Sky. Apart from a ten-minute period from 14:40 to 14:50 where the audience level dropped below four million viewers due to British Touring Car Championship action on ITV4, viewing figures remained north of four million viewers. There was a brief surge to 4.23m (34.8%) as the top of the hour hit, before dipping back towards four million viewers.

An audience of 4.04m (33.0%) watched Sebastian Vettel take victory at 15:30. In a parallel universe, the peak could have been closer to 4.5 million viewers if the action on-track was closer, but it was not to be: the peak occurred at the start of the race.

At the time of the peak, an audience of 3.22m (27.2%) were watching Channel 4’s coverage, with a further 1.04m (8.8%) watching across Sky’s two channels, a split of 76:24. Sky’s peak came later in the afternoon, as 1.06m (8.8%) watched in the five-minute segment from 15:25. The F1 channel peaked with 921k (7.8%) at 14:15, with Sky 1 peaking with 180k (1.5%) at 15:30.

It is easily Sky’s highest peak for Belgium ever, beating their previous best of 969k (9.3%) in 2016. For Channel 4, the same fact is true: their peak audience was only 164,000 viewers lower than the BBC’s peak in 2015 of 3.38m (27.5%).

The combined average audience of 2.80 million viewers is comfortably the best for Belgium since 2015, when 2.91 million viewers watched across BBC One and Sky Sports. Last Sunday’s audience increased by 27.8 percent compared with last year’s average audience figure of 2.19 million viewers.

The peak audience of 4.26 million viewers is the highest for the Belgian Grand Prix since the 2013 running of the event when a peak audience of 4.52m (41.9%) watched, a fantastic number. The peak audience increased year-on-year by 22.2 percent, and compared with 2016 was up by 8.2 percent.

To have a peak audience higher than two BBC years (4.04 million in 2014 and 4.15 million in 2015) is highly unusual, and shows just how good Belgium’s audience figures are in the grand scheme of things. Of course, some of that is down to the weather conditions last Sunday, but increases compared to the past two years are now becoming par for the course for F1 in 2018.

Both Channel 4 and Sky Sports recorded slightly higher numbers for qualifying than twelve months ago.

Channel 4’s live broadcast of qualifying aired from 12:55 to 15:45, to an audience of 940k (12.3%), an increase – just – on last year’s figure of 937k (12.5%). The audience for Sky’s qualifying show followed the same trajectory, averaging 269k (2.5%) compared with 262k (2.5%) last year.

The combined audience of 1.21 million viewers is as a result up marginally on last year’s number of 1.20 million viewers.

The bigger difference comes with the peak figure. The qualifying session peaked with 2.09m (25.5%) at 14:55 across Channel 4 and Sky, an increase compared with last year’s figure of 2.01m (25.1%), and the highest for Belgium since 2015.

A peak of 1.62m (19.8%) watched Channel 4’s programme, an increase of 108,000 viewers compared with last year, but Sky’s peak figure of 468k (5.7%) is down 26,000 viewers.

BTCC performs well, but average for Speed with Guy Martin
Elsewhere, live coverage of the British Touring Car Championship from a rainy Knockhill averaged 216k (2.0%) from 11:00 to 18:15 on ITV4 on Sunday, a good number considering the competition. Race 1 averaged 277k (3.5%) from 11:50, peaking with 320k (3.9%).

The second race of the day clashed with the F1, but still fared well, averaging 220k (1.8%) from 14:25, peaking with 271k (2.2%) as the race was red flagged due to the poor weather conditions. Later, 392k (2.9%) watched Tom Chilton win the third and final race from 17:20, his victory peaking with 405k (2.8%) at 17:50.

Impressively, not once during the F1 did the touring car support programme drop below 100,000 viewers, showing how well the extended show works for ITV4 overall.

On Monday evening, a new episode of Speed with Guy Martin, averaged 1.54m (7.9%) on Channel 4 from 21:00 to 22:30, the lowest number so far for Martin’s F1 themed specials.

The show faced tough competition from BBC One’s new drama Bodyguard, as well as Monday Night Football action on Sky Sports between Tottenham and Manchester United.

The 2017 Belgian Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.


WEC looking at UK free-to-air options for remainder of super season

Organisers of the World Endurance Championship are in discussion with several UK broadcasters concerning free-to-air coverage of the series, this site can confirm.

The championship had increased their free-to-air presence in recent years. In 2016, highlights of the series aired on Saturday mornings on Channel 4, whilst last year highlights aired on ITV4. In addition, last season saw some of the 24 Hours of Le Mans air live on ITV4, the highest billing for the race in several years.

However, there is currently no agreement in place with a major free-to-air broadcaster for the 2018/19 super season, which began on May 5th in Spa.

Speaking to this site, a WEC spokesperson said “The 2018/19 WEC Super Season had a fantastic start in Spa and had wide coverage in the UK through a combination of live broadcast on Eurosport/Eurosport Player and as well as highlights on BT Sport. You may also be aware that the whole race was available live on the FIAWEC App.”

The spokesperson added that, whilst their agreement with ITV4 ended following the 2017 season, discussions concerning the 2018/19 super season are ongoing.

“At the moment we are in discussion with them [ITV4] and other potential FTA partners to provide live coverage of Le Mans and all other WEC Super Season races to ensure it continues to reach as wide an audience as possible in the UK.”

“We are confident that we will conclude a new agreement very soon and will issue a press release as soon as a deal is agreed.”


Scheduling: The 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans

The greatest endurance race on the planet is back! The 24 Hours of Le Mans takes its usual June place on the motor sport calendar, marking round three of the 2016 FIA World Endurance Championship.

As usual, Eurosport have extensive coverage of proceedings with all of the race covered live. The one thing missing is the second qualifying session on Thursday afternoon which clashes with Tennis from Queen’s. Also a notable absentee is the Le Mans Legends race, a fixture since 2001, this will no longer be taking place in the build-up to the main race. As usual, Eurosport’s line-up will feature the likes of Martin Haven, Jeremy Shaw and Liz Halliday. Tom Gaymor will be voicing the 24 Minutes magazine programmes.

Quest TV (also owned by Discovery) will be screening coverage again this year following high numbers last year. Quest are airing four hours of live coverage, compared with three and a half hours of live coverage last year. Eurosport and Quest will be sharing the personnel used with the added use of Louise Goodman and Andy Jaye. There will also be 90 second updates at the top of each hour (excluding overnight).

Monday 13th June
22:45 to 23:15 – 24 Minutes (Eurosport)

Tuesday 14th June
22:30 to 23:00 – 24 Minutes (Eurosport 2)

Wednesday 15th June
15:00 to 19:00 – Live Practice (Eurosport 2)
20:30 to 21:00 – Live 24 Minutes (Eurosport)
21:00 to 22:55 – Live Qualifying 1 (Eurosport)

Thursday 16th June
20:30 to 21:00 – Live 24 Minutes (Eurosport)
21:00 to 22:55 – Live Qualifying 3 (Eurosport)

Friday 17th June
22:25 to 22:55 – 24 Minutes (Eurosport)

Saturday 18th June
08:00 to 09:00- Live Warm Up (Eurosport 2)
13:15 to 13:45 – Live 24 Minutes (Eurosport)
20:00 to 20:30 – Live 24 Minutes (Eurosport)
– for details of the race itself, see below

Sunday 19th June
07:30 to 08:00 – Live 24 Minutes (Eurosport)
14:15 to 14:45 – Live 24 Minutes (Eurosport)

Monday 20th June
20:00 to 21:00 – Highlights (Quest TV)

Saturday 25th June
06:35 to 07:00 – Highlights (Channel 4)

The race itself beginning on the Saturday…
13:30 to 15:00 – Quest TV
13:45 to 20:00 – Eurosport
20:00 to 20:30 – Eurosport 2
20:00 to 21:00 – Quest TV
20:30 to 07:30 – Eurosport
07:30 to 08:00 – Eurosport 2
08:00 to 14:15 – Eurosport
10:00 to 11:00 – Quest TV
13:00 to 14:30 – Quest TV

Last updated on June 18th with details about Quest TV’s personnel.

Channel 4 secure World Endurance Championship highlights

Channel 4 will broadcast highlights of the FIA World Endurance Championship with immediate effect, this site can confirm.

The 30-minute programme will be broadcast in an early morning slot on Saturday mornings. Lee McKenzie and John Hindhaugh will present the show, with Mark Webber also contributing. The first episode from Silverstone airs on Saturday 11th June at 06:35.

The announcement is great news for the championship, to be exposed to a bigger audience. I believe this is the first time ever that the World Endurance Championship has been broadcast (in any form) on any of the ‘big five’ terrestrial television stations. It helps complement the existing agreements with Eurosport and Motors TV very nicely.

The motor sport angle as ITV takes over horse racing

Sports rights are transferring like flies at the moment, and the latest move is no exception. The Racing Post are this evening reporting that ITV will be broadcasting horse racing from January 1st, 2017. The Racing Post are your AUTOSPORT of horse racing, so expect the news to be made official very soon. The report is significant, given the announcement two weeks ago that Channel 4 would be broadcasting Formula 1 from this season onwards, taking over the BBC’s contract which was set to last until 2018.

Notably, the Racing Post’s article says that ITV’s deal for horse racing is £30 million over 4 years, which works out at £7.5 million per year. Based on the BBC’s previous deal, we expect Channel 4’s current Formula 1 deal to be in the region of £15 million to £20 million per year. Quite clearly, the maths does not add up, it was either going to be one or the other for Channel 4, not both.

I have three questions:

a) did Bernie Ecclestone want to do a deal with Channel 4 more than ITV?
b) did ITV want horse racing more than Formula 1?
c) did ITV want Formula 1, but were unwilling to commit to 2016?

How exactly the chain of events went, we do not know. From a 2016 perspective, the good news for Formula 1 is that you imagine the Grand Prix will get preferential treatment in the event of any clash between it and horse racing on Channel 4. As noted in my calendar predictions post, there will definitely be clashes of some degree between Formula 1 and horse racing on Channel 4. The news this evening means that, in the event of a clash, I would expect horse racing to be relegated to More4, assuming it is not a major race.

From an ITV perspective, Racing Post notes that the majority of race days are “expected” to be shown on ITV4. There is no imminent threat to the British Touring Car Championship on ITV4, as a deal was recently signed through to 2022. I think horse racing and the BTCC will co-exist fine, it may affect one or two BTCC races, but I don’t foresee a major problem for the championship.

The bigger problem may be Formula E, although it is currently unknown if ITV have rights for that in season three. I’m not convinced that ITV will be paying anything for Formula E’s rights, based on the viewing figures for season two so far. On the subject of ratings, and I quote from Racing Post:

Since controversially acquiring the BBC’s crown jewels from the start of 2013, Channel 4’s tenure as racing’s sole terrestrial partner has been beset by disastrous ratings for most marquee fixtures. Royal Ascot has lost half its viewers, the Derby’s figure last year plummeted to a record low, and British Champions Day has had its audience collapse from an average of 1.1m in the BBC’s final year to just 367,000 last October.

One aspect this site has not focussed on too much since the Channel 4 announcement is viewing figures. BBC’s Formula 1 race day coverage in 2015 averaged 3.11 million viewers according to overnight viewing figures. Immediately, you can see why Formula 1 is a better prospect for Channel 4 than horse racing, even if the 2015 season performed poorly due to the dominance of Mercedes. However, the above paragraph makes for worrying reading, and suggests that a drop in numbers with the transfer from BBC to Channel 4 is inevitable. I would agree, simply because Channel 4 does not have the ‘pull’ of BBC in terms of TV, radio and online.

But how far will Formula 1’s terrestrial television numbers drop? A drop of 10 percent year-on-year leaves you with 2.80 million viewers. If numbers dropped by 25 percent, you are looking at an average of 2.33 million viewers for Channel 4’s race day coverage. If you went even further and said Formula 1’s numbers will decrease by 40 percent compared with 2015, the overnight average drops to 1.87 million viewers.

Formula 1 needs to be one of Channel 4’s centrepieces and the removal of horse racing from their portfolio helps in that respect.