Sky’s UK F1 audience jumps to record high as 2021 begins

Sky’s Formula 1 figures in the UK soared to a record high to begin the 2021 season, overnight audience data from the Bahrain Grand Prix weekend shows.

F1 reaches highest ever pay-TV audience in the UK…

Live coverage of the race itself, which aired across Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event, averaged 1.98 million viewers from lights out to chequered flag, according to a press release issued by Sky.

The race peaked with an excellent 2.23 million viewers as Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen battled it out at the head of the field, the first time that Sky’s coverage of Formula 1 has peaked with over 2 million viewers, making it F1’s highest ever pay-TV audience in the UK.

Sky says that their audience for Bahrain jumped year-on-year by 42%, whilst the season opener increased by 31% on last year’s opener in Austria, a remarkable rise considering how strong 2020 was for Sky F1.

Their live programming comfortably beat Channel 4’s highlights programme on Sunday evening. The Whisper produced show peaked with 1.8 million viewers, meaning that a combined peak audience of over 4 million viewers watched F1 in the UK last Sunday.

For Sky, these are superb viewing figures, and a long time in the making, their F1 programming finally breaking the elusive ‘2 million barrier’ that Motorsport Broadcasting has referenced for years.

However, whilst we should recognise Sky’s strong audiences, we must also remember the bigger picture, in that F1’s audience figures in the UK are down on a decade ago, when the sport aired live on free-to-air television.

Although there was no domestic football action on Sunday, the Grand Prix still faced tough competition.

Sky’s live F1 programme faced live coverage from both England cricket (also on Sky) and England football (airing live on ITV). Later, Channel 4’s package faced competition from BBC One’s smash hit Line of Duty.

The audience figures exclude those viewers who watched on platforms such as Now, Sky Go and All 4, as well as those who listened to the BBC’s radio coverage of the Grand Prix.

Qualifying on Saturday saw similar record highs, with an average of 1.14 million viewers watching the 60-minute session on Sky, peaking with 1.34 million viewers.

In addition, Motorsport Broadcasting understands that all three Formula 2 races last weekend peaked with over 250,000 viewers – a fantastic set of figures for a series that struggled to hit 50,000 viewers on the same channel a few years ago.

…and in the Netherlands, but Germany feels the pay-TV crunch

Viewing figures also rose in the Netherlands, hitting record highs thanks to Verstappen’s challenge at the front, according to ratings agency SKO.

An average of 2.51 million viewers (54.3% audience share) watched the race on Ziggo Sport and Ziggo Sport Select from 16:55 to 18:40 local time.

The race peaked with a massive 3.08 million viewers. At its peak, 18% of the Netherlands population were watching the Grand Prix, an extraordinary number for the sport.

If the Hamilton and Verstappen battle turns into a championship contest, F1 has a year of strong audience figures ahead of them in both the UK and Netherlands.

Unusually, more people watched the Grand Prix in the Netherlands than in Germany on Sunday, as the sport moved to pay-TV in Germany and away from free-to-air television.

An audience of 1.12 million viewers (5.8% audience share) watched via Sky Sport F1 according to DWDL.de, an increase for Sky year-on-year, but a sharp drop of almost 75% on what F1 achieved last year in Germany, when it regularly achieved between 4 and 5 million viewers across RTL and Sky.

The difference between the UK and Germany is that, when F1 began to move to pay-TV in the UK in 2012, it happened gradually over time, giving the audience time to adapt and follow the sport, whereas German audiences have had a ‘big bang’ approach imposed.

Whilst F1’s audiences in the UK have unquestionably dropped, the drop over the past decade has been between 30% and 40%. Some of that is natural turnover, some of it is fans migrating to other platforms to view the sport which makes it difficult to quantify what the ‘true’ fall is.

But, at no time did F1 see a 75% slump in the UK, which makes Germany’s viewing figures far more concerning. Sadly though, this was also wholly predictable given the deal F1 agreed with Sky in Germany.

As if to show F1 what it was missing, Germany’s football World Cup qualifier on RTL (the station that aired F1 last year) peaked with nearly 7 million viewers.

The championship moves to Italy next for the second round of the season in Imola, which takes place on Sunday 18th April.

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How Motorsport Broadcasting has covered F1’s transformation under Chase Carey

Last week, Liberty Media announced that Stefano Domenicali would be succeeding Chase Carey as Chairman of Formula 1.

The news, first revealed by RaceFans, is not a huge surprise given rumours about Carey’s replacement were swirling for a while (even if Domenicali himself was not publicly linked). Nevertheless, the announcement means that Carey will depart his role at the end of 2020, ending a near four-year tenure.

Carey’s tenure began in January 2017, when Liberty Media completed their acquisition of Formula 1 from CVC Capital Partners. In that time, Liberty Media have overhauled the sport in many different areas.

Here, we look back at some of the key broadcasting moves from across the past four years, as covered by Motorsport Broadcasting…

Before Liberty – Although Liberty have made huge strides in recent times, we cannot thank them for everything.

For example, Formula 1 launched their social media platforms in 2014 and 2015, whilst preparation for F1’s over-the-top platform began in the ‘Bernie age’ as well, with rumblings around an app featuring on-boards from every car swirling in October 2016.

So, whilst Liberty under Carey did oversee the eventual execution of the likes of F1 TV, some work in the background did pre-date them.

March 2017 – One of Liberty’s first actions was to encourage teams and drivers to exploit social media. To begin with, Liberty gave teams and drivers flexibility to upload short form videos to their social channels. Boy, we really have come a long way in three and a half years, have we not?

June 2017 – Whilst Carey could (and did) change many aspects of Formula 1, one aspect they could not change was Sky Sports’ UK deal to broadcast F1 exclusively live from 2019 to 2024. In Liberty’s first public comment on the matter, then-Managing Director for Commercial Operations, Sean Bratches said that Liberty intended to ‘honour and respect’ the Sky deal.

On all fronts, the genie is out of the bottle. There will be bad moves; there will be experiments that fall flat on their face, by both the teams and Liberty Media. Now is the perfect time for mistakes to happen when fans are generally accepting that change is happening, and are prepared to accept that there will be early bumps in the road. You would rather make mistakes now when these forms of communication are niche for Formula 1, working to establish common ground, themes and decision-making as the season progresses. I would much rather see risk taking over the next few races instead of an organisation that is clearly relaxing or unable to adjust, as was clearly the case with FOM in previous years. – Me writing in March 2017

July 2017­ – Arguably Liberty’s first statement of intent, hosting a live event in the centre of London on a Wednesday evening, prior to the British Grand Prix.

Well received by fans, the likes of Jake Humphrey, David Coulthard and Martin Brundle hosted the event. Liberty has tailored follow up events to the respective follow audiences, and to date there has not been a repeat of the London iteration… yet.

November 2017 – Who knew a logo could prove to be so controversial? If ever there was an instance where Liberty was spot on, and the fans were wrong, it was here.

Fans online panned the new Formula 1 logo, including myself. I admit, I was wrong. The reaction was a little over-the-top. And speaking of OTT, that was where F1 was heading next, as Liberty concluded year one in charge of F1. For them, it was about laying the foundations for the future: kick start future initiatives (Esports), whilst also strengthening every area of the business, which they seen as flailing under Bernie.

February 2018 – The official announcement from F1 that they were heading into the OTT space. Joining F1’s in-house team? None other than ex-NBC F1 colleagues Will Buxton and Jason Swales. The platform, which launched behind schedule in May, gave select territories access to the live action across a multitude of feeds.

A cheaper tier gave fans worldwide (including the UK) access to a wealth of archive material, F1 also taking the opportunity in recent years to stream classic races on YouTube. Not everything was straightforward: US broadcaster NBC cited the launch of F1 TV as a key factor for them dropping out of the sport at the end of 2016.

March 2018 – A new graphics set, a new weekend schedule, and a new theme greeted fans watching F1’s coverage of the Australian Grand Prix. Brian Tyler’s F1 theme is brilliantly awesome, inspiring many different renditions.

Some of the early mooted changes, such as a mid-race highlights package, never really came to fruition (other than Heineken’s floating stars, which I want to forget about). F1 canned other ideas, such as mini-sectors during qualifying, the previous year.

August 2018 – Liberty continued making moves across their social media output, bringing fans closer to the sport. From a broadcasting perspective however, not much gets better than seeing how F1 operates inside the gallery in the heat of the moment.

The team released a fantastic video (below) showing how they handled Sebastian Vettel crashing out from the German Grand Prix, which this site dissected in detail. For anyone who inspires to get into motor sport broadcasting, the video remains a must watch.

Year two really built on Liberty Media’s research from year one, the sport expanding into new areas of growth, such as podcasting. The sport also began to pay more attention to Formula Two and Formula Three, both of which have become far more integrated with F1 in recent times.

Under Liberty’s watch, F1 has given some new voices a go behind the microphone on commentary, with the likes of WTF1’s Matt Gallagher benefiting as a result.

February 2019 – Live testing! Yes, F1 aired the entirety of the first test live in 2019 on their over-the-top platform in selected territories, with Sky Sports taking each afternoon live as well. Fans enjoyed F1’s offering, and coverage returned earlier this year, with both of the three day tests airing live.

Also launching prior to the 2019 season was Netflix’s Drive to Survive, which has helped bring the sport to a new, younger audience.

October 2019 – F1 began to live stream races on platforms such as Twitch, with the Mexican Grand Prix airing live on the platform in selected territories. In a fortnight from now, the Eifel Grand Prix will air live on YouTube for fans in Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark.

January 2020 – First revealed by this site the previous July, a new documentary series focusing on Formula Two premiered on F1 TV. The tragic death of Anthoine Hubert shone a different light on the documentary, as fans witnessed events through the eyes of his rivals, and friends, at the time.

COVID-19 pandemic – The COVID pandemic has meant that many of F1’s plans for their 70th anniversary year have not gone as anticipated. A documentary series produced by Sky in collaboration with F1 celebrating the seventy years premiered earlier this month. Other developments concern F1 in the UK and Germany: with F1 TV Pro mooted to launch in the UK next season, whilst F1 in Germany will move behind a pay wall.

Overall, there have been more up’s than down’s when you look at the broadcasting and social media picture in totality for F1 at the end of Carey’s regime compared to where they were at the end of 2016.

As Dieter Rencken on RaceFans recently highlighted, however, the incoming Domenicali has many waves to battle through over the forthcoming months and years.

The COVID-19 pandemic is not over, and many broadcasters may seek to reduce their investment in F1 at rights renewals stage, although F1’s recent deal with Sky in Germany should give Liberty confidence that the news may not be all bad.

Then, there is F1 TV, and continuing to monetise that, whilst ensuring that the technical issues that have plagued the platform since launch do not continue.

Of course, the above achievements do not cover all avenues, merely a reflection of how Motorsport Broadcasting has covered recent events.

What do you think is F1’s biggest improvement, or misstep, on the broadcasting and social media front in recent years? Have your say in the comments below.


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Sainz’s pursuit of victory sees F1’s viewing figures double in Spain

Carlos Sainz’s pursuit of victory in last weekend’s Italian Grand Prix saw viewing figures double in Spain, audience data from overseas shows.

The race was red flagged after a major accident for Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.

Following the restart, AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly battled McLaren’s Sainz for victory, Sainz a couple of laps too short from potential victory.

Sainz’s pursuit of victory resulted in audience figures surging in his home land.

An audience of 244,000 viewers (2.1% audience share) watched the Grand Prix on pay TV station Movistar+ according to Formula TV, double the 121,000 viewers (1.2% audience share) that watched last month’s Spanish Grand Prix on the same channel.

Last weekend’s race was up by around a third on last year’s Monza figure, which averaged 173,000 viewers (1.4% audience share) in Spain.

Over in France, a peak audience of 1.24 million viewers watched Gasly’s victory on Canal+, a slight increase on last weekend’s peak audience of 1.16 million viewers.

The average audience declined from 932,000 viewers for the Belgian Grand Prix, to 841,000 viewers last weekend, a reflection of the red flag period which may have depleted the Canal+ average slightly.

The conclusion here is obvious, but worth stating: France’s viewing figures are higher than Spain, meaning that there is less room for growth, whereas F1 in Spain is underperforming massively now.

The presence of Sainz fighting it out up front – and the returning Fernando Alonso – is critical to move the needle in Spain.

Unfortunately, one of F1’s biggest territories in Europe shed over one million viewers, thanks to Ferrari’s continued woes. According to Motorsport.com, coverage of the race in Germany averaged 4.54 million viewers, a decrease on last year’s figure of 5.71 million viewers.

The 2020 figure is in-line on F1’s audiences for the year to date in Germany, whereas last year’s race over-indexed considerably.

Viewing figures for the race also dipped year-on-year in America on Labor Day weekend. 602,000 viewers watched the race on ESPN2, compared with 635,000 viewers last year.

Impressively, live coverage of the third practice session averaged 244,000 viewers at 06:00 on Saturday morning on ESPN, with 518,000 viewers tuning into qualifying, showing that increased interest in F1 in the US is filtering through to the other weekend sessions.

Formula Two viewing figures surge in UK
In the UK, viewing figures for the Formula Two championship continue to impress according to consolidated data from BARB and ThinkBox.

Whilst data for the Italian Grand Prix is unavailable, data from the Belgian Grand Prix weekend shows that 222,000 viewers watched the Formula Two feature race on Saturday 29th August, believed to be Formula Two’s highest ever figure in the UK.

185,000 viewers watched the race via Sky Sports F1, with an additional 37,000 viewers watching on Sky Sports Main Event.

To put that into historical comparison, back in 2012 during Sky’s first season covering F1, only 29,000 viewers watched the GP2 feature race during the Belgium weekend.

Viewing figures have increased rapidly in the past year and a half, Sky’s F1 exclusivity helping the cause.

Elsewhere, the Indy 500, which took place the week before, averaged 130,000 viewers, although the two figures are not directly comparable given that the IndyCar figure includes a 90-minute build-up which would have depleted the average.


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News round-up: Study published into “excessive alcohol advertisements” during F1 races; Alonso docuseries to premiere in September

In the round-up, a leading university has published findings looking at alcoholic content during F1 broadcasts, whilst two big documentaries are hitting the airwaves this September…

Where possible, Motorsport Broadcasting endeavours to link directly to the original source instead of linking to a third-party site that may have misinterpreted the original headline.

The round-up gives a bite sized view of the latest news making the waves, as well as interesting snippets that I have picked up along the way.

All the round-ups to date are located here, and as always, all feedback on the site, positive and negative, is more than welcome.

Formula 1

  • The University of Nottingham has published a paper looking at advertising of alcoholic products during Formula 1 coverage on Channel 4.
    • Unsurprisingly their research, which focuses on the 2018 season, finds that young people “are being exposed to excessive alcohol advertisements during televised sporting events,” which they believe could lead to increased consumption for children.
    • The research shows that F1 is heavily reliant on brands such as Heineken and Johnnie Walker, with 56 percent of Channel 4’s F1 broadcasts containing some form of alcoholic content during one-minute intervals of race footage.
    • “Our study clearly shows that alcohol content was highly prevalent throughout the 2018 F1 Championship broadcasts,” study author Dr Alex Barker said. “This is worrying given the young viewers this branded content would have reached.”
    • “Previous research has already shown that advertising of this kind can lead to alcohol consumption in young people, and this is one of many sporting events that uses advertising in this way. We would urge Ofcom to consider the implications of this, and whether restrictions need to be put on this kind of advertising.”
  • For those not watching, Formula Two’s World Feed has featured a raft of commentators this season.
    • Alex Brundle (Austria, Britain, and Spain), Matt Gallagher (Styria), Alice Powell (Hungary) and Peter Windsor (70th Anniversary) have all stepped into the hot seat alongside lead commentator Alex Jacques.
  • Viewing figures for the feeder series have surged in the UK since the start of the 2020 season according to consolidated audience data from BARB for the TV set.
    • At its peak, an average audience of 177,000 viewers watched the Formula Two feature race during the British Grand Prix weekend on Sky Sports F1, a significant increase on the equivalent race last year which failed to make Sky F1’s top 15.
    • More recently, 141,000 viewers watched the feature race during the 70th Anniversary weekend. The sprint race on Sunday morning failed to make Sky F1’s top 15 however, this a likely result of the audience being split across Sky’s F1 channel and Sky Sports Main Event.
  • Formula 1 is to live stream coverage of the Eifel Grand Prix on YouTube across several territories this October.
    • All three practice sessions, qualifying and the race itself will air live on the platform in Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. The deal is in addition to their existing rights deals in place within those territories.
    • F1 says the partnership is an opportunity “to give back to those fans” who would have attended the Nürburgring round, but cannot due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
    • Tomos Grace, YouTube’s Head of Sport in the EMEA territories, said “70% of Formula 1’s YouTube audience is under the age of 35. Sports broadcasters and organisers increasingly recognise YouTube’s ability to reach these new audiences and generate incremental revenue.”
  • The long-awaited documentary series focusing on seventy years of Formula 1 will premiere from September 12th, as first reported by RaceFans in Summer 2019.
    • Race to Perfection will air exclusively for UK fans on Sky and Now TV, with the series also being made available to TV channels and streaming services worldwide via NBCUniversal Global Distribution, although further concrete details are unavailable – including whether it will be available to subscribers of F1 TV.
    • The series interviewed over 40 of F1’s biggest names, with new archive footage contained within the seven episodes. Full synopsis details are available on the Sky F1 website.
  • A recent survey on F1 Fan Voice has hinted at some documentaries that F1 are looking to produce in the forthcoming months and years.
    • The choices on offer include an origin style series based off Netflix’s Drive to Survive; a ‘Last Dance‘ style series focusing on the 2021 season; and a Bernie Ecclestone biopic.
  • F1 has extended their rights deal with AMC Network in Czech Republic and Slovakia to broadcast the sport until the end of 2023.
    • The action will remain on Sport1 and Sport2, with every session covered live. In addition, fans will be able to access F1 TV Pro for the first time, the platform launching in those territories prior to the 2021 season.

Elsewhere…

  • A five-part documentary following two-time Formula 1 champion Fernando Alonso premieres on Amazon Prime across 240 territories on September 25th.
    • The series, produced by Madrid company The Mediapro Studio, sees the team follow Alonso as he embarks on the Indianapolis 500, Le Mans 24 Hours and the Dakar Rally.
    • “Fernando has been one more challenge in my career, a commitment with myself and with the public to show the work, the sacrifice and the high requirement that implies competition at the first worldwide level, as none of this never transcends beyond the circuits,” Alonso said. “Only two companies with the experience of The Mediapro Studio and Amazon Prime Video could make it possible with a powerful storytelling and global reach.”
  • Formula E has launched a talent call aimed at 18 to 24-year olds to join their presentation team for season seven.
    • The series will whittle candidates down to four finalised, who will “be assigned experienced mentors and receive professional media training,” with the winner joining the team from the season opener in Santiago in January.
    • The competition, open to residents of the UK, Germany, and France, closes on 12th September.
  • Meanwhile, the electric series will air live on free-to-air television in Germany for season seven on SAT. 1, taking advantage of F1’s recent decision to move to pay television in the territory.
  • Stateside, MotoGP debuted on NBC to 527,000 viewers on Sunday 19th July, beating both IndyCar races that weekend.
    • The two IndyCar races that weekend aired live in primetime, but on NBC’s sister station NBCSN, to an audience of 356,000 viewers and 334,000 viewers.
    • Things have improved for IndyCar recently, with live coverage of Indianapolis 500 qualifying on NBC averaging 824,000 viewers and 933,000 viewers this past weekend, beating the Spanish Grand Prix on ESPN earlier that morning.
  • BT Sport are continuing to cover MotoGP from Triumph’s HQ in Hinckley. Keep an eye on Motorsport Broadcasting over the coming weeks for behind the scenes content from Triumph…

If you have spotted anything else making the rounds that I have yet to mention on this site, drop a line in the comments section below.


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Dramatic British Grand Prix conclusion watched by over four million viewers in UK

A peak audience of over 4 million viewers watched Lewis Hamilton win the British Grand Prix, which concluded in dramatic style yesterday afternoon, overnight viewing figures show.

All overnight viewing figures exclude people watching in pubs and bars, as well as those watching via on demand platforms, such as Now TV and All 4.

Although Motorsport Broadcasting no longer has access to audience data, the headline figures are in the public domain, allowing us to glean how the landscape looks. The sources for the figures are at the foot of this article.

UK viewing figures
Comparisons year-on-year are difficult to the differing factors surrounding each race, which we need to account for.

Last year’s race clashed with the Cricket World Cup final featuring England and New Zealand, as well as the Wimbledon final, both taking a bite out of the F1 audience.

Naturally, that meant more people watching around the television set, whereas the COVID-19 pandemic means that this year’s race fell during the Summer holidays, a period where fewer people are watching TV.

Channel 4’s coverage of the race itself, including a short portion of the build-up and immediate post-race reaction, averaged around 2.3 million viewers (25% audience share) from 13:45 to 16:15.

The free-to-air broadcaster says that the audience share for younger viewers was 20%, the biggest share in that time slot. Their coverage peaked with three million viewers, an increase on last year’s figure of around 200,000 viewers.

Live coverage across Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event averaged a further 1.1 million viewers from 14:05 to 16:00, significantly higher than last year’s audience for the pay TV platform. Last year’s coverage on Sky Sports F1 peaked with around 900,000 viewers.

When accounting for Sky One, it is likely that Sky’s coverage in total peaked with around 1.3 to 1.4 million viewers, a sizeable year-on-year increase.

All of this means that, in total, a peak audience of over four million viewers watched the closing stages of the Grand Prix, a jump compared to last year’s figure of 3.7 million viewers, and bringing the peak back closer to the 2016 to 2018 audience figures.

Based on the (albeit limited) evidence we have, the strong suggestion is that Sky’s audience figures have increased compared to 2019, which is good news for the sport for the whole, although perhaps not good news for those hoping that F1 returns to free-to-air television in the UK.

Viewing figures across Europe dip as Summer hits
Despite Mercedes’ continued domination, there is little sign that audiences have tuned out in significant numbers when comparing the figures for key territories to the season opening Austrian Grand Prix, however there are some noteworthy dips.

Not in a title winning car? Not a problem in the Netherlands, where audiences continue to tune in for Max Verstappen. According to SKO, a massive audience of 1.43 million viewers (58.6%) watched the Grand Prix from 15:05 to 16:58.

The race, which was in-line with the season opener, saw 1.07 million viewers (44.2%) watch via the dedicated F1 channel, with a further 351,000 viewers (14.4%) watching via Ziggo Sport’s generalised offering.

Viewing figures did dip more in Germany and Austria, however. Motosport.com reports that 4.81 million viewers (30.8%) watched the race across RTL and Sky, compared with 5.09 million viewers (31.6%) for the season opener.

An audience of 4.28 million viewers (27.4%) watched RTL’s free-to-air offering, with a further 530,000 viewers (3.4%) watching Sky’s race coverage. Bearing in mind that Sky are the exclusive supplier for F1 fans in Germany as of 2021, it shows just how many fans F1 could lose in Germany if not many of them make the transition to pay TV.

Over in Austria, an audience of 550,000 viewers (39%) watched ORF’s offering, a decrease on their Austrian Grand Prix audience of 609,000 viewers (46%). Canal+’s offering for fans in France also dropped by a similar amount.

One country that did increase their audience compared to the season opener was Spain. An audience of 183,000 viewers (1.7%) watched Movistar’s coverage according to Formula TV, compared to a figure of 104,000 viewers (0.9%) from one month ago.

Sources for UK portion of article: Channel 4 Press, Liam Hamilton. US audience figures will be added once available.


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