F1’s UK audience figures rise in 2021, but series sees worldwide dip

Formula 1’s UK audience figures rose to their highest level in around four to five years as the titanic battle between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton came to a climax, however, audience figures dipped worldwide, analysis from Motorsport Broadcasting shows.

The consolidated UK data, released by BARB, includes viewers who watched the Grand Prix within seven days of the original transmission across TV, PC, smartphone, and tablet (defined by BARB as ‘four-screen viewing data’), the body no longer splitting these out into separate components.

A small number of historical data points are missing; however, these are not statistically significant enough to impact the overall trajectory.

In addition, this analysis excludes the Russian Grand Prix, as Sky’s figures for that weekend are unavailable, but does include the shortened Belgian Grand Prix.

Sky’s figures rise to highest ever level…

On race day, Sky split their programming into three or four blocks, depending on weekend.

Their build-up normally lasts 85 minutes, with the race segment lasting 135 minutes. The ‘Chequered Flag’ programme follows the podium for 60 minutes, whilst Ted’s Notebook sometimes wraps up proceedings.

Across a mix of Sky Sports F1, Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Showcase, an average audience of 1.59 million viewers watched the 22 races live on Sky during 2021, their highest ever audience for Formula 1.

Year-on-year, Sky’s figures increased by 25.7% from 1.27 million viewers in 2020, the fourth consecutive year that Sky’s F1 audience has increased.

For the first time, over 2 million viewers watched an F1 race live via one of Sky’s television channels. The season started well in Bahrain, with an average of 1.94 million viewers watching the race, peaking above the 2 million mark.

Later in the year, 2.11 million viewers watched a dramatic Saudi Arabian Grand Prix unfold, with 2.30 million opting to stay with Sky for the season decider in Abu Dhabi. The latter figure excludes those who decided to watch Sky’s broadcast on Channel 4.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Dutch Grand Prix was Sky’s lowest rated of 2021, averaging just 1.12 million viewers.

Competition from other channels was easier than usual, with no Premier League football, however the race followed the farcical Belgian Grand Prix one week earlier, which may have invertedly caused a dip.

Sky’s wrap around programming felt the benefit of the championship battle, with their pre-race build-up increasing by 13.9% year-on-year, while their post-race analysis increased by 31.1%, both double their 2018 averages.

Unsurprisingly, both Britain and Italy saw larger post-race audiences, thanks to Hamilton and Verstappen’s on-track incidents, with 407,000 viewers sticking around for the Silverstone post-race analysis and 448,000 viewers sticking around for the Monza debrief.

The new F1 Sprint format also performed well, with an average of 739,000 viewers watching Hamilton charge through the field in Brazil, the figure including Sky’s extensive wrap-around programming.

Sky gained an extra competitive session because of the change, with the displaced Friday qualifying session performing strongly. Both the Italian and Brazilian qualifying programmes averaged 470,000 viewers, comfortably above Sky’s usual practice average.

…as Channel 4’s audience continues to drop…

While Sky benefited from the intense championship battle, Channel 4 saw no obvious benefit, outside of the Abu Dhabi decider.

Highlights of 20 races on the free-to-air broadcaster (excluding Silverstone and Abu Dhabi) averaged 1.50 million viewers, down 14.4% of the 2020 average of 1.75 million viewers.

Including Silverstone and Abu Dhabi, the 23 races on Channel 4 averaged 1.63 million viewers, down on the equivalent 2020 figure of 1.80 million viewers. An average of 3.36 million viewers watched the season decider live on Channel 4.

The return of USA and Mexico to the F1 calendar hurt Channel 4’s average, both bringing in less than a million viewers after 7 days of consolidation, in part thanks to their late night time slot on Sunday.

Channel 4’s weak average was compounded by the fact that five of the European based races (France, Styria, Belgium, Netherlands and Turkey) averaged under 1.50 million viewers compared with one race (Abu Dhabi) in 2020.

Nevertheless, there were some positive numbers in amongst the overall decline for Channel 4, with the Emilia Romagna, Hungarian and Italian rounds drawing in close to 2 million viewers for their 150-minute highlights packages.

An average of 1.97 million viewers watched as Hamilton and Verstappen collided for the second time in 2021 at Monza, a slight increase on an equally dramatic 2020 Italian Grand Prix, which brought in 1.88 million viewers.

…but the overall UK picture is positive…

Unsurprisingly, Hamilton versus Verstappen drew in the viewers in 2021.

3.22 million viewers watched across Sky Sports and Channel 4, an increase of 5.1% on 2020 average audience of 3.06 million viewers, bringing audience figures back to a level last seen in 2016 and 2017.

However, the 2021 average dropped slightly at end of season compared with the mid-season figure of 3.24 million viewers.

As referenced both the USA and Mexican rounds performed poorly on Channel 4, with Sky’s live audience failing to offset the Channel 4 drop. The lack of increase may also suggest audience fatigue crept in as the season progressed.

For example, the Qatar Grand Prix averaged 3.15 million viewers, 1,000 viewers fewer than the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, despite the championship battle having stepped up considerably by that point.

The season finale in Abu Dhabi was the most watched race of 2021, with 5.66 million viewers watching live across Channel 4 and Sky Sports, this figure including some of the pre-race build-up and post-race wrap-around.

Overnight data showed that a peak of 7.4 million viewers watched as Verstappen overtook Hamilton to win the F1 title.

Saudi Arabia, Britain and the season opener in Bahrain also drew strong audiences. The inaugural race in Saudi averaged 3.88 million viewers, F1’s highest average at that time since the 2018 US Grand Prix.

Channel 4’s and Sky’s F1 audiences continued to converge, with a 49:51 split between the two broadcasters.

Assuming Sky’s audience figures remain strong this season, it is increasingly likely that they will become the dominant F1 broadcaster, from an audience share perspective, in the UK moving forward.

…as F1 faces a worldwide audience dip

While Formula 1’s audience increased in the UK thanks to the championship battle between Hamilton and Verstappen, worldwide the sports average audience dropped significantly.

An average of 70.3 million viewers watched each race, a decrease of 20% on 2020’s average of 87.4 million viewers, and down on the 2019 figure of 91 million viewers.

F1 says that the decrease is due to a change in broadcast rights in Germany and Brazil. For markets where broadcast rights have remained identical, audience figures increased by 13% to 60.3 million viewers, which F1 says is the best figure since 2013.

Taking the figures at face value, this implies that where broadcast rights changed hands between 2020 and 2021, F1’s average audience dropped by 24.1 million viewers, from 34 million viewers in 2020 to 9.9 million viewers in 2021.

SeasonCumulative Audience% y-o-yAverage Audience% y-o-yRaces Held
20181.76 billionn/a83.7 millionn/a21
20191.92 billion9%91.5 million9%21
20201.49 billion-23%87.4 million-5%17
20211.55 billion4%70.5 million-19%22
Source: Formula 1 press releases / Motorsport Broadcasting analysis

The drop is significant for F1, but unsurprising in some ways. F1 themselves highlighted in their 2019 data release that Brazil and Germany were two of their top markets, a statistic that will have since changed two years later.

While not impacting the whole of 2021, it is likely that the closure of Fox Sports in Asia also dented F1’s average across the season. F1 needed to find new homes in territories such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia after Fox closed its doors in early Autumn.

The fact that F1’s figures have increased for territories where the TV rights have stayed the same is good, but it fails to account for the overall worldwide drop that F1 has experienced. Like Formula 1, Formula E also used their cumulative audience data to hide a race-by-race drop.

Over on F1’s digital platforms, analysis by this site shows that the amount of people watching F1’s race highlights packages on YouTube has increased by 41% year-on-year, from an average of 5.24 million viewers in 2020 to 7.38 million viewers in 2021.

Both the cumulative TV audience and unique audience increased by 4% and 3% respectively year-on-year to 1.55 billion viewers and 445 million viewers, reflecting the longer calendar compared with 2020.

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Sky Sports secures IndyCar rights in key European territories, including UK, until 2024 season

Sky Sports will continue to air the IndyCar Series in the UK until the end of the 2024 season, the broadcaster has announced.

The broadcaster made the announcement on Friday 29th October via their German arm Sky Sport. Sky have yet to make a formal announcement via their UK outlet.

Sky’s new exclusive deal also covers Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Ireland, and Italy. It is the first time that Sky has covered IndyCar in Germany, the series currently airing on Sport1+.

Sky says that the deal covers live coverage and highlights of IndyCar, as well as “extensive exploitation rights for numerous other content, such as highlight clips or archive material,” although it is unclear whether this element of the statement covers all territories or just Germany.

Charly Classen, Executive Vice President of Sport for Sky Deutschland said, “With the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, we have secured the exclusive rights to the largest motorsport series in the USA, which also has a large fan base in Europe.”

“The racing series is a perfect addition to our strong motorsport range.”

The 2021 season finished in September at Laguna Seca, with Alex Palou crowned Drivers’ Champion. Next year’s season is set to begin on February 27th from St Petersburg, the earliest start to an IndyCar season since 2000.

IndyCar continues to support strong Sky F1 portfolio outside of core content

2022 marks a decade since Sky Sports F1 first hit the airwaves in the UK, and the shape of the channel outside of F1 race weekends has changed somewhat in that time.

The most noticeable change is the increase in supplementary content to the core F1 action. In recent years, Sky have aired, in either live or highlights form, the British GT Championship, the Ferrari Challenge, GT World Challenge, with IndyCar also joining the fray since 2019.

Sky goes beyond the basics, the broadcaster opting to air IndyCar qualifying and practice live (yes, practice) where possible.

The partnership between Sky and IndyCar makes logical sense, considering Comcast owns both Sky and NBC in the US.

Earlier this year, NBC and IndyCar announced a multiple year extension to their rights deal, making the Sky arrangement in Europe more of a formality than originally anticipated.

Sky have promoted IndyCar more in the UK this season through their F1 programming, with viewing figures benefiting as a result.

The 105th Indianapolis 500 averaged 125,000 viewers across Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event according to consolidated data from BARB. The impressive figure takes into account Sky’s marathon two-hour build-up, with the race itself likely equalling 2019’s record figure for the 500.

Later in the season, IndyCar’s debut outing at Nashville on Sunday 8th August brought 66,000 viewers to Sky’s F1 channel, with 62,000 tuning in a week later to watch an IndyCar race round the Indianapolis Road Course.

While these figures are lower than Formula Two, IndyCar has built a loyal following over the past few years, a statement supported by IndyCar’s UK audience figures this year on Sky.

However, longstanding problems with IndyCar’s broadcast remain, including the lack of a consistent English-language commentary feed for the duration of the race which, in this writer’s view, prevents the series from growing further outside of America.

In addition, Sky have begun to air limited commercials following a sponsorship deal with Arrow, title sponsors of McLaren’s IndyCar outfit. It remains unknown if Sky intend to air commercials next season during their IndyCar coverage.

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Scheduling: The 2021 24 Hours of Le Mans

The Summer holidays may be in full force for most, but for the World Endurance Championship, this weekend marks the 89th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans!

For WEC, the weekend is round six of the 2021 season, with the Hypercar category now in the limelight.

Replacing the LMP1 category, the new category sees five cars competing for overall victory, with two Toyota’s, one Alpine, and two Glickenhaus entries in the running.

On the broadcasting side, over 300 people are involved in the production, covering both behind the scenes and on-air personnel. 104 cameras will cover the action across the week, with 44 of those cameras on-board 14 different cars.

The action in the UK airs across Discovery’s portfolio of channels, the brand having recently extended their rights agreement to cover Le Mans for an additional five years.

Live coverage of full race airs on Eurosport, with Discovery’s free-to-air station Quest airing the start and finish live.

Tom Gaymor continues to lead Discovery’s commentary team for UK viewers, alongside Mark Cole and Jake Sanson. For Sanson, it is the first time that he has commentated on Le Mans.

David Brabham, Charlie Robertson, and Chris Parson complete the UK team, whilst Tom Kristensen will continue to provide his expertise across Discovery’s output.

Ever wondered what commentators read before a season of motor racing starts? Take a look at the WEC’s graphics guide.

Alternatively, fans can watch the action via the WEC app. This year, voices including renowned commentator David Addison and five-time Le Mans winner Oliver Gavin join the World Feed team.

Gavin makes his Le Mans commentary debut, having retired from competitive action last October.

Martin Haven, Graham Goodwin and Allan McNish continue to lead the offering, alongside Addison, Gavin and Darren Turner and Gavin. In pit lane, Louise Beckett and Duncan Vincent will provide additional analysis.

Radio Le Mans will be doing their thing throughout the week, with John Hindhaugh leading the team.

The race starts at 16:00 local time (15:00 UK time) on Saturday, an hour later than in previous years and an hour and a half later than last year. As was the case last year, the World Feed will not be covering the first practice session, with live coverage kicking in from Wednesday evening onwards.

Wednesday 18th August
17:45 to 19:10 – Qualifying Practice (Eurosport 2)
20:50 to 23:10 – Practice 2 (Eurosport 2)

Thursday 19th August
13:00 to 16:00 – Practice 3 (Eurosport 2)
19:50 to 20:45 – Hyperpole (Eurosport 2)
20:45 to 23:10 – Practice 4 (Eurosport 2)

Saturday 21st August
10:15 to 11:00 – Warm-Up (Eurosport 1)
11:00 to 12:15 – Road to Le Mans (Eurosport 1)
14:15 (Saturday) to 15:30 (Sunday) – Race (Eurosport 1)
=> live coverage of the start from 14:15 to 17:00 on Quest on Saturday
=> live coverage of the finish from 13:00 to 15:30 on Quest on Sunday

Full scheduling details for the 2021 24 Hours of Le Mans. Scheduling details correct as of Tuesday 17th August and are subject to change.

If details change, I will update this article.

Update on August 21st at 14:50 – Tom Gaymor is no longer commentating for Eurosport today after being admitted to hospital with suspected appendicitis.

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Scheduling: The 2021 Berlin E-Prix

18 drivers. 2 qualifying sessions. 2 races. 1 weekend. And 1 championship.

With 60 points still on offer, there are 18 drivers still in contention to become the first ever Formula E World Champion as the series heads to Berlin for a double-header finale.

From Nyck de Vries on top currently with 95 points, all the way down to Alex Sims in 18th on 44 points, any one of those could exit Berlin as champion

The chances of someone clawing back that margin are highly unlikely, but Formula E has proved this season that anything is possible.

Following Channel 4’s one-off deal for the London E-Prix, live coverage of the Tempelhof weekend airs across the BBC and Discovery.

The first race airs live on Discovery’s free-to-air station Quest, with BBC Two picking up coverage of the season finale on Sunday.

In addition, the BBC’s and Eurosport’s digital platforms, as well as Eurosport 2, will be covering the action from both races.

It is unclear if the BBC are providing bespoke wrap-around content from Salford, as they have done previously when races aired on BBC Two, or whether Formula E themselves are providing localised UK coverage, like they did in London for Channel 4.

Vernon Kay presents the English-language feed, alongside Nicki Shields, with Jack Nicholls and Dario Franchitti on commentary, the latter three having been part of Formula E’s content offering since the very first race in Beijing 2014.

Series organisers say that “over 40 broadcast and digital partners” will cover the season finale, with a “strengthened” free-to-air offering in place.

Outside of the UK, broadcasters including Sat.1 (Germany), L’Equipe (France), Channel 20 and Italia Uno (Italy), CBS Network (USA) and SABC Sport (South Africa) will be airing the E-Prix.

Saturday’s race takes place earlier than usual for a double-header, this to give organisers time to reverse the circuit layout ready for the season finale on Sunday.

Friday 13th August
15:55 to 16:55 – Practice 1 (YouTube)

Saturday 14th August
06:55 to 07:40 – Practice 2 (YouTube)
08:45 to 10:15 – Qualifying (YouTube / BBC Red Button / Eurosport 2)
12:30 to 14:30 – Race 1 (BBC Red Button / Quest / Eurosport 2)
=> Quest coverage runs from 13:00 to 14:30

Sunday 15th August
06:55 to 07:40 – Practice 1 (YouTube)
08:25 to 09:10 – Practice 2 (YouTube)
10:15 to 11:45 – Qualifying (YouTube / BBC Red Button / Eurosport 2)
14:00 to 16:00 – Race 2 (BBC Two / Eurosport 2)

Full scheduling details for the 2021 Berlin E-Prix. Scheduling details correct as of Saturday 7th August and are subject to change.

As always, if plans change, the article above will reflect the updated scheduling details.

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5 key stories from the 2021 British Grand Prix weekend

The key talking point after last weekend’s British Grand Prix was, of course, that incident between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen which has generated column inches across the board.

On the broadcasting side, it was a newsworthy weekend, for multiple reasons.

Alongside the previously announced offline HDR test, there were other things that caught the eye over the Silverstone weekend. Here are just a few…

New format, new graphics…

A new experiment for Formula 1 brought with it new graphics for the Sprint session.

The changes were visible to fans immediately after the F1 opening titles, with the usual fly-over coming in the form of enhanced augmented reality graphics.

The pre-race graphics detailed the same information as usual, such as the track layout and starting grid, but in a different format to the Grand Prix graphics.

In my view, the changes helped to differentiate the Sprint to the main event on Sunday.

I know sometimes F1, and other forms of motor sport, sometimes have a habit of implementing ‘change for changes’ sake, but I thought that this was a cool change.

As a wrestling fan, it reminded me of WWE’s broadcasts, the wrestling juggernaut having used augmented reality to their advantage throughout the pandemic with no fans in attendance.

The graphics which followed during the race had mixed execution, however.

A graphic depicting the live speed of McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo at The Loop and Aintree fell into this category.

If this was a top speed graphic, it might make sense, displaying the live speed at one of the slowest parts of the circuit added little to the broadcast.

In contrast, F1 used augmented reality to highlight Alpine’s Fernando Alonso when riding on-board with McLaren driver Lando Norris, a graphic which worked well.

McLaren’s Lando Norris chases down Alpine’s Fernando Alonso in F1’s new Sprint experiment.

Others suggested that the Alonso graphic resembled a video game, but that for me is not a valid criticism.

Not every livery stands out as easily as a McLaren (orange) or Ferrari (red), especially when viewing from behind.

If F1’s implementation helps new viewers engage in our sport, then this is a change for the better.

Besides F1 are not the first (see: MotoGP, NASCAR, amongst others), and certainly not the last, to implement a graphic of the nature. 

…as audiences in the Netherlands remain strong

In the Netherlands, ratings bureau SKO reported that Friday’s evening qualifying session averaged 552,000 viewers (15.5% audience share) on Ziggo Sport.

The figure in-line with Saturday’s afternoon qualifying session from Austria, which brought 585,000 viewers (31.7% audience share).

The higher share for Austria is reflective of the fact that the Silverstone qualifying session aired in an evening time slot, so whilst more viewers could have watched Friday qualifying in the Netherlands, they opted not to.

Saturday’s Sprint averaged 717,000 viewers (28.9% audience share), a significant volume increase on Austria qualifying, with a slight share drop.

The race on Sunday, from the start of the red flag period, averaged 1.31 million viewers across Ziggo Sport and Ziggo Sport Select, equating to a 62.9% audience share.

In the US, 529,000 viewers watched the new Sprint format on ESPN, while the race averaged an excellent 1.03 million viewers, continuing F1’s positive trajectory in the States.

The picture was less positive in Spain, where the Sprint generated no additional interest.

According to Formula TV, 114,000 viewers (1.3% audience share) watched the Sprint programme on DAZN, compared with the 116,000 viewers who watched the Austria qualifying session.

Sustainability on the agenda…

Wherever you looked across the F1 weekend, sustainability was one of the main topics featured across F1’s UK broadcasts.

Sky’s #GoZero campaign was in the spotlight during the coverage, with all their presentation team using green ‘Sky Zero’ microphone coverings and recycled clothing.

The broadcaster hopes to become net zero carbon by 2030, and is working in collaboration with F1 to help bring down carbon emissions across the sport. F1 themselves announced that the Silverstone weekend was their first ever Carbon Neutral broadcast.

Writing on Sky’s F1 website, senior producer Jamie Coley explained how he plays his part in Sky’s Sustainability Content Group.

“The group brings producers and journalists together from across Sky Sports to find ways of achieving tangible results and awareness around the environmental problems our world faces through our sports coverage,” he says.

“Over the last year, this group has achieved some significant milestones, including making all our host broadcast sports productions albert certified sustainable productions, and joining the UNFCCC’s Sport for Climate Action Framework.”

“It has also led to Sky Sports marking a ‘Summer of Sustainability’ at some of the biggest events on the sporting calendar this week, including the British Grand Prix.”

“As a producer for Sky Sports F1, my part in this is helping to tell the great stories of how Sky and F1 are going green.”

“The best person to showcase the great work F1 has done and continues to do to improve its environmental impact, which for a petrol sport is no way easy feat, is Nico Rosberg who I filmed a special feature with that airs during this weekend’s coverage at Silverstone.”

Over on Channel 4, a feature involving Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel aired. Vettel, along with Lee McKenzie, visited a local school to help engage children on how to live sustainability in the future.

…as Channel 4 teams up with Hollywood stars

Channel 4 splashed out on their live offering from Silverstone, with Hollywood stars Tom Cruise and Ryan Reynolds featuring through their broadcasts.

Reynolds introduced viewers back to Channel 4’s programming throughout the weekend through short VTs.

Meanwhile, Cruise featured in the broadcaster’s excellent opener to their race day coverage alongside Steve Jones, David Coulthard and Mark Webber.

In the build-up to the Grand Prix, the BBC’s Top Gear team were also in action, preparing for the next series, which will air in the Autumn.

The feature sees Sebastian Vettel, Antonio Giovinazzi and Lando Norris taking on Paddy McGuiness, Freddie Flintoff, and Chris Harris in a head-to-head challenge.

Elsewhere, a week of contract signings

Outside of the F1 world, it has been a big week for a few rights holders.

Stateside, the IndyCar Series and NBC have extended their partnership in a multi-year agreement. Normally, a rights renewal is not surprising news, however in this instance it is, as earlier suggestions linked IndyCar to CBS.

NBC’s main station will air 13 races next season, with the remaining races airing on USA Network and NBC’s over-the-top platform Peacock.

No races will air on NBC Sports Network after this season, following NBC’s decision to close the channel at the end of 2021.

In the UK, BT Sport will remain home to the World Rally Championship until the end of 2024, after the two parties agreed a new three-year deal.

On the personnel front, Will Buxton has joined Motorsport Network’s portfolio of talent, the network has this week confirmed.

While Buxton will continue his F1 commitments, his YouTube show (This Week with Will), will move across exclusively to Motorsport.tv’s over-the-top platform on a free-to-view basis.

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