Analysis: How F1’s return to action fared around the world

A peak audience of close to four million viewers watched Formula 1’s return to action in the UK, overnight viewing figures suggest.

Highlights of the opening round of the season aired on Channel 4 from 18:30 to 21:00, averaging 1.6 million viewers according to industry expert Liam Hamilton on Twitter, making it the most watched programme outside of BBC One and ITV on Sunday.

The free-to-air offering peaked with 2.3 million viewers. That, combined with an average audience of 1.5 million viewers for Sky Sports F1’s coverage of the race itself from 14:05 to 16:00, meant that a peak audience of near to four million viewers sampled F1’s return on Sunday afternoon.

Both figures are in line with what F1 has broadly averaged during the past few seasons, with Sky’s figures a little higher than expected given the Premier League competition on Sky’s other sports channels.

Down under in Australia, a further 111,000 viewers heard Sky’s Formula 1 commentary via Fox Sports late on Sunday evening, according to Australian website TV Tonight.

Netherlands and Germany shine…
In Netherlands, an average audience of 1.44 million viewers (52.3% audience share) watched from 15:05 to 16:58 across Ziggo Sports and Ziggo Sport Select, according to ratings bureaux SKO.

The ‘Select’ channel, which airs Ziggo Sport’s main attractions, averaged 426,000 viewers (15.5%), with the dedicated F1 channel averaging a further 1.01 million viewers (36.8%).

Interest in Formula 1 has soared in the Netherlands in the past few years, thanks to the rise of Max Verstappen, although the number from this past weekend looks to be slightly higher than in previous years.

Over in Germany, an audience of 4.48 million viewers (28.0%) watched Sebastian Vettel’s poor performance on RTL, as they begin their final year broadcasting F1, before an exclusive deal  between F1 and Sky Deutschland kicks into effect next year. The race peaked with 5.15 million viewers.

Quotenmeter says that RTL’s figure is up slightly on the equivalent 2019 figure of 4.36 million viewers (28.6%).

Suffice to say that, as poor as Vettel has been in the past twelve months, Germany’s interest in F1 has held up remarkably. Time will tell if interest will hold when F1 moves behind a pay wall…

For now, Sky Deutschland and RTL both air F1 live in Germany, however no audience figures for the former for Austria are currently available.

Over the border in Austria, ORF’s live free-to-air coverage of the race itself from 15:05 to 16:55 averaged 609,000 viewers (46.0%), as they head into a shared partnership with ServusTV beginning next season.

ORF says that their coverage from the Red Bull Ring reached 1.91 million viewers across the whole weekend.

Stateside, ESPN’s coverage averaged a strong 752,000 viewers from 09:05, peaking with 890,000 viewers as the race concluded, the highest ever for the event, and an increase of 16 percent year-on-year.

…but a poor showing in Spain
In Italy, audience figures were like that seen in the UK.

Live coverage across Sky Sport F1 and Sky Sport Uno averaged 1.32 million viewers (11.3%) from 15:10, with 1.34 million viewers (10.9%) watching delayed coverage of the Grand Prix on Sky’s free-to-air channel TV8. Both shows peaked with just over two million viewers.

Further down Europe, the picture for Formula 1 in Spain looks bleak.

According to Formula TV, An audience of just 104,000 viewers (0.9%) watched live coverage of the race on Movistar’s F1 channel, a dismal figure for a country that once watched in their millions during Fernando Alonso’s heyday.

F1 has fallen out of the public consciousness in Spain, and McLaren’s Carlos Sainz is not recording on their radar, yet. The announcement that Alonso will return to F1 next season with Renault should give F1’s popularity in Spain a much-needed boost.

To put the Spanish figure into perspective, Polish journalist Mariusz Wójcicki reports that live coverage of the Grand Prix averaged 214,000 viewers in Poland.

Whilst the Polish figure is, understandably, down year-on-year with no Robert Kubica on the grid, it does put into perspective the alarmingly low figure in Spain.

Over in France, 1.06 million viewers watched F1’s return to action on Canal+, which they say is a record for Austria since they first began airing F1.

Days of large audience figures are over
Two figures stand out positively for me.

The first is in Netherlands. The raw audience is nothing to shout above in the grand scheme of things, but when you consider that only 17.5 million people live there, it is important, and shows how much Max Verstappen is cutting through the public eye.

Germany also stands out, because it is the last bastion that falls by the wayside, whenever the 2020 season draws to a close. An average audience of over four million viewers may halve overnight.

Across the above ten territories, an average audience of around 14.5 to 16.5 million viewers watched the Grand Prix on television. I have been generous and rounded that up slightly to account for missing data points.

At its peak, that figure will be higher, and then the reach figures that F1 announces in press even higher than that. There will be additional public data available, it is just a matter of trying to find it in the depths of the internet.

The 2020 average television figure will again be down on yesteryear because of F1’s transition towards pay TV. So, where have the viewers gone?

Some will be watching online via one of the respective broadcasters’ over-the-top platforms, others will have migrated to F1’s over-the-top platform, both of which will take up a larger percentage than in previous years.

We cannot quantify the volumes involved, because the relevant parties choose not to disclose these figures publicly, meaning the picture is incomplete. It is highly unlikely that all the lapsed television fans have migrated, however.

Nevertheless, the above offers a snapshot as to how F1 is performing across Europe. The overriding message is that in many territories around Europe, the days of Formula 1 achieving viewing figures of 4, 5, 6, or even 7 million viewers for its live airing, are over.

Updated on July 8th to account for US audience figures.


Contribute to the running costs of Motorsport Broadcasting by donating via PayPal

Over 200,000 viewers watch F1’s Virtual Bahrain Grand Prix across Sky Sports

A massive audience of over 200,000 viewers watched a special F1 Esports event on Sky Sports, consolidated viewing figures from BARB show.

With no action taking place on the circuit within the near future, organisations in the Esports arena have taken advantage by holding their own replacement races.

F1 opted to run a Virtual Bahrain Grand Prix using their F1 2019 video game, featuring McLaren’s Lando Norris, Williams driver Nicholas Latifi and a range of celebrities, including singer Liam Payne and Olympian Sir Chris Hoy.

The action aired live across three Sky Sports channels to an audience of 208,200 viewers from 20:00 to 21:30 on Sunday 22nd March via the TV set.

82,900 viewers watched on Sky Sports Main Event, with 82,600 viewers watching on the F1 channel, and a further 42,700 viewers watching on Sky Sports Mix.* The event was the most watched programme on those three channels for the week commencing 16th March.

To put that figure into comparison, last year’s running of the Indianapolis 500 averaged 172,000 viewers exclusively on Sky Sports F1, which in itself was a record high, whilst the Esports figure comfortably beats any Formula Two or Formula Three race that Sky has aired.

It is possible that the audience figures are some of the highest ever for an Esports event on UK television, but Motorsport Broadcasting is unable to confirm that as of writing.

This is in addition to the online average audience reported by Echarts of 279,000 viewers worldwide across Facebook, YouTube and Twitch.

The Virtual Vietnam Grand Prix is set to air live across Sky’s outlets and social media again this Sunday from 20:00.

* Technical Note: Logs on the BARB website shows the description for the Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Sports Mix as ‘Sky Sports News’ and ‘NBA’ respectively. However, Motorsport Broadcasting can confirm that the underlying figures are for the F1 Esports event.


Contribute to the running costs of Motorsport Broadcasting by donating via PayPal

Live F1 testing coverage performs solidly on Sky Sports F1

Live coverage of the first Formula 1 test of 2020 performed solidly in the UK, consolidated figures released by BARB show.

For the first-time ever, F1 covered all six days of testing live, with Sky Sports acting as co-producers throughout the two tests.

Viewing figures in this article only include those that watch via the TV set, excluding those that watched via other devices such as Sky Go and Now TV.

Audience figures were generally stable during the first test. The first afternoon from Barcelona averaged 49,000 viewers from 13:00 to 17:00, with the post-session wrap-up show averaging 31,200 viewers. The morning session averaged fewer than 21,400 viewers via the TV set.

Action on the second day averaged 29,500 viewers, with 22,200 viewers watching the morning session and 36,800 viewers watching the afternoon segment. 29,200 viewers watched The Story so Far after the chequered flag had fallen.

The final day of test one recorded the highest numbers of the week, with an average of 38,200 viewers watching testing, split 37,500 and 39,100 respectively. The week hit a peak with The Story so Far on Friday, averaging 53,000 viewers.

Year-on-year comparison are difficult given that some of last year’s action also aired on Sky Sports Main Event.

However, we can see the impact of F1 testing through Sky Sports F1’s weekly reach, which surged from 348,000 viewers for the week commencing 10th February to 850,000 viewers for the week commencing 17th February, a jump of 144 percent.

Last year, the weekly reach jumped from 372,000 viewers to 679,000 viewers for the first test, a weaker jump of 82 percent, although this could be because Sky Sports Main Event simulcasted some of the coverage.

During February 2018, when testing did not air live, Sky F1 hit a weekly reach high of 472,000 viewers, and the jump back then was a result of the annual Race of Champions event. All other weeks in that month averaged under 300,000 viewers.

In comparison, a typical race week reaches just over two million viewers, showing that, although the testing figures are naturally lower, there is appetite for it.

The reason for the huge difference between the averages and the channel reach will be because of the ‘dip in, dip out’ nature of testing, meaning different viewers may have viewed different days, and so on.

Formula E increases on Eurosport; WRC starts positively on ITV4
Although figures for the BBC are unavailable, consolidated viewing figures for Eurosport’s coverage of Formula E show a significant jump for season six so far.

The Santiago E-Prix in January averaged 42,400 on Eurosport, whilst the Mexico City E-Prix four weeks later February 15th averaged 61,700 viewers in a 22:00 time slot.

What is unclear is whether these are new viewers to Formula E, or viewers who previously watched the electric series on Channel 5 but opted to migrate to Eurosport instead of pressing the BBC’s Red Button.

Elsewhere, highlights of the first two rounds of the World Rally Championship on ITV4 have averaged 213,900 viewers and 232,900 viewers for Monte Carlo and Finland respectively.

Both numbers are in-line with what the series was averaging when it last aired on ITV4 in 2015.


Contribute to the running costs of Motorsport Broadcasting by donating via PayPal

Tracking Formula 1’s 2019 UK TV viewing figures at the half way stage

Formula 1’s television audience in the United Kingdom has dropped by between five and ten percent compared with the first half of 2018, analysis conducted by Motorsport Broadcasting suggests.

2019 heralds the start of a new era for F1 in the UK, after Sky Sports snatched exclusive rights to the championship back in 2016, in a deal that lasts until the end of 2024. The broadcaster sub-let the free-to-air element of their contract to Channel 4, in a one-year deal. The free-to-air element covers highlights of every race, as well as live coverage of the British Grand Prix.

Now in their eighth season, Sky have cemented their status in the F1 paddock as one of the sport’s main broadcasters. But how have viewing figures stacked up in the first half of 2019 compared to last year?

Overnight viewing figures
Traditionally at this point, Motorsport Broadcasting would use the UK overnight viewing figures data to generate averages across several years, using the data for comparative purposes. Unfortunately, as of April, due to circumstances beyond Motorsport Broadcasting’s control, this site no longer has access to that data.

To continue to access overnight data would cost a significant amount, and is not a viable option financially for an independent writer. Instead, we must now rely on a limited amount of consolidated audience data via the BARB website.

Overnight audience figures, known in the industry as Live + VOSDAL (live and ‘video on same day as live’), are released the day after transmission, whereas consolidated audience figures include viewers who watched via the TV set within seven days of broadcast, and exclude commercial breaks.

Therefore, the consolidated audience figures in this piece cannot be compared to overnight audience data elsewhere on this site.

The consolidated data in this piece covers the TV set only, to allow for fair and accurate comparisons with 2018. The figures exclude viewers who are watching via on-demand platforms, such as All 4, Sky Go and Now TV, which is likely to make up a larger portion of Formula 1’s audience than in previous years.

Although Motorsport Broadcasting no longer has access to overnight audience figures, I still intend to present a fair and accurate picture of Formula 1 viewing figures in the UK, as increasingly difficult as that becomes over the months ahead.

The analysis in this article covers the first eleven races of the season, meaning that the Hungarian Grand Prix is excluded.

Channel 4
In 2018, Channel 4 aired five of the first eleven rounds live, with the remaining six airing in highlights form. Now in its new contract with Sky, only one of the first eleven rounds have aired live this season, that being the British Grand Prix.

The free-to-air broadcaster splits their live race day programming into three blocks: build-up, the race itself and post-race reaction.

To present a fair comparison between live and highlights, this site uses the first two portions to generate a weighted average. For ease of analysis, we assume that Channel 4’s build-up is 40 minutes long, with 160 minutes for the race segment.

Channel 4’s programming in the first half of 2019 averaged 1.71 million viewers a decrease of 18.4 percent on the equivalent 2018 figure of 2.10 million viewers, a loss of 387,000 viewers on average.

On a like-for-like basis, Channel 4’s six highlights programmes in 2018 averaged 1.93 million viewers, compared with 1.68 million viewers for their ten highlights programmes so far in 2019, a decrease of 12.8 percent, or 247,000 viewers.

If 100 people watch Channel 4’s coverage, but only 40 people on average tune in for the wrap-around analysis (same as other sports events), the average in 2018 would be 75 compared to 68 in 2019, a decrease of 9 percent.

There are two main factors as to why Channel 4’s audience has dropped by between 10 and 20 percent, depending on the metric you use. The first is simply that a portion of Channel 4’s audience has shifted to Sky since 2018 (see below).

However, the make-up of Channel 4’s highlights has changed since 2018, due to restrictions imposed on them by Sky. A two-hour programme, with less on-track action will inevitably result in a lower average audience for the entire programme. A portion of the audience only cares about the on-track action and will skip over the chatter.

2019 started on a painful note for Channel 4, with four of the opening five races recording drops of over 30 percent. It is no coincidence that the first three races also aired live on Sky’s general entertainment channel Sky One, suggesting that Sky’s move did significant damage to Channel 4’s audience in the early phase of the season.

The scale of the year-on-year drop has diminished as the season headed towards the Summer break, but only two races have increased their audience year-on-year on Channel 4. France (up 20.2 percent) and Austria (up 3.8 percent) recorded poor numbers in 2018 due to the FIFA World Cup.

A spectacular German Grand Prix proved to be Channel 4’s highlight in the first half of 2019, averaging 2.10 million viewers, but even that was down by 16.3 percent year-on-year.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, 1.20 million viewers watched the Canadian Grand Prix in a late-night 23:00 time slot which, although it is their lowest number of the year, is a respectable figure, and down a relatively small 5.1 percent year-on-year.

Sky Sports
Ten out of the first eleven races in 2019 aired exclusively live on Sky. That, combined with a huge pre-season advertising campaign, means an increase in Sky’s audience figures is expected. But, has the pay television broadcaster clawed back the loss that Channel 4 has made, or do we end up with a net loss overall?

As highlighted above, Sky aired the first three races of 2019 on Sky One to try to attract further subscribers to Sky Sports F1. As in 2018, Sky split their programming into four blocks: Pit Lane Live, On the Grid, the race itself and Paddock Live.

Calculating a three-and-a-half-hour average, as this site has historically done, is impossible without access to detailed five-minute breakdowns. Instead, we will use the whole of On the Grid (35 minutes in length) and the race itself (around 135 minutes), using those figures to produce a weighted average per race.

Unfortunately, the data on BARB’s website for Sky’s F1 programming is incomplete, with the following data points missing:

  • 2018
    • Australia – Sky Sports Main Event [On the Grid]
    • China – Sky Sports Main Event [On the Grid]
    • Monaco – Sky One [both]
    • Canada – Sky Sports F1 [both]
    • Britain – Sky One [both]
  • 2019
    • Australia – Sky One [both]; Sky Sports Main Event [On the Grid]
    • Bahrain – Sky One [On the Grid]
    • China – Sky One [both]; Sky Sports Main Event [On the Grid]
    • Germany – Sky Sports Main Event [both]

I appreciate this is far from ideal, but it cannot be helped, without paying to access the missing data points.

You might argue that, without these data points, analysis of Sky’s data is meaningless. I would argue in response that writing an analytical article on Channel 4’s viewing figures without mentioning Sky’s own figures only paints one side of the story, and is also meaningless without accounting for the wider context.

Of course, the analysis from this point forward should be treated with a degree of caution. But I would rather write about it and let an informed debate happen, instead of choosing not to publish an article at all.

Based on the published consolidated data, a weighted average of at least 782,000 viewers have watched Sky’s F1 programming in 2019, covering both On the Grid and the race itself, an increase of 27.7 percent, or 170,000 viewers, on the 2018 figure of 612,000 viewers.

The averages above include simulcasts where BARB have reported the data, and excludes Canada, as there is no 2018 data available. Sky’s 2019 audience figures are likely to be significantly higher when accounting for the missing 2019 data.

On balance, the average audience for Sky One’s simulcasts of Australia and China, plus Sky Sports Main Event’s coverage from Germany, will have a greater impact than the two Sky One simulcasts in 2018 (when both races also aired live on Channel 4).

We know that Sky One did very well for the opening rounds (although Australia and China failed to make Sky One’s top 15 in the respective weeks), whilst Germany will add a few hundred thousand viewers on Sky Sports Main Event (for which there is no data for that week).

The Bahrain Grand Prix has been Sky’s highlight of the season so far. Airing across Sky Sports F1 and Sky One, the race itself averaged 1.41 million viewers, a figure double last year’s Sky F1-only figure of 713,000 viewers.

Close behind, a controversial Canadian Grand Prix averaged 1.38 million viewers for the race segment across Sky’s F1 channel and Sky Sports Main Event. More impressively, Sky’s Paddock Live segment for Canada averaged 370,000 viewers from 21:25 to 22:00, one of their highest ever figures for the post-race show.

What can we decipher?
Based on the data we have available publicly, Channel 4’s coverage averaged 1.71 million viewers during the first half of 2019, a decrease of 387,000 viewers year-on-year. Sky’s coverage has averaged 782,000 viewers, an increase of 170,000 viewers (ignoring Canada).

Last year, the split between Channel 4 and Sky was 77:23, compared with 69:31 this year, both in Channel 4’s favour.

Combined, an average audience of at least 2.50 million viewers have watched Formula 1 so far in 2019, compared with 2.71 million viewers in 2018, a decrease of 217,000 viewers, or 8.0 percent. The decrease year-on-year is likely to be smaller than that, given the missing data points for Sky.

If we are to assume:

  • Sky One’s 2019 simulcasts of Australia and China averaged 200,000 viewers each
  • Sky Sports Main Event’s 2019 simulcast of Germany averaged 300,000 viewers
  • Sky One’s 2018 simulcasts of Britain and Monaco averaged 150,000 viewers each

This would bring Sky’s average up to 837,000 viewers, an excellent increase of 201,000 viewers year-on-year. It would bring the combined average audience up to 2.55 million viewers, compared with 2.74 million viewers twelve months ago, a year-on-year decrease of 185,000 viewers, or 6.8 percent.

Whichever way you cut it, Formula 1’s viewing figures in the UK have dropped year-on-year. Whilst any drop is disappointing, the decrease is less than 10 percent, and could well be closer to 5 percent when including all the consolidated data.

Yes, the headline figures are down, but in the context of the changing television landscape and the new television deal, the figures are not actually that bad.

Formula 1 cannot be complacent though; the sport needs to work with broadcasters to try to stop the audience decline. An extension to Channel 4’s highlights package for 2020 is needed to keep the free-to-air, mass audience shop window open.

Research from UK’s telecommunications authority Ofcom, released on August 7th, showed that whilst traditional television viewing is still top dog, viewing is falling at a “slightly faster rate” than in previous years, which Ofcom attributes to “the changing habits and preferences of viewers.”

According to Ofcom, around half of UK homes now subscriber to at least one streaming service, whilst young people spend an hour a day on YouTube. With F1 now releasing highlights in a variety of formats across social media, it is inevitable that their television audience figures for non-live programming will be hit harder as a result.

What we have not mentioned at all so far in this piece is the impact that the on-track action can have on audience figures. Formula 1 has had a fantastic period on-track heading into the Summer break, with thrillers in Austria, Britain, Germany, and Hungary.

But what 2019 lacks that 2018 had is the championship battle up-front, and that could be a turn off for television viewers as the season heads into the final half, beginning with the Belgian Grand Prix in two weeks’ time.


Contribute to the running costs of Motorsport Broadcasting by donating via PayPal

British Grand Prix bowled out by tough competition

Coverage of the British Grand Prix was squeezed on Sunday afternoon, as the Formula 1 race faced tough competition from Wimbledon and the Cricket World Cup final, 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, a number of figures have been published in the public domain, the sources for which are at the foot of this article.

Television
Live coverage of the Grand Prix averaged 1.8m (13%) on Channel 4 from 13:10 to 16:45. The figure includes their pre-race build-up and post-race reaction.

Channel 4’s coverage reached a five-minute peak of 2.8 million viewers as Lewis Hamilton won the race. The peak audience increases to 3.7 million viewers when including Sky Sports F1’s offering, resulting in a split of around 76:24 in Channel 4’s favour.

F1’s audience figures are the lowest for Silverstone since 2006, when the race started at 12:00 UK time to avoid competition from the football World Cup. Year-on-year, F1 lost around 700,000 viewers due to the increased competition.

Despite the year-on-year decrease, Channel 4’s peak audience is their highest of the year so far for F1, which is to be expected as it is the only race that the free-to-air broadcaster is airing live this season.

In contrast, an average audience of 6.0m (43%) watched Novak Djokovic beat Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final from 13:50 to 19:35 on BBC One.

The final peaked with a massive 10.2m (49.2%) just after 19:00 as Djokovic won the match. Whilst the Grand Prix did not beat Wimbledon head-to-head, the race itself did beat the cricket, although this was before the cricket hit its stride later in the afternoon.

A peak audience of over eight million viewers watched England’s cricket victory over New Zealand at 19:25. It was the first time a major cricket game had aired live on free-to-air television in the UK since the famous Ashes 2005 series between England and Australia.

At the time of the peak, 4.8m (23.2%) were watching Channel 4, with an additional 3.5 million viewers watching via Sky One, Sky Sports Cricket and Sky Sports Main Event.

Audience figures suggest that many viewers switched over with the cricket when Channel 4 moved from the cricket to the F1 at 13:10, as More 4’s airing of the cricket averaged a sizeable 936k (7.2%).

In comparison, Channel 4’s morning coverage of the cricket averaged 1.2m (16.9%) from 09:00 to 13:10, a lower audience but higher share than the F1. When Channel 4 returned to the cricket at 16:45, the remainder of their coverage averaged 2.5m (13.7%) until 20:15.

Channel 4’s CEO Alex Mahon said “I’m thrilled that a total peak audience of 8.3m watched England win the Cricket World Cup Final on Channel 4 and Sky and 3.7m viewers saw Lewis Hamilton win a record-breaking sixth British Grand Prix.”

“It’s wonderful that the whole nation can come together to share these momentous British sporting events thanks to a fantastic partnership between Channel 4 and Sky.”

Online
It was a big day for the BBC Sport website. Their live page for the Cricket World Cup final attracted 39.7 million hits, BBC’s highest of the year so far across News and Sport.

In comparison, the Wimbledon live page recorded 13.4 million hits, with the British Grand Prix live page seeing 2.5 million views.

Of course, the length of the three events plays its part (cricket lasted the best part of nine hours, whereas the Grand Prix is 90 minutes), but it shows that the Grand Prix was squeezed out badly by both the cricket and Wimbledon.

I know you cannot avoid every sporting event, but scheduling the Grand Prix against Wimbledon (again) and the Cricket World Cup final was never going to end well.

It meant that a fantastic Grand Prix was pushed off the back page, quite rightly, when on another Sunday, it may well have received many more plaudits, and higher audience figures to boot.

Of course, expecting F1 to equal major finals is a ridiculous notion, but a clear path yesterday would have allowed F1 to reach 30 to 40 percent more viewers than what they did.

Evidently, major live sport on free-to-air television is like buses. When they do turn up, they all arrive in one go. Not everyone can win, and yesterday it was F1 that lost out on the jackpot.

With only one race live on free-to-air television for each of the next five years, F1 as a collective cannot afford to waste days like yesterday.

Sources: Broadcast, Channel 4 Press, Dan Roan (BBC), Laura Lambert (Daily Mail)


Contribute to the running costs of Motorsport Broadcasting by donating via PayPal