Liberty Media helps bring F1 social media strategy on-track

The direction from Liberty Media, through Formula One Management, to pour resources into Formula 1’s official social media platforms appears to be paying off, figures for the first half of 2017 show, with Formula 1 the fastest growing motor racing series.

Liberty Media helps F1 to significant growth…
This site has tracked the cumulative number of followers for the likes of F1, MotoGP and the IndyCar Series across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram since March. The results for Formula 1 are impressive, with a 20 percent boost in the cumulative number, going from 7.9 million followers in March to 9.6 million followers at the end of July, racing past NASCAR. Assuming the rate of trajectory continues, I would expect F1 to reach 12 million followers across the three platforms by the end of the season.

At the foot of the table, Formula Two and GP3 continue to struggle, below the likes of the British Touring Car Championship. As I mentioned briefly last December, Liberty needs to work hard to help promote Formula Two, after all it should feature the next generation of Formula 1 stars, such as Charles Leclerc. A few video highlights on Facebook and Twitter would significantly help the series’ reach, as would cross-promotion with the F1 channels. Instead, Formula Two and GP3 hides their video highlights away exclusively on their website. I suspect Liberty needs more resources dedicated both of their social media channels. It is absurd for example that Formula Two still does not have an active YouTube channel.

Social media - August 2017 - motor sport series comparison
Comparing the leading motor sport series on social media, showing their cumulative follower growth between March and July 2017.

Fernando Alonso’s drive in the 2017 Indianapolis 500 has helped IndyCar’s standing on social media, jumping from 860,000 followers to 1.06 million followers, a percentage rise higher than F1’s outlined above. The social media strategy around #AlonsoRunsIndy worked, although I suspect any long-term impact for IndyCar will be minimal, unless he returns next year! Further back, the electric Formula E series gained around 60,000 followers from March to July, a jump of 13.9 percent (note: figure recorded prior to the season finale). Formula E is rising at a similar rate to the World Endurance Championship, which is not a great statistic considering the interest from manufactures in the former. Certainly, Formula E’s social media standing is reflective of their viewing figures worldwide in my opinion.

The small rise for Roborace is because of the removal of ‘bot’ followers from their various platforms, meaning that they only see a jump of around 2,000 followers. As mentioned before, I am highly suspect of Roborace’s numbers, I would be unsurprised if the real number was a quarter, or even a tenth, of what the statistics suggest.

…but Mercedes’ F1 growth stagnates…
The loss of Nico Rosberg has hurt Mercedes’ social media portfolio, with Red Bull Racing the major winners. The drinks company has seen growth for the past two years, which has continued in the first half of 2017, their platforms (excluding drivers) rising from 8.95 million followers last December to 11.36 million cumulative followers, a substantial rise of 26.9 percent. In comparison, Mercedes following increased from 13.99 million followers to 14.57 million, a smaller jump of just 4.2 percent. Their Facebook following has stalled at around 11 million followers for the past year and a half, suggesting that it may have peaked in that department.

Social media - August 2017 - F1 team increase
Comparing Formula 1’s ten teams on social media, looking at their cumulative followers and growth between December 2016 and August 2017.

Whilst Liberty Media’s aggressive social media helped the official F1 channels, the loss of Jenson Button and Nico Rosberg hurt the series as Stoffel Vandoorne and Lance Stroll replaced them once the dominos fell into place. Rosberg and Button were Formula 1’s third and fourth biggest stars on social media, behind Lewis Hamilton and Alonso. The pair leave behind a significant gap, with Daniel Ricciardo now F1’s third star on social media, currently half of Alonso’s following and less than a quarter of Hamilton’s combined number.

Moreover, Hamilton and Alonso are still recording the biggest growths on social media with no signs of slowing down. In the first half of 2017, Hamilton acquired 1.73 million new followers, with Ricciardo acquiring 683,000 new followers. The loss of Rosberg, who was Formula 1’s first new champion since 2010, is extremely apparent when you look at the numbers. It continues to be the case that neither Sebastian Vettel or Kimi Raikkonen have a social media presence, both would likely fill that gap in another world.

…as Ricciardo becomes the third top dog
The loss of Rosberg and Button may explain why audience figures have struggled to rise, for example in the UK, where Button would have had a strong and loyal fan base. Hopefully, this is a short-term pain, long-term gain situation, whereby Ricciardo and Verstappen fill the gap left behind in the years to come, assuming both drivers have the equipment underneath them to deliver the results on the circuit. F1 on the list below does skew older age wise than MotoGP, which is a major issue moving forward.

Social media - August 2017 - F1 vs MotoGP
Comparing how Formula 1’s and MotoGP’s top drivers line-up against each other on social media.

The problem illustrated above will be one that MotoGP faces when Valentino Rossi retires, although you could easily see Rossi going another three to five years. Whilst Rossi is firmly top dog on social media, the championship is in a situation where there are other stars on the track building their reputation. MotoGP’s rider numbers are generally lower than Formula 1, as one might expect. From an age perspective, Marc Marquez, Max Verstappen and Maverick Vinales are the stars with potential in the next ten years in the new media platforms.

It will be fascinating to track the trajectories in both MotoGP and F1 as the baton moves from Rossi and Hamilton respectively. Of course, this assumes that Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are still around. Instagram is the platform continuing to surge, with it set to overtake Twitter in terms of F1 team and driver influence within the next six months to a year, despite only having a quarter of the F1 following two years ago.


Vettel versus Hamilton not bringing new viewers to Formula 1, yet

The 2017 Formula One championship battle between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton has not yet captured the imagination of viewers in the United Kingdom, audience figures for the first half of the season suggest.

> Channel 4 records big early season drops
> Azerbaijan Grand Prix the highlight so far
> On-demand audience growing

All figures in this post are ‘overnight’ audience figures supplied by, which includes everyone who watched the race before 02:00 the following morning, officially called Live + VOSDAL (viewing on same day as live). The Sky Sports viewing figures cover the ‘Pit Lane Live’ and ‘Race’ segments, normally covering the period from 12:00 to 15:30, although can be slightly longer, for example in Azerbaijan due to the red flag period.

Channel 4’s live race programmes last year were for the complete on-air slot. However, the broadcaster has stayed on-air longer this year for their post-race analysis. Furthermore, like Sky did a few years ago, Channel 4 made the decision to split their programming into three blocks: Build-Up, Race, and Reaction. This post covers the first two parts, but excludes the third section to present a fair and meaningful picture year-on-year for Channel 4’s live broadcasts.

This piece only covers the first half of the 2017 season, so I have excluded the Hungarian Grand Prix from this year’s average. Similarly, comparisons are with the first half of every preceding season.

Sky’s 2017 story
As usual, every race has aired live on Sky Sports F1, with simulcasts on other Sky Sports channels. Sky’s programming, from 12:00 to 15:30 or equivalent, has averaged 599,000 viewers, their lowest average audience since they started covering Formula 1 in 2012. The audience represents a drop of 3 percent on last year’s audience of 617,000 viewers.  Compared with 2012, Sky’s coverage has dropped by 23 percent, or by 174,000 viewers. What you cannot tell from these figures is whether these viewers have transitioned towards other methods of viewing, or have simply stopped viewing Sky’s F1 coverage. Has a quarter of Sky’s Formula 1 audience from 2012 really switched to Sky Go or Now TV as their method of viewing F1? The below paragraph might give a clue…

Coverage of the races exclusively live on Sky have averaged 592,000 viewers, compared with an average of 604,000 viewers for the races that Channel 4 also covered live. No, that previous sentence is neither a mistake, or a typo, Sky really does benefit from live Formula 1 on free-to-air television! However, the same phenomenon also occurred last year, although there are some interesting statistics within the detail this year. The Monaco Grand Prix rated higher than the Spanish round, yet Spain was the race Sky aired exclusively live. Furthermore, Britain’s audience was higher than Austria, yet Sky aired Austria exclusively live. The point I am making is that the value of Sky’s exclusive live coverage has evaporated compared to when they first started covering Formula 1 in 2012, to the degree where their coverage now sees little uplift for their exclusive coverage.

Fortunately for Sky, the race by race picture is positive, with four races (Australia, China, Canada, and Azerbaijan) recording increases of 10 percent or above year-on-year. What distorts the picture for Sky is a hefty year-on-year drop for the Austrian Grand Prix, which dropped by one-third, an unusually high drop in the context of their viewing figures so far, this season. It is easy to dismiss Sky’s numbers as poor and going in the wrong direction, but there are one or two stand out audience figures that skew the picture. Overall, Sky’s viewing figures on the whole look okay compared with 2016. However, the numbers are not great and they should be higher, after all Sky are the exclusive F1 broadcaster in two years’ time. The viewing figures are currently middle of the road.

A peak audience of 954,000 viewers have watched Sky’s coverage across the first ten races of 2017, a drop of 3.6 percent year-on-year compared with last year’s peak audience of 989,000 viewers. Sky’s peak audiences recently have been incredibly stable: the last four races before the Summer break peaked between the 1.04m and 1.08m range, again suggesting that exclusivity is having no impact on their overall viewing figures this season. Sky’s high point this season came with the Canadian Grand Prix, which drew a peak audience of 1.47 million viewers, beating Channel 4 in that metric.

Channel 4’s 2017 story
On race day, Channel 4’s coverage has averaged 1.86 million viewers, a decrease of 8 percent year-on-year. Worryingly, Channel 4’s race day programme has lost 47 percent of the viewers that the BBC had in 2015, when it averaged 3.51 million viewers. The viewing figures this year have not been positive for the broadcaster, with only two races seeing year-on-year increases. There are a multitude of reasons in play: their live races have generally under delivered on the track, promotion in year two sign-posting their coverage has not been as significant, and the warmer weather impacted their early season viewing figures. Splitting their programme into three has had a detrimental impact, some opting to skip the first portion of the broadcast.

Channel 4’s live coverage of the five races that they have aired so far have averaged 2.11 million viewers, with their highlights programming averaging 1.60 million viewers, meaning their live coverage gets around a 32 percent uplift. The two most important races in the championship battle so far, the Spanish and Azerbaijan Grand Prix are the only two rounds that have increased year-on-year for Channel 4, both by around 10 percent. Channel 4 covered Spain in highlights form this year, and likely a bigger draw compared with 2016 due to Lewis Hamilton surviving past lap one, whilst Azerbaijan saw the controversy between Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel. Every other race has lost viewers compared with 2016. Australia, Canada, and Austria all suffered audience drops of over 20 percent. In the case of Australia and Canada, viewers turned to Sky in both cases (presumably due to the late highlights time for the latter), whilst Austria dropped across the board.

Generally, Channel 4’s live coverage peaks with around one million more viewers than their highlights programming. A peak audience of 2.59 million viewers have watched Channel 4’s coverage so far this year, 3.10 million viewers for their live shows and 2.18 million viewers for the highlights. Even if Sky does decide to sub-let a Formula 1 highlights package to a terrestrial free-to-air station, you can immediately see that the sport is going to lose some casual viewers in the process by switching to a new model. The difference in peak audiences is invisible in the Sky only figures up the article, and certainly will not be cancelled out through the likes of Sky Go and Now TV. It is an undeniable fact that Formula 1 attracts a larger total audience when it is live on free-to-air television. Channel 4’s 2017 high so far came with the Bahrain Grand Prix, which attracted a peak audience of 3.42 million viewers.

Combined audience and final thoughts
Although figures for Sky Go and Now TV are not readily available, streaming platforms are growing year-on-year, admittedly perhaps at a slower rate than to overhaul the TV decline. Data from shows that the All 4 platform is growing month by month, with Formula 1 one of the primary factors for the increase. Whilst live sport is still primarily consumed by those watching on television, there are a range of other techniques that fans can watch the action by. However, whilst the on-demand growth is good for Formula 1, we must not forget that the action was available via BBC iPlayer two years ago. Has All 4’s numbers for F1 overhauled the numbers that BBC iPlayer was delivering when it was covering the sport. I suspect the answer is no, simply because of the size and availability of both platforms. Of course, F1 coverage is available via BBC Radio 5 Live (numbers also not readily available) which may well be delivering stronger audiences since the move of their television product from the BBC to Channel 4.

At the half way stage of 2017, the UK combined television average audience stands at 2.46 million viewers, a decrease of 7 percent compared with 2016’s average audience of 2.63 million viewers. Perhaps showing the draw of live Formula 1 on free-to-air television, the five races live on free-to-air averaged 2.72 million viewers (down 2 percent), versus 2.19 million viewers (down 13 percent) for the races exclusively live on Sky. Four of the top five races this year had live coverage on free-to-air television:

01 – 2.99 million viewers – Azerbaijan Grand Prix (live)
02 – 2.86 million viewers – British Grand Prix (live)
03 – 2.82 million viewers – Bahrain Grand Prix (live)
04 – 2.65 million viewers – Spanish Grand Prix (highlights)
05 – 2.55 million viewers – Monaco Grand Prix (live)

The season high is clearly Azerbaijan across the metrics analysed, not only the highest average of the season but also recording a decent percentage rise year-on-year. The only other race to increase year-on-year is Spain, the Catalunya race seeing a 6 percent rise compared with 2016. From the championship perspective, the two races that have seen wheel to wheel action between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel are the two events that have seen jumps, perhaps no coincidence. Whilst the other races have contributed to the story between the two drivers, Spain and Azerbaijan were clearly the ‘flash points’ so far, this season. Arguably, Spain could have brought a higher audience had the race aired live on free-to-air television.

At the other end of the spectrum, Australia and Austria saw drops of 17 and 26 percent respectively year-on-year. Of course, Australia in 2016 had extra promotion from Channel 4 given that it was their first ever race, whereas the early season promotional hype this year from the broadcaster was underwhelming in comparison. The Austrian Grand Prix suffered across the board in both Sky’s live broadcast and Channel 4’s race highlights, like Russia the race was distinctly average until the final stages. A rise for Azerbaijan followed immediately by a drop for Austria does beg the question: why did F1 not benefit from the Hamilton and Vettel spat in Baku in forthcoming races? Did broadcasters not use the clash between the two drivers to aid the promotion of future races? Without wanting to bang the ‘live free-to-air’ drum again, I raise the point that F1 struggles to capitalise on flash points when live behind a pay wall.

Three of the five races broadcast live across free-to-air and pay television have peaked with above 4 million viewers, whilst Monaco and Russia peaked with around 3.5 million viewers. The races where Channel 4 aired highlights have peaked with a cumulative three million viewers, Spain the exception with a stronger peak of 3.78 million viewers.

Neither of the television broadcasters, or the BBC regarding their radio figures, have yet responded to a request for comment.

The difficult decisions that lie ahead for Sky

The British Grand Prix marked the half way stage of the 2017 Formula One season, in a championship that is shaping up to be a classic between Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel. The race from the famous Silverstone circuit also heralded the ‘notional’ half way mark of Channel 4’s current Formula 1 contract. In just a year and a half, Sky Sports in the UK will have the exclusive television rights to Formula 1.

Whilst the change is significant in that Formula 1 will not air live on free-to-air terrestrial television for 2019, the change is also significant because it is the first time that a group of talent has ‘disappeared’ from the UK scene. Yes, ITV’s coverage finished at the end of 2008, but some of their talent headed to the BBC.

Behind the scenes, and in front of the camera, ITV’s television talent moved to the BBC to cover Formula 1. Louise Goodman and Steve Rider may have stayed with ITV to cover the British Touring Car Championship, but the likes of Martin Brundle, Ted Kravitz and assistant editor Steve Aldous moved from ITV to the BBC. There was a natural decision made, no one was axed by the BBC as it was a new talent line-up.

The same happened when Sky appeared on the scene in 2012: talent moved around, talent appeared, but no one vanished. In 2008, there was a total of nine on-air personnel with ITV and BBC Radio 5 Live. Nearly a decade later, and that figure has swelled to around 23 personnel, depending on who you wish to count. In recent years, Gary Anderson, and the BBC parted ways in 2014, with the two parties disagreeing on the future direction of the BBC’s technical output, whilst Georgie Thompson and Sky separated at the start of 2013.

The remaining separations on the UK front have been amicable: Jonathan Legard and the BBC at the end of 2010, Legard since continuing radio and television work with the broadcaster. Jim Rosenthal and Tony Jardine left ITV’s F1 coverage at the end of 2005, but again that was a natural separation having both been part of their coverage since the very beginning.

It is rare in the sporting area for television bosses to bring multiple people in at once at the expense of others. However, if Sky want to make a good impression on new viewers ready for 2019, and bring in the largest possible audience, is it in their best interests to make some tricky and difficult decisions over the next 18 months?

As it stands, talent such as Ben Edwards, Karun Chandhok and David Coulthard will have no Formula 1 television work from the 2019 season onwards, assuming no free-to-air terrestrial television highlights package is available to the large UK broadcasters. This expands to all the Whisper Films crew who are currently working on Channel 4’s Formula 1 coverage, who arguably deserve to still play a part in Formula 1’s post-2018 output.

Sky’s Formula 1 executive producer Martin Turner recently retired, and one might assume that the new executive producer, whoever they are, will want to start planning for 2019 early. The growing opinion amongst fans, including myself, is that Sky’s television team is becoming tired and dated, with very little change since 2012. There might be an opportunity to start the changes from 2018. It is difficult game of chess, while the current line-up goes about its race-by-race business, it should not be destabilised.

The combination of Ben Edwards and Martin Brundle is one that remains in the eyes of many fans, a ‘dream’ commentary line-up, one that for reasons unknown did not come to fruition in either 2002 when Murray Walker retired or 2009 when Formula 1 returned to the BBC. Personally, I think it would be a mistake for Sky not to bring over anyone from Channel 4’s on-air team over for the 2019 season, but I do not know how likely that is.

The bigger loss will be behind the camera. The majority of Channel 4’s team through Whisper Films, bring with them a wealth of knowledge and experience. Their portfolio of staff includes ex BBC and ITV staff who have worked on programmes such as Top Gear, whereas on the other hand Sky has been in efficiency saving mode in recent years. It is plausible that some of Channel 4’s F1 talent might move onto an over-the-top service through FOM, should that opportunity arise.

Sky Sports is possibly one of the best F1 broadcasters’ worldwide. However, even the greatest can go stale if they fail to reinvent themselves and their output on a regular basis to stay ahead. Sky’s F1 coverage is falling into this category and actions should be taken, including looking at the personalities involved in their coverage.

Sky can bridge the best of both worlds in 2019, by taking the best talent from both rosters, creating a ‘dream’ line-up. Do they upset the apple cart by creating a fresh new line-up, mixed with the old and the new, or will they stick by their current talent? We shall soon find out…

A detailed analysis of Formula E’s UK viewing figures so far

From birth, Formula E has had sceptics from across the motor sport landscape, with fans and journalists alike wondering whether the series would take off and whether the championship is here to stay. The events of the past few weeks are showing that motor racing as we know it is seeing a seismic shift underneath the surface. Manufacturers, such as BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche are beginning to invest money into the championship, ready to begin within the forthcoming years.

But whilst the shift is occurring in the industry, how are fans reacting to the change? Is interest growing in the electric series? After three seasons, I feel it is worth stepping back and reflecting on the UK viewing figures so far, from inception through to present day, whilst also considering scheduling across the three seasons. In adult years, Formula E as a brand has not yet started school, it is still in its early infant years. Every year is a learning year. Nevertheless, this has been the story so far:

– In 2014/15, there were ten Formula E weekends, of which five weekends clashed with F1.
– In 2015/16, there were nine Formula E weekends, of which three weekends clashed with F1.
– In 2016/17, there were nine Formula E weekends, of which six weekends clashed with F1.

The championship started life in 2014, with exclusive live coverage on ITV4. Live coverage of the first race from Beijing on September 13th, 2014 averaged 266,000 viewers, peaking with nearly half a million viewers. It was a good number for the inaugural race, helped by the race-deciding incident that made headlines around the world. It was something for Formula E to build upon. In a story that would repeat itself numerous times though, momentum evaporated thanks to haphazard scheduling from the outset. Instead of a traditional two or three-week gap until the next race, round two did not occur until November and fell on the same weekend as the 2014 Formula One season decider.

ITV4’s programming averaged around 160,000 viewers during season one, Buenos Aires drawing a mid-season high of 260,000 viewers in January 2015. As alluded to above, the lowest viewing figures for season one was in Putrajaya (same weekend as the 2014 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix) and Moscow (same weekend as the 2015 Canadian Grand Prix). The season ending London ePrix recorded by far the championship’s highest ever audience figures. The Sunday finale aired live on ITV in June 2015 to an audience of 700,000 viewers, peaking with 1.2 million viewers. The whole weekend from Battersea Park, with ITV’s crew led by Jennie Gow presenting on-site, was a great way to end Formula E’s debut season and gave hope that Formula E could grow in season two, despite some mediocre audience figures. This required commitment from both parties, of course…

To ITV’s credit, a highlights programme aired on Sunday mornings on their main channel during season two, and their commitment remained for ITV4’s live programming (bar Mexico, which was substituted for live darts). Unfortunately, season two performed badly than the worst expectations had predicted. The first two rounds in Beijing and Putrajaya dropped by two-thirds year-on-year, the former not helped by airing on the same weekend as the 2015 United States Grand Prix. Without wider media attention, Formula E’s numbers were looking low by ITV4’s standards. Clashing with Formula 1 matters. Most of the motor racing world’s attention during an F1 weekend is on the Grand Prix circus, and not on an event on the other side of the globe.

The hefty percentage drops year-on-year continued throughout season two, whilst the highlights programme comparatively struggled against ITV’s own slot average. Irrespective of slot, Formula E was always below the expected average. The season ending London ePrix clashed with the 2016 Austrian Grand Prix, drawing a peak audience of 600,000 viewers on ITV’s main channel. Whilst good in comparison with the rest of the season, it was the final straw for the championship on ITV.

At this stage more than ever, Formula E needed ITV more than ITV needed Formula E. With horse racing on the horizon for ITV, the two parties parted company at the end of season two. I argued that ITV should have aired several races, including the season two opener from Beijing, live on their main channel to increase interest, but that did not happen. The series was simply not bringing viewers to either ITV or ITV4.

“I think logical progression from both sides would be to retain the current deal, but air the opening race of the 2015-16 season on ITV, along with two or three other races (the calendar hasn’t yet been released, so it is impossible to say which ones), with ITV committing to an on-site presence for those races.” – writing at the end of season one, this is what I said about ITV’s Formula E coverage

Inevitably, the move to Channel 5 received positive press, with the intention to boost Formula E’s audience. Despite the PR talk before the season from those involved, coverage has also not been as expansive on Channel 5: it was fundamentally clear the moment their first show started from Hong Kong that they were unprepared and received the rights ‘on the cheap’ because ITV did not wish to continue.

The studio format was absent from Hong Kong, and only came back after criticism from fans, on a much lower scale than ITV4. Behind the scenes, non-motor racing people led the show. According to BARB, ITV4 reaches around nine million viewers per week, with Channel 5 reaching 25 million viewers per week. Comparatively speaking, Formula E’s audiences have increased upon the move to Channel 5:

– In 2014/15, live coverage on ITV and ITV4 averaged 216k (2.6%) [156k (2.0%) excluding London]
– In 2015/16, live coverage on ITV and ITV4 averaged 138k (1.5%) [82k (1.0%) excluding London]
– In 2016/17, live coverage on Channel 5 averaged 280k (2.6%)

Admittedly, some of the rise will be due to the Channel 5’s shorter programme lengths compared with ITV4, benefiting their audience figures as a result. The average of 288,000 viewers would more than likely be closer to 200,000 had Channel 5 ran the same length time slots as their predecessor.

Live coverage on Channel 5 has been more stable in season three than the previous two seasons on ITV4, with consistent averages around 300,000 viewers. The high point came with the Buenos Aires, where a peak audience of 604,000 viewers watched Sebastian Buemi win the race. Despite audiences increasing compared with ITV4, the fact remained that, even on Channel 5, audiences are below Channel 5’s own slot average, and Formula E has consistently lost viewers compared with the programmes on-air beforehand or directly following afterwards.

Are Channel 5 going to happy with those audiences when an old film (i.e. Dirty Dancing) could get double or triple the number that Formula E was getting in some slots? On ITV4, this may not have mattered as much in season one: ITV4 is a free-to-air multichannel station where audience expectations are generally lower in the daytime

Whilst there has been no public comment about this, the fact that the season finale in Montreal aired on Spike TV, and the Saturday race from New York aired on tape-delay, suggests the broadcaster has not been happy with the figures that the championship has produced this season despite the increased audience year-on-year. As in the ITV seasons, Channel 5’s coverage has been damaged by other motor racing events. A perhaps pertinent example of where Formula 1 has damaged Formula E was the Monaco ePrix. Airing on the same weekend as the Spanish Grand Prix, the race averaged 248,000 viewers on Channel 5. A week later, with no Formula 1 clash and more attention, the Paris ePrix averaged 381,000 viewers in the same time slot.

The prime-time races have struggled on Channel 5, far below their usual slot averages. As noted above, the Montreal ePrix averaged 319k (1.9%) on Channel 5 on Saturday 29th July, with an audience of 104k (0.5%) watching coverage on Spike the following day. Andy Jaye confirmed in Channel 5’s broadcast that the broadcaster would, as expected, be continuing their live Formula E coverage for the 2017-18 season. I would be very surprised if live coverage of qualifying continues Spike. At one point on Sunday evening, their Montreal ePrix qualifying programme recorded an audience of “zero”, which is rare for any live motor racing broadcast on free-to-air television (the whole programme averaged 12,000 viewers).

Formula E’s top five UK audiences (programme average, overnight viewing figures)
01 – 700,000 viewers (6.8% share) – 2014-15 London ePrix, Race 2 (28/06/15, ITV)
02 – 426,000 viewers (2.2% share) – 2016-17 Buenos Aires ePrix (18/02/17, Channel 5)
03 – 411,000 viewers (3.8% share) – 2015-16 London ePrix, Race 2 (03/07/16, ITV)
04 – 381,000 viewers (4.4% share) – 2016-17 Paris ePrix (20/05/17, Channel 5)
05 – 317,000 viewers (1.9% share) – 2016-17 Montreal ePrix (29/07/17, Channel 5)

When I see people talk about Formula E, one of the complaints is that fans do not know when the series is on. The gaps between races are far too long. Running races in the Summer will not help viewing figures, you have more chance of hooking the casual floating viewer in January than July. Pushing races towards the Summer period and traditional motor racing period is not the answer, because Formula E will become lost in the shuffle, and I think the viewing figures do support that argument.

Formula E will always feel like a ‘small’ series if the championship is head-to-head on the same weekend as Formula 1, it needs space to breathe preferably away from the leading motor racing series. I know that is difficult when F1 has twenty races, but I am unconvinced with the current direction that Formula E are taking their calendar. On the brighter side, the gaps for the 2017-18 season look better than previous years, but races have a tenancy to disappear from the calendar, leaving gaping holes, which hopefully will not happen this time around.

Also, some of their social media content has stagnated, which stands out more now that F1 is finally trying with social media. Formula E’s social media content just feels… there, which might explain why their growth on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram is slowing. Bringing North One Television on-board should improve their television coverage, which might have a knock-on effect to other areas of the championship. There are other problems, such as un-memorable tracks and the New York driver farce to name two.

If Formula E is the future, then the viewing figures need to start reflecting that soon. Yes, it is still an infant. But, by this stage infants show sign of growth. In the UK, there is little sign that Formula E is growing. I want Formula E to do well, the racing on track is generally good to watch. The viewing figures though suggest I am part of the minority that enjoy the action (compared to the large numbers that watch Formula 1).

The people in industry might care about Formula E, but outside of the Twitter bubble and into the real world with casual Joe, you get the impression that no one is paying Formula E any attention. And if that continues to happen, then Formula E might well be heading behind a pay wall in the UK sooner, rather than later…