Experts and broadcasters can spin television ratings in many ways to suit an agenda, which makes viewing figures difficult to understand, especially if there are many different figures flying around without any context attached.

A little bit confused? Hopefully this article helps you…

There are two main types of UK audience figures:

  • The overnight viewing figures, also known as Live + VOSDAL (Video on Same Day as Live), includes anyone who watched the programme as it aired, or watched it before 02:00 the following morning. On-demand platforms, such as Sky Go, Now TV and All 4 are excluded.
  • The consolidated viewing figures include anyone who watched within seven or 28 days of the original transmission. BARB reports these figures weekly via their website.

Overnights.tv supplies overnight viewing figures to this site. In a typical Motorsport Broadcasting article, there will be references to ‘average’ and ‘peak’, whilst other outlets may also refer to ‘reach’. But, how do they differ?

Let us take a very basic, simplified example. The ‘Dummy Grand Prix’ lasts for ten-minutes starting at 19:00, and there are five people on the panel. Each person represents 10,000 viewers, for sake of argument:

  Person 1 Person 2 Person 3 Person 4 Person 5 TOTAL
19:00 X 1
19:01 X 1
19:02 X X 2
19:03 X X 2
19:04 X X X 3
19:05 X X X 3
19:06 X X X 3
19:07 X X X 3
19:08 X X X 3
19:09 X X 2

There are three key groups:

  • The average is the total per minute added together, divided by the length of the programme.
    • 23 divided by 10 => 2.3 people => 23,000 viewers
  • The peak audience is the highest number of viewers watching in a given segment.
    • If using the one-minute peak measure: 3 people => 30,000 viewers (at 19:04, 19:05, 19:06, 19:07 and 19:08 respectively)
    • If using the five-minute peak measure:
      • The first five-minutes from 19:00 to 19:04 averaged 18,000 viewers (9 divided by 5 => 1.8 people => 18,000)
      • The next five minutes from 19:05 to 19:09 averaged 28,000 viewers (14 divided by 5 => 2.8 people => 28,000)
    • There are other peak measures, such as a 15-minute peak
  • The reach is the total number of viewers who tuned into three-consecutive minutes.
    • Out of the five people in our example, four qualify for this measure, giving a reach of 40,000 viewers
    • Person 2 does not qualify as they only tuned to watch for two-consecutive minutes

It is a very basic example, but you get the picture.

Based on the above facts, if I was writing an article, you would see something like this:

“An average audience of 23,000 viewers watched the Dummy Grand Prix from 19:00 to 19:10, peaking with 28,000 viewers in the final five-minutes.”

Press releases tend to contain reach figures regularly, whether using the three-minute measure referenced above, or a 15-minute measure instead. 99 times out of 100, the peak will be higher than the average, and the reach will be higher than the peak.

The BBC regularly quoted a reach of over 20 million viewers for their F1 coverage, which means that 20 million viewers tuned into at least 15 minutes of their programming. What it does not mean is that 20 million people tuned in to every race, just that they saw a small snapshot of their coverage.

Most reputable news outlets use averages and peaks when talking about viewing figures, including Motorsport Broadcasting.

Since their inception, Sky Sports F1 have changed the structure of their race day programming on numerous occasions. In 2012, their show was one continuous block from 11:30 to 16:15, but more recently they have split it into smaller chunks.

To ensure consistency, I use the three-and-a-half-hour slot (typically now 13:00 to 16:30 with the later start time) to generate an average audience figure. This means I can analyse the data and make year-on-year comparisons without misleading readers. Alongside the programme averages, I report the five-minute peak audience for each race.

So, what data do I use for Formula 1 and what data do I ignore?

2011 and before
Asian based races
– live showing
– afternoon re-run

All other races
– live showing

2012 and after
Sky exclusive races
– Sky live showing
– BBC / Channel 4 highlights

Asian based, non-exclusive races
– BBC / Channel 4 live showing
– Sky live showing
– BBC / Channel 4 afternoon repeats

All other, non-exclusive races
– BBC / Channel 4 live showing
– Sky live showing

That sounds complicated, but it is the best way to portray the viewing figures in the most accurate way.

You need to draw the line somewhere, which is why I exclude repeat airings for European and American based races.

Hopefully the above helps to ‘demystify’ ratings just a little bit!

In the interest of clarity, the above is how I make comparisons, year-on-year. If there is anything unclear above, leave a comment and I shall change or add things if necessary.



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