Sky’s Baku audience figures jump, but fails to counter Channel 4 decrease

Sky’s Formula 1 viewing figures for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix increased year-on-year, but failed to counter a significant decline for Channel 4’s own coverage, UK consolidated audience figures show.

Site announcement – UK TV overnight audience figures
Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond Motorsport Broadcasting’s control, this site will no longer be providing UK overnight audience figures. Motorsport Broadcasting will only be providing UK consolidated audience figures with immediate effect.

A limited about of consolidated audience data is available via the BARB website and released each week for outlets, such as this one, to report on. The financial cost of continuing to report overnight audience figures is too large for this site to consider, even when accounting for the possibility of donations.

The change is far from ideal and limits what I can write about. For example, the BARB website does not provide peak audience figures for each programme, only average figures. Nevertheless, this site will continue to report viewing figures regularly where possible – in one format or another.

Consolidated figures account for viewers who watched within seven days of transmission, and exclude commercial breaks. Therefore, we cannot compare them to previous overnight audience figures written on this site.

Azerbaijan Grand Prix – Race
Last year, the Azerbaijan Grand Prix aired live across Channel 4 and Sky Sports F1, whereas this year, coverage aired exclusively live on Sky.

Consolidated figures from BARB show that Sky Sports F1’s live coverage of the race itself averaged 904,000 viewers from 13:04 to 15:21 on Sunday 28th April. This excludes Sky’s pre-race build-up and post-race analysis.

Last year’s race coverage on Sky from 13:04 to 15:36 averaged 666,000 viewers, an increase of roughly 238,000 viewers or 35 percent.

Sky’s On the Grid segment averaged 350,000 viewers from 12:29 to 13:04, also an increase on last year’s figure of 243,000 viewers.

The Paddock Live segment, which started at 15:21, dropped year-on-year, from 178,000 viewers in 2018 to 146,000 viewers this year. Ted’s Notebook followed Paddock Live this year, drawing 104,000 viewers from 16:00.

Meanwhile, Channel 4’s two-hour highlights programme which aired from 19:00, averaged 1.75 million viewers. Last year, Channel 4 split their live programme into three segments, meaning that we cannot make direct year-on-year comparisons.

Back then, their Baku build-up averaged 930,000 viewers (from 12:00), with the race bringing in 2.97 million viewers (from 12:42) and the reaction averaging 1.27 million viewers (from 15:32).

If you compare the race segment only with this year’s full highlights programme, then year-on-year, Channel 4’s average audience has dropped by 1.22 million viewers or 41 percent.

If you were to compare Channel 4’s full programme length (until roughly 16:25), which based on consolidated figures averaged around 2.31 million viewers, then their year-on-year average has dropped by 560,000 viewers or 24 percent.

With no Sky One in play for Azerbaijan, it is becoming clear that Sky’s figures have increased year-on-year. However, their increase has not offset the decrease of Channel 4’s own viewing figures because of them losing live coverage.

Best of the rest
Elsewhere, ITV4’s live coverage of the British Touring Car Championship from Donington Park averaged 204,000 viewers across seven hours on Sunday 28th April. The same meeting in 2018 failed to make ITV4’s top ten for the week, averaging fewer than 237,000 viewers.

Over on Eurosport 2, the Paris E-Prix averaged 27,000 viewers on Saturday 27th April. Bear in mind that Formula E also airs on the BBC’s Red Button and BT Sport, so the number in isolation is incomplete for the championship.

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F1 1,000 fails to lift UK television audience

Lewis Hamilton’s victory in Formula 1’s 1,000th race failed to lift the UK’s television audience for the sport significantly according to overnight viewing figures.

For the third race in succession, live coverage aired across Sky’s Formula 1 channel, Sky Sports Main Event, and Sky’s general entertainment outlet Sky One, to boost their total reach during the early phase of the season.

As always, all audience figures exclude those who watched on demand, via the likes of Sky Go, Now TV and All 4.

Race – Sky live
To present a fair and transparent picture historically, this site continues to use a 210-minute time slot for Sky’s F1 coverage on race day. For China, this covers the period from 06:00 to 09:30.

> Ratings: an explainer

During this time slot, Sky’s coverage averaged 543k (14.5%), their highest audience for China since 2015, and a year-on-year increase of 9.7 percent, or 48,000 viewers. An audience of 301k (8.3%) watched via the F1 channel, with an additional 82k (2.3%) watching via Main Event and 159k (3.9%) watching via Sky One.

Worryingly, the proportion of viewers watching via Sky Sports F1 has dropped since Australia. 66 percent of Sky’s audience for the Melbourne live race day programme came from Sky Sports F1, compared with 60% in Bahrain and 56% in China.

Sky’s broadcast peaked with 1.02m (18.9%) at 08:40 as Hamilton won the Grand Prix. At the time of the peak, 498k (9.2%) were watching via Sky Sports F1, with 164k (3.0%) and 360k (6.7%) watching via Main Event and Sky One respectively.

Aided by the Sky One simulcast, Sky’s collective peak audience increased by 20.6 percent year-on-year, resulting in their highest peak audience for China since 2014.

Race – Sky highlights and Channel 4
Following the race, four repeat airings aired across Sky’s three outlets.

As in Australia four weeks ago, the repeats make a (smaller) statistical difference to the result, with a combined peak audience of 357,000 viewers watching. Sky One contributed the most: their single repeat airing peaked with 162k (2.6%) at 11:30.

Channel 4’s highlights show fared badly on Sunday afternoon, with opposition from both The Masters golf on BBC Two, as well as Premier League football on Sky Sports.

Highlights of the race averaged just 1.28m (10.9%) from 15:00 to 17:00, peaking with 1.68m (14.3%), one of their lowest ever audiences for an F1 highlights programme. Both measures dropped by 32 percent year-on-year, with their peak audience down 800,000 viewers on last year’s figure of 2.48m (20.6%).

Last year’s programme did unusually well, helped by the dramatic finale involving Daniel Ricciardo. In 2016 and 2017, the Shanghai highlights show averaged around 1.6 million viewers, which would result in a slightly less severe drop of around 20 percent for 2019.

Based on Sky’s live airing only the combined average audience of 1.82 million viewers and combined peak audience of 2.70 million viewers are the lowest for China on record, by some margin.

Adding in Sky’s repeat airings brings the average to around 1.98 million viewers, with the peak audience lifting to 3.01 million viewers, resulting in a higher peak figure than both 2016 and 2017.

The fact that we need to perform an additional calculation to bring F1’s 2019 viewing figures in line with previous years, which in turn was down from the phase before that, shows that the situation is not ideal by any stretch of the imagination.

Qualifying and Analysis
Live coverage of qualifying averaged 288k (9.8%) from 06:00 to 08:30 across Sky’s three channels, their highest qualifying audience for China since 2016. 171k (6.1%) watched via the F1 channel, with 45k (1.6%) watching on Main Event and 72k (2.1%) watching on Sky One.

Later in the day, 770k (10.6%) watched Channel 4’s highlights from 13:00 to 14:30, a decrease on last year’s figure of 840k (11.0%) and their lowest ever for China.

The combined audience of 1.06 million viewers is slightly higher than last year’s figure of 1.02 million viewers, but down on the 2017 figure of 1.12 million viewers.

Three races in, and it is increasingly clear that Sky’s decision to air the first three races of 2019 on Sky One is skewing the audience figures presented, with a large audience choosing to watch via the entertainment outlet.

Inevitably, and also by design, the Sky One simulcast has resulted in a deflated audience for Channel 4. With Sky One’s simulcast disappearing from Baku, expect Channel 4’s viewing figures to increase by a significant margin moving forward.

Based on the early evidence, it appears that F1’s UK viewing figures in totality will drop across the course of the season. By how much, and on what scale at this stage is difficult to quantify.

As I said after Australia, and again after Bahrain, Azerbaijan is the decisive test for F1 this season, and should give us our first sign of what ‘the new normal’ is moving forward.

The 2018 Chinese Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.

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Hamilton’s Bahrain victory peaks with 3.8 million viewers

Lewis Hamilton’s victory in a dramatic Bahrain Grand Prix peaked with 3.8 million viewers across Sky’s and Channel 4’s television platforms, overnight audience figures show.

Race
As in Australia two weeks ago, live coverage of the race aired across Sky Sports F1 and Sky’s general entertainment outlet Sky One. Viewing figures exclude those who watched via on demand platforms, such as Sky Go, Now TV and All 4.

> Ratings: an explainer

Sky’s offering from 15:00 to 18:30 averaged 1.00m (9.2%), their highest ever audience for Bahrain.

An audience of 607k (3.6%) watched via the F1 channel, with a further 397k (3.6%) watching on Sky One, whereas the F1 channel only last year averaged 524k (3.7%) when live coverage also aired on Channel 4.

What is fascinating is the trajectory of the two channels during the race, as the race faced fierce opposition from Liverpool versus Tottenham, also on Sky.

The F1 channel peaked with 1.04m (10.7%) as the race started, but dropped below one million viewers from 16:30 onwards when the football match started. In contrast, Sky One’s simulcast, which may have attracted a different type of viewer, rose significantly throughout the race, peaking with a strong 755k (5.9%) as the race concluded.

All of this leads to a combined peak audience of 1.71m (13.9%) for Sky’s programme at 17:30. At the time of the peak, 994k (8.1%) were watching via Sky F1, with 715k (5.8%) watching via Sky One.

Channel 4’s highlights programme struggled against BBC One juggernaut Line of Duty, averaging 1.39m (8.2%) from 21:00 to 23:00.

However, Channel 4’s audience jumped by half a million viewers as the BBC One programme finished, peaking with 2.05m (13.4%) as the race edit finished. Channel 4’s audiences dropped by over 40 percent from last year, when they covered the Bahrain race live.

The lack of live free-to-air presence, amongst other factors, meant that the combined audience of 2.39 million viewers is down by 504,000 viewers on twelve months ago. The combined peak audience of 3.75 million viewers is down by 698,000 viewers, both down by around 16 percent year-on-year.

The Bahrain average is the lowest on record for the Sakhir circuit, whilst the peak figure is the lowest since 2007.

Qualifying
Live coverage of qualifying also aired across both Sky’s F1 channel and Sky One, with an audience of 340k (5.1%) watching from 14:00 to 16:30. 228k (3.4%) watched via the F1 channel, with 111k (1.7%) watching on Sky One.

Sky’s average is up on their 2018 combined audience of 273k (2.5%) when Channel 4 covered the action live. However, their average audience is down on their qualifying numbers from 2012 to 2017 for Bahrain.

Qualifying unusually recorded a five-minute peak figure at 15:05, with 568k (8.7%) watching half way through Q1. The individual Sky Sports F1 and Sky One peaks came at different times: Sky F1 with 431k (6.6%) at 15:15 and Sky One with 176k (2.4%) at 15:50.

The peak audience is up on last year’s Sky figure of 497k (3.9%), but again down on the 2012 to 2017 figures.

Channel 4’s highlights programme averaged 1.13m (7.2%) from 19:00 to 20:30, peaking with 1.52m (9.7%) as their qualifying edit ended.

The combined average audience of 1.47 million viewers is up by 114,000 viewers on last year’s figure, but the peak metric of 2.09 million viewers is down by over 200,000 viewers on last year’s equivalent number.

Final thoughts
For various reasons, Australia is a bit of an outlier where viewing figures are concerned, and Bahrain tends to give a ‘truer’ picture of the state of play.

A drop of over half a million viewers year-on-year looks bad, and rightly so. However, the race last year clashed with Chelsea versus West Ham, whereas this year it clashed with Liverpool versus Tottenham.

Even if F1 aired live on free-to-air television yesterday, audiences may still have dropped with the tougher football opposition, maybe not by half a million viewers though. Yesterday’s peak audience of 3.76 million viewers is closest to the 2016 peak of 4.01 million viewers.

When you combine the football with Line of Duty, and Mother’s Day in the UK, it makes for the perfect storm, where actually F1’s viewing figures look worse than what they are.

However, to swing the debate the other way, a dramatic race such as yesterday’s may have sent more viewers towards the F1 had it aired live on free-to-air television instead of behind a pay wall on Sky, an argument supported by the trajectory for Sky One’s audience figures.

As in Australia two weeks ago, Sky One’s viewing figures were strong in Bahrain. But again, where are those viewers heading after China? Does Sky continue to air F1 races on Sky One, which in turn would make a mockery of their ‘best-ever offer‘?

It is a worry because Sky One’s figures could be hiding the true drop that is yet to come moving forward, unless all of Sky One’s viewers migrate either to the Sky F1 channel or to Channel 4’s highlights.

If few of Sky One’s viewers have opted in to Sky Sports F1, then that is a major concern beyond the Chinese Grand Prix, which takes place in two weeks’ time.

The 2018 Bahrain Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.

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Australian Grand Prix peaks with 1.4 million viewers across Sky’s TV platforms

A peak audience of nearly 1.4 million viewers watched the season opening Australian Grand Prix across Sky’s portfolio of television channels, overnight viewing figures show.

The figure includes those who watched either live, or one of Sky’s repeat airings before Channel 4’s highlights programme started.

As always, this site reports overnight viewing figures supplied by Overnights.tv. The figures include those who watched between live and 02:00 the following morning, known in the industry as Live + VOSDAL (live and ‘video on same day as live’).

The audience figures reported exclude those that watched the programming via platforms such as All 4, Sky Go and Now TV.

For 2019, to present an equal measure across years, this site will continue to use a 210-minute time slot for Sky’s coverage, covering 70 minutes before lights out, to around 50 minutes after the chequered flag. This covers the last half of Pit Lane Live, all of On the Grid, the race itself, and the first half of Paddock Live.

Race – Sky live
Sky aired live coverage of the race across their F1 channel, Main Event and Sky One from 04:00 to 07:30 on Sunday morning.

An average audience of 441k (31.5%) watched the broadcast, a strong increase on last year’s figure of 344k (18.4%), and their highest Melbourne average since 2015. 291k (20.7%) watched via the F1 channel, with a further 66k (4.8%) and 84k (6.0%) watching via Main Event and Sky One respectively.

Impressively, the broadcast hit a five-minute peak of 803k (38.0%) at 06:35, an increase of 43 percent on their 2018 number of 562k (20.4%), and their highest peak audience for Australia since 2014.

The peak audience increased proportionally more than the average because Sky’s wrap around segments have rated lower in recent years than compared to their 2015 numbers.

For Sky, the story does not stop there.

Race – Sky repeats
Following the race, the broadcaster aired five repeats of the race, before Channel 4’s highlights show aired at 14:00. The first repeat began at 08:00 across the same three channels, with another repeat across F1 and Sky One afterwards.

Normally, repeats do not make a statistical difference to the overall picture, and therefore go unreported. However, the difference for Australia is significant enough to report. Accounting for the different time slots, the five repeats recorded a combined peak of 574,000 viewers as Valtteri Bottas won the Grand Prix.

In totality (from a television perspective), Sky’s audience for Australia peaked with 1.38 million viewers, around double their audience from twelve months ago, and in-line with their peak audience from 2012, including repeat airings.

Sky One is the biggest contributor, as their two re-runs peaked with 382,000 viewers collectively. It is very rare for a sporting event on pay television to add that many viewers, the early start for the race more than likely contributing to the high repeat audience.

Some of the viewers that watched the race live may have watched one of the repeats later, but that number is unlikely to be significant enough to make a major difference. Overall, the viewing figures are fantastic for Sky, and bodes well for them moving forward.

Race – Channel 4
Despite Sky’s strong gains, Channel 4 remained the biggest Formula 1 broadcaster in the UK over the weekend, but with damaged goods.

Highlights of the race averaged 1.38m (13.3%) from 14:00 to 15:55, peaking with 1.81m (17.9%). Both figures are down significantly on last year’s average of 1.71m (16.8%) and peak figure of 2.15m (18.2%).

Given Sky’s strong audience figures, the transition of viewers appears to be from Channel 4 to Sky, as opposed to fans tuning out altogether, which is good news for the sport. The drop is of concern, the highlights programme struggling to pick up any additional casual viewers.

If you look at the live airings only, the combined average and combined peak audiences of 1.83 million and 2.61 million viewers respectively are the lowest on record for Australia. In isolation, the figures paint a very bleak picture, but on this occasion, it is also a false negative.

As referenced earlier, repeats add 200,000 viewers at its limit across multiple airings. Australia was different, with it being the start of a new broadcasting contract as Formula 1 heads into a new era primarily live on pay-TV.

Adding the five repeat airings together (considering the different slot lengths) increases the combined average to 2.09 million viewers, and combined peak audience to 3.18 million viewers, a significant increase, and in-line with the past three years.

Qualifying
Sky’s live coverage of qualifying from 05:00 to 07:30 brought in an average audience of 283k (16.4%) across their F1 channel, Sky Sports Main Event and Sky One, an increase on last year’s audience of 252k (15.2%) over a slightly longer time slot.

The F1 channel averaged 190k (11.3%), with Main Event and Sky One bringing in 29k (1.6%) and 65k (3.5%) respectively. It is Sky’s highest audience for Melbourne qualifying since 2015, when 339k (16.4%) tuned in to watch.

Their programme peaked with 528k (22.9%) at 06:50 as the start of the final qualifying segment started, again Sky’s highest since 2015.

In comparison, Channel 4’s highlights programme averaged 1.02m (11.8%) from 12:00 to 13:25, a decrease of 157,000 viewers on last year’s average of 1.18m (15.1%). Channel 4’s coverage reached a high of 1.37m (14.5%) at 12:55, also down on last year’s figure of 1.62m (20.2%).

The dent in Channel 4’s qualifying audience is likely due to stronger competition from ITV, the free-to-air channel airing live coverage of the Six Nations rugby tie between France and Italy.

The combined audience of 1.30 million viewers is down by around 100,000 viewers year-on-year and the lowest on record, whilst the combined peak audience of 1.89 million viewers is the lowest for Australia since 2006. Neither trend changes when including Sky’s repeats before Channel 4’s highlights programme started.

Final thoughts
A better result than Sky could have ever expected.

The worst case scenario here was that Sky struggled to increase their audience year-on-year, despite splashing the cash on blockbuster trailers. To double their audience year-on-year is a major success.

One of the drivers behind the increase was Sky One, which on its own added over half a million viewers. The first three races are airing live on Sky One, but what happens to those viewers when that disappears?

If Sky One’s viewers migrate over to the F1 channel to follow the sport, then that is great news for Sky. Similarly, the opposite is true if Sky One’s audience returns back to Channel 4’s highlights package from Baku onwards.

Australia is always one of the lowest rated races, with viewing figures tending to pick up in Bahrain, where F1 heads to next. The Sakhir race has aired live on free-to-air television since 2015, and will be a good indicator of how Formula 1’s viewership could change moving forward.

Update on March 18th at 20:10 – Not long after I posted this, Sky’s F1 lead commentator David Croft posted on Twitter that Sky’s coverage reached 2.1 milllion viewers, and combined Sky and Channel 4 reached 3.5 million viewers. For those unaware, that is the amount of viewers that watched three consecutive minutes of coverage.

The 2018 Australian Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.

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Hong Kong E-Prix peaks with 355,000 viewers on BBC Two

A packed weekend of motor sport to kick start the traditional season saw Formula E lead the way on its BBC Two debut, overnight viewing figures show.

Formula E makes BBC Two debut
As part of their commitment to air one race on linear television, BBC aired the Hong Kong E-Prix live on BBC Two this past weekend. The race brought in a solid audience, according to audience numbers supplied by Overnights.tv.

An average of 229k (4.6%) tuned into the broadcast from 07:30 to 09:30. Sunday’s audience is an improvement on the last two seasons for Hong Kong, when the race aired on tape-delay on Channel 5.

In a positive sign, the BBC’s race coverage saw consistent growth throughout the broadcast, increasing its audience in most of the five-minute segments between 07:35 and 09:05. The race peaked with 355k (6.5%) at 09:00 as the race concluded.

It is Formula E’s highest UK audience for an Asian-based race since their first ever E-Prix in 2014. Back then, live coverage of the Beijing E-Prix on ITV4 averaged 266k (4.7%) and peaked with 477k (6.8%).

BT Sport and Eurosport make negligible difference to the overall picture, averaging 5k (0.10%) and 8k (0.16%) respectively, if anything showing the importance of free-to-air for Formula E.

For me, Formula E’s audience is solid, whether it is enough to convince the BBC to move the series off the Red Button for the latter half of the season, I do not know. If the peak was nearer to 500,000 viewers, I think the decision may be easier, that is if there is even a discussion here.

Last weekend’s race was Formula E’s first on a mainstream television channel since June last year, so expectations from a viewing figures perspective are lower as a result. With a bit of promotion, a European race could peak at around 800,000 viewers on BBC One, potentially. Time will tell if the BBC genuinely considers that a viable option this season.

MotoGP’s return peaks with 249,000 viewers on BT
A new season of MotoGP kicked off on BT Sport 2 with the Qatar GP. The leading bike series was unaffected by tough football opposition on Sky.

The race brought in an audience similar to previous years. The 90-minute MotoGP slot averaged 190k (1.3%) from 16:30 to 18:00, a slight decrease on last year’s figure of 211k (1.5%), but an increase on the 2014 and 2017 averages.

A peak of 249k (1.6%) watched as Marc Marquez and Andrea Dovizioso went wheel-to-wheel over the finish line for the second year running. The peak audience is in-line with the past two years, which peaked with 247k (1.3%) and 255k (1.9%) respectively.

Free-to-air highlights of the championship moved from Channel 5 to Quest, with the audience dropping significantly year-on-year. Quest aired two highlights shows at 18:00 and 23:00 respectively. Their premiere airing averaged 140k (0.9%), with the repeat bringing in 50k (0.8%).

The combined Quest audience of 190k is down 58 percent on Channel 5’s highlights audience for Qatar last season of 456k (2.5%). It is lower than all bar three MotoGP races on either ITV4 or Channel 5 since the highlights arrangement started in 2014.

Cumulatively, the drop for the highlights airing meant that MotoGP peaked with 513,000 viewers in the UK over the weekend, when accounting for BT’s live airing and Quest’s two repeats, a disappointing number for the championship.

As with all the figures in this piece, on demand platforms such as BT Sport’s online services and MotoGP’s VideoPass over-the-top offering are not included, which may make a small difference to the total MotoGP numbers.

IndyCar struggles on Sky return as St Pete opener plagued by technical issues
It was not a good Sunday for IndyCar, on all fronts. The series returned for a new season in St Petersburg, and with it came a change of channel for UK viewers, as the championship moved from BT Sport to Sky Sports F1.

Viewing figures struggled, with the race averaging 19k (0.11%) from 16:30 to 20:30, a decrease on last year’s BT audience of 25k (0.16%) over a shorter 200-minute time slot. Sky’s coverage peaked with 56k (0.32%) at 18:40 on Sunday, compared with 56k (0.38%) one year ago on BT.

The season opener faced MotoGP on BT and Premier League football on Sky, which may have impacted figures. Last month, F1 testing brought in a higher audience than IndyCar managed, although testing aired across the F1 channel and Main Event.

Considering the buzz when the IndyCar deal was first announced, Sky’s audience is disappointing. IndyCar, from a UK perspective, failed to move the needle outside of the Twitter bubble. However, IndyCar could benefit from cross-promotion during Sky’s main F1 coverage this year, so the picture could change as the season progresses.

The problems with Sky’s IndyCar broadcast may not have helped audience figures, although I doubt it caused a significant dent given the low base to start with.

IndyCar produces two feeds: a domestic feed for NBC, and an international feed. The feeds contain different graphics set, whilst the former is also not a continuous feed of the racing action. For St Pete, Sky aired the domestic feed ‘as-is’, breaking away to their own commercials when NBC in America went to adverts or went ‘side-by-side’.

What this meant was a downgrade on coverage offered by BT Sport in previous years. It was expected that Sky would take some commercials (@IndyCarUK understands four ad-breaks), but also utilise the feed to stay on the action for most of the race outside of yellow flag periods.

Whether Sky were unaware that the domestic feed was going to break away from the action or not is unclear. Either way, the communication between Sky Sports, NBC Sports and IndyCar needs to be clearer ready for Austin in two weeks’ time.

In a separate issue, IndyCar’s broadcast lost pictures completely for around 15 minutes on Sunday, affecting both the domestic NBC feed and the international feed. IndyStar Sports writer Jim Ayello reports that there was “a power supply failure to one of IMS Productions’ up-links due to two amplifiers overheating,” which caused the feed to go down.

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