MotoGP performs solidly as live action returns to free-to-air TV

MotoGP’s first live race on free-to-air television in the UK in over seven years saw viewing figures increase, in-depth analysis by Motorsport Broadcasting shows.

Muddying the picture however is the fact that highlights of the race slumped because of the live coverage.

Consolidated data via BARB, which accounts for viewers who watched within seven days of the original transmission, allows us to draw some conclusions.

Live action performs well across BT Sport and ITV4

Since 2014, BT Sport have aired MotoGP exclusively live, with audiences regularly hovering between 150,000 and 250,000 viewers.

Pleasingly for the pay-TV broadcaster, who will continue to cover MotoGP until at least 2024, figures for their live French Grand Prix programming on Sunday 16th May were in-line with expectations.

An average audience of 176,000 viewers watched Moto3, Moto2 and MotoGP on BT Sport 2 from 09:30 to 14:08, as weather conditions changed throughout the day in France.

Two weeks earlier in Jerez, an average of 174,000 viewers watched BT’s programming across the same time slot.

In other words, BT was unimpacted by the choice on offer for the French round, showing how highly fans regard BT’s coverage.

ITV4’s free-to-air coverage, which took MotoGP’s World Feed commentary for the duration, averaged 213,000 viewers from 09:45 to 14:15, a solid number from a standing start.

An average audience of 389,000 viewers watched the live action from Le Mans, across all three classes, an increase of 124% on the BT-only figure from Jerez.

When focussing only on the MotoGP class, an average of 238,000 viewers watched the race via BT Sport, compared with 236,000 viewers for Jerez.

ITV4’s figure for the MotoGP segment (from 12:35 to 14:15) is unknown, however we can draw some conclusions from publicly available data.

Motorsport Magazine reports that a one-minute overnight peak of 425,900 viewers watched the Le Mans race on ITV4, and live sport does not add additional viewers on within the seven-day consolidation window.

Thus, it is fair to conclude that ITV4’s coverage peaked with around 430,000 viewers, averaging around 300,000 viewers for the MotoGP segment itself, including pre-race build-up and immediate post-race analysis.

Motorsport Broadcasting’s analysis suggests that an average audience of 538,000 viewers watched the MotoGP race, an increase of 128% on the BT-only figure from Jerez.

But highlights slump shows that live viewers were not returning fans

While the surge in MotoGP’s live audience is excellent, and shows why MotoGP needs the live free-to-air presence, ITV4’s highlights audience slumped the day after the race.

According to industry website Thinkbox, which publishes BARB data on a rolling week-by-week basis, highlights of the Le Mans round on ITV4 averaged 91,000 viewers, the 40th most watched show on ITV4 that week.

In comparison, highlights from Jerez a fortnight earlier averaged 296,000 viewers, and was the 6th most watched show on ITV4.

Looking at the MotoGP segment in isolation, the audience figures in totality suggest that an average of around 628,000 viewers watched the MotoGP action for Le Mans, with between 550,000 viewers and 600,000 viewers doing the same for Jerez.

So, whilst the change between Jerez and Le Mans did result in more viewers watching MotoGP live, these viewers were not new (in most cases).

Instead, all that happened was that around 70% of ITV4’s regular highlights audience jumped ship to the ITV4 live show on Sunday.

How many viewers were new, or returning, is difficult to quantify, but Motorsport Broadcasting’s analysis suggests that this figure is below 100,000 viewers, which makes the figures in totality look less spectacular than first suggested.

The headline here is that more people watched MotoGP live, with MotoGP recording its highest live average since 2013, thanks to its free-to-air presence, but that these viewers were not ‘new’ in the wider context.

The deal to air two races live across ITV’s network was broken first on Motorsport Broadcasting, with other news outlets following suite. However, an official press release was only issued by MotoGP’s commercial rights holder Dorna two days before the race.

If Le Mans was going to break through and capture more viewers, organisers needed to announce the deal far earlier rather than it coming across as an eleventh-hour deal. The timing very much felt like all parties were testing the waters to see what the reaction would be.

If fans knew before the season that ITV4 were airing races live, it may have given some an extra incentive to keep in touch with the highlights package throughout the season rather than jumping in cold.

An unscientific poll over on this site’s Twitter page suggests that BT’s audience may see a small bump over the months ahead thanks to Le Mans airing live on free-to-air television.

MotoGP has another bite of the free-to-air cherry in August, as Silverstone airs live on ITV’s main channel, and thus has a much bigger chance at attracting a wider audience who would never normally watch the championship.

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Sky’s UK F1 audience jumps to record high as 2021 begins

Sky’s Formula 1 figures in the UK soared to a record high to begin the 2021 season, overnight audience data from the Bahrain Grand Prix weekend shows.

F1 reaches highest ever pay-TV audience in the UK…

Live coverage of the race itself, which aired across Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event, averaged 1.98 million viewers from lights out to chequered flag, according to a press release issued by Sky.

The race peaked with an excellent 2.23 million viewers as Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen battled it out at the head of the field, the first time that Sky’s coverage of Formula 1 has peaked with over 2 million viewers, making it F1’s highest ever pay-TV audience in the UK.

Sky says that their audience for Bahrain jumped year-on-year by 42%, whilst the season opener increased by 31% on last year’s opener in Austria, a remarkable rise considering how strong 2020 was for Sky F1.

Their live programming comfortably beat Channel 4’s highlights programme on Sunday evening. The Whisper produced show peaked with 1.8 million viewers, meaning that a combined peak audience of over 4 million viewers watched F1 in the UK last Sunday.

For Sky, these are superb viewing figures, and a long time in the making, their F1 programming finally breaking the elusive ‘2 million barrier’ that Motorsport Broadcasting has referenced for years.

However, whilst we should recognise Sky’s strong audiences, we must also remember the bigger picture, in that F1’s audience figures in the UK are down on a decade ago, when the sport aired live on free-to-air television.

Although there was no domestic football action on Sunday, the Grand Prix still faced tough competition.

Sky’s live F1 programme faced live coverage from both England cricket (also on Sky) and England football (airing live on ITV). Later, Channel 4’s package faced competition from BBC One’s smash hit Line of Duty.

The audience figures exclude those viewers who watched on platforms such as Now, Sky Go and All 4, as well as those who listened to the BBC’s radio coverage of the Grand Prix.

Qualifying on Saturday saw similar record highs, with an average of 1.14 million viewers watching the 60-minute session on Sky, peaking with 1.34 million viewers.

In addition, Motorsport Broadcasting understands that all three Formula 2 races last weekend peaked with over 250,000 viewers – a fantastic set of figures for a series that struggled to hit 50,000 viewers on the same channel a few years ago.

…and in the Netherlands, but Germany feels the pay-TV crunch

Viewing figures also rose in the Netherlands, hitting record highs thanks to Verstappen’s challenge at the front, according to ratings agency SKO.

An average of 2.51 million viewers (54.3% audience share) watched the race on Ziggo Sport and Ziggo Sport Select from 16:55 to 18:40 local time.

The race peaked with a massive 3.08 million viewers. At its peak, 18% of the Netherlands population were watching the Grand Prix, an extraordinary number for the sport.

If the Hamilton and Verstappen battle turns into a championship contest, F1 has a year of strong audience figures ahead of them in both the UK and Netherlands.

Unusually, more people watched the Grand Prix in the Netherlands than in Germany on Sunday, as the sport moved to pay-TV in Germany and away from free-to-air television.

An audience of 1.12 million viewers (5.8% audience share) watched via Sky Sport F1 according to DWDL.de, an increase for Sky year-on-year, but a sharp drop of almost 75% on what F1 achieved last year in Germany, when it regularly achieved between 4 and 5 million viewers across RTL and Sky.

The difference between the UK and Germany is that, when F1 began to move to pay-TV in the UK in 2012, it happened gradually over time, giving the audience time to adapt and follow the sport, whereas German audiences have had a ‘big bang’ approach imposed.

Whilst F1’s audiences in the UK have unquestionably dropped, the drop over the past decade has been between 30% and 40%. Some of that is natural turnover, some of it is fans migrating to other platforms to view the sport which makes it difficult to quantify what the ‘true’ fall is.

But, at no time did F1 see a 75% slump in the UK, which makes Germany’s viewing figures far more concerning. Sadly though, this was also wholly predictable given the deal F1 agreed with Sky in Germany.

As if to show F1 what it was missing, Germany’s football World Cup qualifier on RTL (the station that aired F1 last year) peaked with nearly 7 million viewers.

The championship moves to Italy next for the second round of the season in Imola, which takes place on Sunday 18th April.

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Sky’s UK F1 audience figures jump in second year of exclusivity

Formula 1’s viewing figures in the UK bucked the worldwide trend in 2020 and increased in volume, with Sky Sports benefiting the most, analysis conducted by Motorsport Broadcasting shows.

Viewing figures quoted below are sourced from consolidated data released by BARB. The audience figures are for those viewers who watched coverage via the TV set, either live or up to seven days after broadcast.

Although this excludes viewers who opted to watch via PC/laptop, tablet, or their smartphone, it does allow for the most accurate historical comparisons.

Comparing 2020’s audience figures with that of previous years may seem unfair given that the 2020 season took place primarily in Europe, whereas the 2019 season featured events across the globe.

However, previous analysis published by this site last October shows that the early morning flyaway races and primetime American-based races off-set each other, meaning that the 2020 data is comparable to previous years.

Sky Sports F1 reaches more viewers as figures rise…

2020 saw Sky stay on the air longer than ever before as events unfolded around them.

Their race day coverage from Bahrain lasted almost as long in length as their cricket broadcasts, after Romain Grosjean’s horrific accident stretched their offering out.

The pay-TV broadcaster stayed on air for six and a half hours, from 12:30 all the way to 19:00, including Ted Kravitz’s post-race Notebook. Six and a half hours on race day is easily a record for any UK broadcaster covering F1.

Sky’s coverage of the Bahrain week (from November 23rd to 29th) reached 3.37 million viewers on Sky Sports F1, the channel’s highest reach in eight years.

The last time the F1 channel reached such highs was in July 2012, when Sky’s free coverage of the German Grand Prix on the F1 channel reached 3.52 million viewers.

Pierre Gasly’s shock victory at Monza also reached over 3 million viewers on Sky F1, becoming the first race week to do so on the F1 channel since the 2014 Brazilian Grand Prix.

Of course, Sky have simulcast many races since then on Sky Sports Main Event, depleting the F1 channel’s overall reach, and therefore painting a fuzzy picture across years.

Nevertheless, it shows overall that Sky’s audiences have risen compared to previous years. Races in previous years have aired exclusively on Sky Sports F1 (without simulcasts), but failed to reach over 3 million viewers.

Across the whole of 2020, Sky’s F1 channel reached an average of 1.25 million viewers each week, an increase of 2.6% on the 2019 figure of 1.21 million, despite there being four fewer races.

Accounting for race weeks only, the channel reached 2.72 million viewers, a much bigger increase of 19.8% on last year’s figure of 2.27 million.

…as over one million viewers on average watch each race on Sky…

Consistency was the name of the game for Sky, as audience figures fluctuated less than usual throughout the year, helped by the championship remaining in Europe.

Note that there are some missing data points to the below figures. At most, this means that the figures below are likely 10,000 to 20,000 lower than reality, however this is not enough to make a material difference to the overall picture.

COVID did impact Sky’s race day structure in 2020. Sky scrapped plans for a marathon 130-minute build-up, the broadcaster opting to stick with their tried and tested 100-minute build-up.

On average, an audience of at least 1.22 million viewers watched each of the 17 races on Sky (excluding wrap around content), a jump of 19.1% on the 2019 average of 1.02 million viewers, and avoiding a slump in their second year of exclusivity.

For the first time since F1 moved to Sky, every race averaged over 1 million viewers on their television platforms.

Their highlight was the title deciding Turkish Grand Prix which averaged 1.44 million viewers across Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event (the simulcast part of the reason the race does not feature amongst Sky F1’s highest reaches for 2020). Turkey was Sky’s highest race average since the 2018 Mexican Grand Prix.

Bahrain ties with Turkey at the top, and draws ahead when taking the race and post-race segments as a weighted average.

For Bahrain, there was no post-race segment officially recorded, but the race segment averaged 1.21 million viewers across a 4-hour duration, higher than any of the other combined race and post-race weighted averages.

The demand for content from fans during the fast and furious F1 calendar filtered through to their wrap around broadcasts.

Sky’s F1 pre-race segment averaged 347,000 viewers across 2020, an increase of around 39.7% year-on-year, this despite the loss of Martin Brundle’s grid walk owing to the pandemic.

…whilst Channel 4’s average also increases…

Channel 4’s audience increased, but not to the same level as their pay-TV partners.

The broadcaster aired a longer highlights edit in 2020 compared with 2019, with around 60 minutes of each race airing on the channel.

Their race day offering averaged 1.72 million viewers, representing a 4% rise year-on-year on the 2019 figure of around 1.65 million viewers. The exact 2019 figure is unknown, as both Mexico and Brazil failed to make Channel 4’s top 15.

The free-to-air broadcaster’s average increases to 1.77 million viewers when accounting for their live coverage of the British Grand Prix.

Like with Sky, Channel 4’s highlight was Turkey, which averaged 2.06 million viewers on its return to the F1 calendar as Lewis Hamilton sealed his 7th Drivers’ Championship.

Whilst above 2 million, Channel 4’s highlights high is below their 2019 highlight, when 2.10 million viewers watched a dramatic German Grand Prix.

Unlike Sky, which held up remarkably well after Hamilton sealed the crown, Channel 4’s highlights audience fell sharply, dropping to two season lows following Turkey. Sakhir averaged 1.22 million viewers (albeit in a later time slot), whilst Abu Dhabi brought in 1.38 million viewers one week later.

This is not surprising though: the free-to-air highlights audience has always fluctuated more depending on ongoing events, and two ‘dead rubber’ F1 races are not a draw to the free-to-air audience.

…resulting in a 10% increase year-on-year

An average of 2.98 million viewers watched Formula 1 across Channel 4 and Sky in 2020, the audience split 60:40 in Channel 4’s favour.

The average covers Channel 4’s highlights programming, plus live coverage of the race segment itself on Sky Sports (excluding the bulk of pre- and post-race content).

F1 themselves report a 10% increase year-on-year for the UK market, in-line with Motorsport Broadcasting’s analysis.

Worldwide, F1’s audience dropped 4.5% on average compared with 2019, so for the UK to buck the trend is impressive.

China and Russia saw bigger percentage growths at 43% and 71% respectively, whilst Max Verstappen’s continued impact in F1 helped audience figures in the Netherlands rise by 28%.

On one hand, it would be easy to argue that the UK rise was due to lockdown. But, if that was really the case, why did other countries audience figures not increase by a similar number?

Lockdown did help, but for the UK audience, there clearly was an added excitement of always having ‘something new’ around the corner, whether it was Mugello, Portimao, Imola, Turkey or the short Bahrain circuit, even if this is not necessarily reflected in other markets. The winner may have stayed largely the same, but the journey to the destination was not.

F1 tried to revert to their pre-COVID calendar for 2021, but events around them mean that this is unlikely to be possible. Arguably, it is disappointing that they tried to do exactly that, instead of formulating a new calendar for a new era.

Should F1 have used COVID as an opportunity to ‘reset’ their entire calendar structure or, is getting back to normal (even if it is, for F1, the same structure as before) of greater importance?

Should F1 start their season in Australia, only to then head back out east later in the year, or should races in a similar time zone be ‘clustered’ together to form one regional group, an idea that was mooted many years ago?

F1’s 2020 audience figures – for the UK at least – suggest that fans liked the consistent start times, with viewing figures remaining stable throughout as a result.

Neither Sky or Channel 4 responded to a request for comment at time of writing.

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Sky reaps the ratings rewards in truncated F1 season

Sky Sports have reaped the rewards of a truncated Formula 1 season as the season heads towards its finale in Abu Dhabi, analysis of viewing figures conducted by Motorsport Broadcasting shows.

After a four month delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 season eventually started in Austria on Sunday 5th July.

Since then, a further ten races have taken place across Europe, with six more currently scheduled to take place between now and the middle of December.

Analysis of the first 10 races suggests that Sky’s audience figures have increased significantly, according to consolidated data produced by BARB.

As always, viewing figures below are for the TV set only, excluding on-demand platforms such as Now TV, Sky Go, All 4, as well as those who consume their F1 experience via BBC Radio 5 Live.

Sky’s viewing figures increase…
The pandemic means that year-on-year comparisons are very difficult, however it is still possible to draw some high-level conclusions from the current data points.

During the pandemic world, Sky have split their race day programme into three segments: the pre-race build-up, the race itself, and post-race analysis.

Every race this season has averaged comfortably above one million viewers on the pay TV platform, with 1.20 million viewers tuning into the action on average, an increase by around 17 percent compared to the final position last year.

Last year’s races (excluding build-up and post-race analysis) averaged around 1.02 million viewers, although this figure includes races such as Australia, Singapore, and Mexico.

Removing all Asian and American-based races from the 2019 data set makes little difference, as the Asian and American time-zones races largely off-set each other (Asian races draw low audiences, American races draw higher audiences).

In other words, Sky’s 17 percent increase year-on-year is a true reflection of reality, and not a massaged picture because of the unusual 2020 calendar.

Last year, seven European races struggled to reach one million viewers on Sky. Excluding Britain, last year’s European races stretched from 799,000 viewers (for Spain) to 1.41 million viewers (for Bahrain).

The inaugural Styrian Grand Prix is this year’s nadir for Sky so far at 1.05 million viewers, with the season-opening Austrian Grand Prix hitting a 2020 high of 1.37 million viewers one week earlier, a far smaller spread than previous years.

As well as Austria, the Spanish Grand Prix was Sky’s other big rater so far in 2020, helped by its Sky Sports Main Event simulcast. The race itself averaged 1.33 million viewers, almost double last year’s figure.

Normally, the Barcelona race clashes with the final weekend of the football season, whereas this year’s running in mid-August meant it ran with little sporting opposition compared to usual, boosting numbers.

Pierre Gasly’s shock win in the Italian Grand Prix drew fewer viewers, averaging 1.22 million viewers, however did not enjoy the luxury of also airing live on Main Event.

…helping the overall picture
Overall, Channel 4’s highlights programming has brought in a similar average audience to last year. Excluding Silverstone (which the free-to-air broadcaster covered live), their highlights have averaged 1.75 million viewers on average, including pre- and post-race analysis.

In comparison, highlights of last year’s European races averaged 1.81 million viewers, a slight year-on-year drop, perhaps surprisingly when you consider that Channel 4 are airing a longer race edit compared to twelve months ago.

Last year, highlights of the Monaco and German rounds exceeded two million viewers, a barometer this year’s highlights have yet to hit.

Helped by the chaos in the early phases, highlights of the Tuscan Grand Prix proved to be Channel 4’s high point from a highlights perspective so far this year, averaging 1.99 million viewers.

Overall, an audience just shy of three million viewers on average are watching each race across Sky and Channel 4, peaking with around four million viewers. At its peak, the figures suggest around 1.5 million viewers are watching on Sky, with a further 2.5 million viewers following on Channel 4.

The key overriding message is that Formula 1’s viewing figures have remained incredibly stable throughout the pandemic. Are there lessons to learn for the championship moving forward?

Arguably the pandemic is an excellent opportunity to review the fundamental structure of the Grand Prix calendar, grouping races into clusters and making it easier for fans to follow the championship through the season, boosting audience figures.

Critically for Sky, their viewing figures show no sign of any ‘second season’ dip in the second year covering F1 exclusively, with viewing figures not only increasing for Formula 1, but also increasing for feeder series’ Formula Two and Formula Three.

Viewing figures may drop if, as looks likely, Lewis Hamilton does clinch the championship with a few races to spare, but so far, the picture is looking good.


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Sainz’s pursuit of victory sees F1’s viewing figures double in Spain

Carlos Sainz’s pursuit of victory in last weekend’s Italian Grand Prix saw viewing figures double in Spain, audience data from overseas shows.

The race was red flagged after a major accident for Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.

Following the restart, AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly battled McLaren’s Sainz for victory, Sainz a couple of laps too short from potential victory.

Sainz’s pursuit of victory resulted in audience figures surging in his home land.

An audience of 244,000 viewers (2.1% audience share) watched the Grand Prix on pay TV station Movistar+ according to Formula TV, double the 121,000 viewers (1.2% audience share) that watched last month’s Spanish Grand Prix on the same channel.

Last weekend’s race was up by around a third on last year’s Monza figure, which averaged 173,000 viewers (1.4% audience share) in Spain.

Over in France, a peak audience of 1.24 million viewers watched Gasly’s victory on Canal+, a slight increase on last weekend’s peak audience of 1.16 million viewers.

The average audience declined from 932,000 viewers for the Belgian Grand Prix, to 841,000 viewers last weekend, a reflection of the red flag period which may have depleted the Canal+ average slightly.

The conclusion here is obvious, but worth stating: France’s viewing figures are higher than Spain, meaning that there is less room for growth, whereas F1 in Spain is underperforming massively now.

The presence of Sainz fighting it out up front – and the returning Fernando Alonso – is critical to move the needle in Spain.

Unfortunately, one of F1’s biggest territories in Europe shed over one million viewers, thanks to Ferrari’s continued woes. According to Motorsport.com, coverage of the race in Germany averaged 4.54 million viewers, a decrease on last year’s figure of 5.71 million viewers.

The 2020 figure is in-line on F1’s audiences for the year to date in Germany, whereas last year’s race over-indexed considerably.

Viewing figures for the race also dipped year-on-year in America on Labor Day weekend. 602,000 viewers watched the race on ESPN2, compared with 635,000 viewers last year.

Impressively, live coverage of the third practice session averaged 244,000 viewers at 06:00 on Saturday morning on ESPN, with 518,000 viewers tuning into qualifying, showing that increased interest in F1 in the US is filtering through to the other weekend sessions.

Formula Two viewing figures surge in UK
In the UK, viewing figures for the Formula Two championship continue to impress according to consolidated data from BARB and ThinkBox.

Whilst data for the Italian Grand Prix is unavailable, data from the Belgian Grand Prix weekend shows that 222,000 viewers watched the Formula Two feature race on Saturday 29th August, believed to be Formula Two’s highest ever figure in the UK.

185,000 viewers watched the race via Sky Sports F1, with an additional 37,000 viewers watching on Sky Sports Main Event.

To put that into historical comparison, back in 2012 during Sky’s first season covering F1, only 29,000 viewers watched the GP2 feature race during the Belgium weekend.

Viewing figures have increased rapidly in the past year and a half, Sky’s F1 exclusivity helping the cause.

Elsewhere, the Indy 500, which took place the week before, averaged 130,000 viewers, although the two figures are not directly comparable given that the IndyCar figure includes a 90-minute build-up which would have depleted the average.


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