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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News round-up: Study published into “excessive alcohol advertisements” during F1 races; Alonso docuseries to premiere in September

In the round-up, a leading university has published findings looking at alcoholic content during F1 broadcasts, whilst two big documentaries are hitting the airwaves this September…

Where possible, Motorsport Broadcasting endeavours to link directly to the original source instead of linking to a third-party site that may have misinterpreted the original headline.

The round-up gives a bite sized view of the latest news making the waves, as well as interesting snippets that I have picked up along the way.

All the round-ups to date are located here, and as always, all feedback on the site, positive and negative, is more than welcome.

Formula 1

  • The University of Nottingham has published a paper looking at advertising of alcoholic products during Formula 1 coverage on Channel 4.
    • Unsurprisingly their research, which focuses on the 2018 season, finds that young people “are being exposed to excessive alcohol advertisements during televised sporting events,” which they believe could lead to increased consumption for children.
    • The research shows that F1 is heavily reliant on brands such as Heineken and Johnnie Walker, with 56 percent of Channel 4’s F1 broadcasts containing some form of alcoholic content during one-minute intervals of race footage.
    • “Our study clearly shows that alcohol content was highly prevalent throughout the 2018 F1 Championship broadcasts,” study author Dr Alex Barker said. “This is worrying given the young viewers this branded content would have reached.”
    • “Previous research has already shown that advertising of this kind can lead to alcohol consumption in young people, and this is one of many sporting events that uses advertising in this way. We would urge Ofcom to consider the implications of this, and whether restrictions need to be put on this kind of advertising.”
  • For those not watching, Formula Two’s World Feed has featured a raft of commentators this season.
    • Alex Brundle (Austria, Britain, and Spain), Matt Gallagher (Styria), Alice Powell (Hungary) and Peter Windsor (70th Anniversary) have all stepped into the hot seat alongside lead commentator Alex Jacques.
  • Viewing figures for the feeder series have surged in the UK since the start of the 2020 season according to consolidated audience data from BARB for the TV set.
    • At its peak, an average audience of 177,000 viewers watched the Formula Two feature race during the British Grand Prix weekend on Sky Sports F1, a significant increase on the equivalent race last year which failed to make Sky F1’s top 15.
    • More recently, 141,000 viewers watched the feature race during the 70th Anniversary weekend. The sprint race on Sunday morning failed to make Sky F1’s top 15 however, this a likely result of the audience being split across Sky’s F1 channel and Sky Sports Main Event.
  • Formula 1 is to live stream coverage of the Eifel Grand Prix on YouTube across several territories this October.
    • All three practice sessions, qualifying and the race itself will air live on the platform in Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. The deal is in addition to their existing rights deals in place within those territories.
    • F1 says the partnership is an opportunity “to give back to those fans” who would have attended the Nürburgring round, but cannot due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
    • Tomos Grace, YouTube’s Head of Sport in the EMEA territories, said “70% of Formula 1’s YouTube audience is under the age of 35. Sports broadcasters and organisers increasingly recognise YouTube’s ability to reach these new audiences and generate incremental revenue.”
  • The long-awaited documentary series focusing on seventy years of Formula 1 will premiere from September 12th, as first reported by RaceFans in Summer 2019.
    • Race to Perfection will air exclusively for UK fans on Sky and Now TV, with the series also being made available to TV channels and streaming services worldwide via NBCUniversal Global Distribution, although further concrete details are unavailable – including whether it will be available to subscribers of F1 TV.
    • The series interviewed over 40 of F1’s biggest names, with new archive footage contained within the seven episodes. Full synopsis details are available on the Sky F1 website.
  • A recent survey on F1 Fan Voice has hinted at some documentaries that F1 are looking to produce in the forthcoming months and years.
    • The choices on offer include an origin style series based off Netflix’s Drive to Survive; a ‘Last Dance‘ style series focusing on the 2021 season; and a Bernie Ecclestone biopic.
  • F1 has extended their rights deal with AMC Network in Czech Republic and Slovakia to broadcast the sport until the end of 2023.
    • The action will remain on Sport1 and Sport2, with every session covered live. In addition, fans will be able to access F1 TV Pro for the first time, the platform launching in those territories prior to the 2021 season.

Elsewhere…

  • A five-part documentary following two-time Formula 1 champion Fernando Alonso premieres on Amazon Prime across 240 territories on September 25th.
    • The series, produced by Madrid company The Mediapro Studio, sees the team follow Alonso as he embarks on the Indianapolis 500, Le Mans 24 Hours and the Dakar Rally.
    • “Fernando has been one more challenge in my career, a commitment with myself and with the public to show the work, the sacrifice and the high requirement that implies competition at the first worldwide level, as none of this never transcends beyond the circuits,” Alonso said. “Only two companies with the experience of The Mediapro Studio and Amazon Prime Video could make it possible with a powerful storytelling and global reach.”
  • Formula E has launched a talent call aimed at 18 to 24-year olds to join their presentation team for season seven.
    • The series will whittle candidates down to four finalised, who will “be assigned experienced mentors and receive professional media training,” with the winner joining the team from the season opener in Santiago in January.
    • The competition, open to residents of the UK, Germany, and France, closes on 12th September.
  • Meanwhile, the electric series will air live on free-to-air television in Germany for season seven on SAT. 1, taking advantage of F1’s recent decision to move to pay television in the territory.
  • Stateside, MotoGP debuted on NBC to 527,000 viewers on Sunday 19th July, beating both IndyCar races that weekend.
    • The two IndyCar races that weekend aired live in primetime, but on NBC’s sister station NBCSN, to an audience of 356,000 viewers and 334,000 viewers.
    • Things have improved for IndyCar recently, with live coverage of Indianapolis 500 qualifying on NBC averaging 824,000 viewers and 933,000 viewers this past weekend, beating the Spanish Grand Prix on ESPN earlier that morning.
  • BT Sport are continuing to cover MotoGP from Triumph’s HQ in Hinckley. Keep an eye on Motorsport Broadcasting over the coming weeks for behind the scenes content from Triumph…

If you have spotted anything else making the rounds that I have yet to mention on this site, drop a line in the comments section below.


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Dramatic British Grand Prix conclusion watched by over four million viewers in UK

A peak audience of over 4 million viewers watched Lewis Hamilton win the British Grand Prix, which concluded in dramatic style yesterday afternoon, overnight viewing figures show.

All overnight viewing figures exclude people watching in pubs and bars, as well as those watching via on demand platforms, such as Now TV and All 4.

Although Motorsport Broadcasting no longer has access to audience data, the headline figures are in the public domain, allowing us to glean how the landscape looks. The sources for the figures are at the foot of this article.

UK viewing figures
Comparisons year-on-year are difficult to the differing factors surrounding each race, which we need to account for.

Last year’s race clashed with the Cricket World Cup final featuring England and New Zealand, as well as the Wimbledon final, both taking a bite out of the F1 audience.

Naturally, that meant more people watching around the television set, whereas the COVID-19 pandemic means that this year’s race fell during the Summer holidays, a period where fewer people are watching TV.

Channel 4’s coverage of the race itself, including a short portion of the build-up and immediate post-race reaction, averaged around 2.3 million viewers (25% audience share) from 13:45 to 16:15.

The free-to-air broadcaster says that the audience share for younger viewers was 20%, the biggest share in that time slot. Their coverage peaked with three million viewers, an increase on last year’s figure of around 200,000 viewers.

Live coverage across Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event averaged a further 1.1 million viewers from 14:05 to 16:00, significantly higher than last year’s audience for the pay TV platform. Last year’s coverage on Sky Sports F1 peaked with around 900,000 viewers.

When accounting for Sky One, it is likely that Sky’s coverage in total peaked with around 1.3 to 1.4 million viewers, a sizeable year-on-year increase.

All of this means that, in total, a peak audience of over four million viewers watched the closing stages of the Grand Prix, a jump compared to last year’s figure of 3.7 million viewers, and bringing the peak back closer to the 2016 to 2018 audience figures.

Based on the (albeit limited) evidence we have, the strong suggestion is that Sky’s audience figures have increased compared to 2019, which is good news for the sport for the whole, although perhaps not good news for those hoping that F1 returns to free-to-air television in the UK.

Viewing figures across Europe dip as Summer hits
Despite Mercedes’ continued domination, there is little sign that audiences have tuned out in significant numbers when comparing the figures for key territories to the season opening Austrian Grand Prix, however there are some noteworthy dips.

Not in a title winning car? Not a problem in the Netherlands, where audiences continue to tune in for Max Verstappen. According to SKO, a massive audience of 1.43 million viewers (58.6%) watched the Grand Prix from 15:05 to 16:58.

The race, which was in-line with the season opener, saw 1.07 million viewers (44.2%) watch via the dedicated F1 channel, with a further 351,000 viewers (14.4%) watching via Ziggo Sport’s generalised offering.

Viewing figures did dip more in Germany and Austria, however. Motosport.com reports that 4.81 million viewers (30.8%) watched the race across RTL and Sky, compared with 5.09 million viewers (31.6%) for the season opener.

An audience of 4.28 million viewers (27.4%) watched RTL’s free-to-air offering, with a further 530,000 viewers (3.4%) watching Sky’s race coverage. Bearing in mind that Sky are the exclusive supplier for F1 fans in Germany as of 2021, it shows just how many fans F1 could lose in Germany if not many of them make the transition to pay TV.

Over in Austria, an audience of 550,000 viewers (39%) watched ORF’s offering, a decrease on their Austrian Grand Prix audience of 609,000 viewers (46%). Canal+’s offering for fans in France also dropped by a similar amount.

One country that did increase their audience compared to the season opener was Spain. An audience of 183,000 viewers (1.7%) watched Movistar’s coverage according to Formula TV, compared to a figure of 104,000 viewers (0.9%) from one month ago.

Sources for UK portion of article: Channel 4 Press, Liam Hamilton. US audience figures will be added once available.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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