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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Billy McGinty appointed Sky’s Director of Formula 1

Sky Sports have appointed veteran producer Billy McGinty as their Director of Formula 1, Motorsport Broadcasting can confirm.

A mainstay at Sky for many years, McGinty previously worked as a producer on Sky’s F1 coverage in their earlier seasons.

An internal reshuffle in 2017 saw McGinty promoted to Senior Producer, moving over to work on Sky’s Premier League football coverage.

Now, McGinty succeeds Scott Young as Sky’s Director of Formula 1, in a process that this site understands concluded late last year. Sky themselves have independently confirmed McGinty’s appointment to Motorsport Broadcasting.

By appointing McGinty, Sky have opted to stick with what they see as a safe internal hire, in a similar vein to how Martin Turner became Sky’s Head of F1 in 2011.

In comparison, Young emerged from the outside, making unpopular decisions in the process.

Croft and Brundle remain in the box for 2021

David Croft and Martin Brundle will remain Sky’s commentary pairing for 2021, as the broadcaster heads into their 10th year of F1 broadcasting.

Speaking about his Sky future on the Motor Sport Magazine podcast at the end of 2020, Brundle says that he expects to be replaced “soon”, and is surprised that such a move “hasn’t already happened.”

“My job is very simple, I’ve got to put fans on the grid pre-race, in the cockpit during the race and on the pit wall, because that’s my knowledge base. I don’t need notes to do that,” Brundle said, talking to Ed Foster.

“Somebody will come along and blow me out of the water soon in terms of their knowledge and their work rate, and what they’re prepared to do to make Formula 1 television, and when it does, I’ll go and do something else. I’m surprised it hasn’t happened already to be honest.”

“I’m just looking at a new deal now [speaking at the end of 2020]. I haven’t started a Grand Prix since 1996, but I get away with that, as long as I’m still really up to date.”

Rumours that Sky, under Young’s leadership at the time, were looking to replace Brundle never came to fruition, Brundle now heading into his 25th F1 season as a full-time commentator.

The 2021 season is set to begin with the Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday 28th March, with every race airing live on Sky Sports F1.

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Scheduling: The 2020 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix

After Lewis Hamilton made history last weekend in the Algarve, F1 heads east to Italy for the return of Imola to the calendar!

Because of the 24 hour distance between the two locations by car, unusually the F1 weekend is only two days long, with a 90-minute practice session taking place on Saturday morning, followed by qualifying later.

The race itself starts at 12:10 UK time, primarily because of the early sunset. If you think that is earlier than usual, brace yourselves for the Turkish Grand Prix, which begins at 10:10 UK time a fortnight later.

Elsewhere, there is little to report with the World Touring Car Cup heading to Aragon for the penultimate event of its heavily truncated season.

Channel 4 F1
31/10 – 17:15 to 18:45 – Qualifying Highlights
01/11 – 18:30 to 21:00 – Race Highlights

Sky Sports F1
Sessions
31/10 – 08:30 to 10:45
=> 08:30 – Welcome to the Weekend
=> 09:00 – Practice
31/10 – 12:00 to 14:30 – Qualifying
01/11 – 10:30 to 15:30 – Race
=> 10:30 – Grand Prix Sunday
=> 12:05 – Race
=> 14:00 – Chequered Flag
=> 15:00 – Notebook

Supplementary Programming
04/11 – 19:30 to 21:00 – F1 Pro Series Race 4 and 5
04/11 – 21:00 to 21:30 – Midweek Debrief
05/11 – 19:30 to 21:00 – F1 Pro Series Race 6

BBC Radio F1
All sessions are available live on BBC’s F1 website
29/10 – 21:30 to 22:00 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
31/10 – 08:55 to 10:35 – Practice (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
31/10 – 12:55 to 14:05 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
01/11 – 12:00 to 14:15 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)

World Touring Car Cup – Spain (Eurosport 2)
31/10 – 12:15 to 13:15 – Qualifying
01/11 – 08:00 to 09:00 – Race 1
01/11 – 11:00 to 12:00 – Race 2
01/11 – 13:00 to 14:00 – Race 3

If any details change, this article will be updated.

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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Scheduling: The 2020 Portuguese Grand Prix

For the first time in 24 years, Formula 1 heads to Portugal for the Portuguese Grand Prix!

Instead of heading to Estoril, which hosted the last race there in 1996, the championship instead heads to the 2.9-mile circuit in the Algarve for its inaugural visit.

Live coverage of the race airs as usual on Sky Sports F1, the Grand Prix itself beginning at 13:10 UK time.

Later, the IndyCar Series concludes with the race that was meant to begin its COVID-19 disrupted year in St Petersburg. Scott Dixon looks set to clinch the crown, but Josef Newgarden is close in his mirror.

As if that was not enough, Sky are also airing live coverage of the Spa 24 Hours on Sky Sports F1! The majority of the 24 hours air live on the channel. I would expect the remainder to air live behind the Red Button, but this is unconfirmed as of writing.

With F1 and IndyCar, it means there is over 37 hours of live motor sport on Sky next weekend.

Elsewhere, the British Touring Car Championship starts earlier than usual on ITV4, as the nights draw in heading into the Winter months.

NOTE: Clocks go back one hour on Sunday 25th October, with the change from British Summer Time to Greenwich Mean Time. The times listed are for BST on Saturday and before; GMT for Sunday and afterwards…

Channel 4 F1
24/10 – 17:30 to 19:00 – Qualifying Highlights
25/10 – 18:30 to 21:00 – Race Highlights

Sky Sports F1
Sessions
23/10 – 10:30 to 12:45 (also Sky Sports Main Event)
=> 10:30 – Welcome to the Weekend
=> 11:00 – Practice 1
23/10 – 14:45 to 16:45 – Practice 2
24/10 – 10:45 to 12:10 – Practice 3
24/10 – 13:00 to 15:30 – Qualifying
25/10 – 11:30 to 16:30 – Race
=> 11:30 – Grand Prix Sunday
=> 13:05 – Race
=> 15:00 – Chequered Flag
=> 16:00 – Notebook

Supplementary Programming
23/10 – 16:45 to 17:15 – The Story so Far
25/10 – 16:30 to 17:30 – Race to Perfection
28/10 – 21:00 to 21:30 – Midweek Debrief

BBC Radio F1
All sessions are available live on BBC’s F1 website
25/10 – 13:00 to 15:20 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)

MotoGP – Teruel (BT Sport 2)
Also airs live on MotoGP’s Video Pass (£)
23/10 – 08:00 to 10:45 – Practice 1
23/10 – 12:00 to 15:00 – Practice 2
24/10 – 08:00 to 15:15
=> 08:00 – Practice 3
=> 11:00 – Qualifying
25/10 – 07:45 to 15:00
=> 07:45 – Warm Ups
=> 09:30 – Moto3
=> 11:30 – MotoGP
=> 13:15 – Moto2
=> 14:30 – Chequered Flag

MotoGP – Teruel< (Quest)
26/10 – 18:00 to 19:00 – Highlights

24 Hours of Spa (Sky Sports F1)
Also airs live on YouTube
24/10 and 25/10 – Race
=> 15:30 to 20:00
=> 21:30 BST [Saturday] to 11:30 GMT [Sunday]

British Touring Car Championship – Snetterton (ITV4)
25/10 – 10:05 to 16:55 – Races

IndyCar Series – St Petersburg (Sky Sports F1)
24/10 – 20:00 to 21:30 – Qualifying
25/10 – 18:30 to 20:30 – Race

If details change, this article will be updated.


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