The 2015-16 Formula E season continued last month, with round three taking place in Punta del Este on Saturday 19th December 2015. Unfortunately for the championship, the second season continued to attract low viewing figures in the UK, unofficial overnight numbers show.
Live coverage of the race, broadcast on ITV4 from 18:00 to 20:30, attracted an average audience of 103k (0.5%). The race recorded a 5-minute peak figure of 196k (0.9%) at 19:40 as Sebastien Buemi claimed his fifth Formula E victory. Both measures are down on 2014’s average audience for Punta del Este of 197k (1.0%) and peak audience of 331k (1.8%). The average audience is down 47.7 percent, with the peak audience down 40.8 percent, despite facing similar competition year-on-year.
Highlights of the race did not fare much better on ITV on Sunday 20th December 2015. The programme, which aired from 09:25 to 10:20, averaged just 162k (2.2%), recording a 5-minute peak figure of 189k (2.5%) at 10:10. As an example of how the highlights programme is failing to bring an audience in, the 5 minute segments before and after the programme (09:15 to 09:20 and 10:20 to 10:25) both averaged over 200k.
The combined audience of 264k is higher than last year’s combined audience of around 240k, due to the fact that the highlights programme now airs on ITV instead of ITV4. I am not sure that can be spun as being good: both of this year’s numbers will be significantly below their respective slot averages. The highlights audience has dropped from 244k for Beijing to 201k for Putrajaya and now 162k for Punta del Este.
Something is not working: the scheduling, the advertising or the raw product itself.
Normally British success in sport leads to an increase in television audiences for that particular event. In Formula 1, over the past eighteen months, the opposite appears to have occurred. Based on unofficial overnight viewing figures, the 2015 Formula One season recorded the lowest average audience since the 2007 season. Lewis Hamilton’s and Mercedes’s dominance has not had the intended effect.
> BBC records lowest average in modern times
> Sky average drops back to 2013 level
> Only two out of last eight races increased year-on-year
As I have done in previous years, it is worth re-iterating what exactly the numbers represent for those of you that are new to the blog. For Sky Sports F1, all viewing figures are for the three and a half hour race day slot. This covers the ‘Pit Lane Live’ and ‘Race’ segments in the EPG, the reason for this is to allow a fair comparison year-on-year. As thus, the equivalent slots are used for 2012, 2013 and 2014 to present a transparent picture and so the viewing figures presented are not misleading. Numbers also include any Sky simulcasts on Sky Sports 1, where applicable. For the BBC, the figures are all programme averages, irrespective of whether the programme was live or in highlights form, and irrespective of channel. Repeats are accounted for where Asian-based races were covered by the BBC live. As always, viewing figures do not include over the top methods of viewing such as BBC iPlayer and Sky Go.
The 2015 story
The trajectory that the 2015 season took is largely similar to that from two years ago. In my Summer post, I stated that 2015 was up on 2012 and 2014, but down on 2013. In 2013, the dominance of Sebastian Vettel sent audiences tumbling. In 2015, it is the dominance of Mercedes that appears to have a profound effect on viewing figures.
Sky Sports F1’s race day programme has averaged 638k from 12:00 to 15:30, or equivalent this season. That number is down 19.3 percent on 2014’s figure and down 0.4 percent on 2013’s figure of 640k. 2015’s average is also down 10.3 percent on 2012’s average of 711k. By a margin of around two thousand viewers, Sky’s average Formula 1 viewing figures are at their lowest level since they joined the sport in 2012. Given that the gap between 2013 and 2015 is only two thousand viewers, I’m reluctant to read too much into it as two thousand viewers is within the margin of error.
So what has happened here? In essence, any gain that Sky made last season has disappeared. A near 20 percent drop in viewers is bad, whichever way you look at it. There is perhaps some knowledge to be gained in stating that Sky’s numbers are back at 2013 levels when you consider both season’s followed similar patterns on the track. Whilst Sky was no doubt hampered by some races starting earlier, it is a fact that only four races increased year-on-year: Spain (+5.0%), Austria (+4.4%), Britain (+27.3%) and Italy (+7.5%). Twelve races recorded double digit drops compared with 2014, including the US Grand Prix which dropped 15.3 percent. That is not good and is a stark contrast to this time last year. The comparisons include the relevant Sky Sports 1 simulcasts for this year. I think Sky’s drop is a combination of the on-tract action being resolved early this year and also viewer apathy towards the product that Sky Sports have been putting out this year.
The BBC’s figures have dropped year-on-year by 3.6 percent, recording an average of 3.11m. It is their lowest average under this current deal, and therefore their lowest since the BBC returned to the sport in 2009. 2014 averaged 3.22m, whilst 2013 averaged 3.42m. At a time when the BBC’s current coverage is under threat, any drop does not make for good reading. However, eleven races actually increased their average audience compared with 2014. The biggest gainers were Bahrain (+60.9% – BBC showed highlights in 2014), Britain (+28.6%) and Austria (+27.0%). The reason that BBC’s average number is down is because of Mexico, a low-rating highlights race, plus the fact that three races lost over a quarter of their audience year-on-year (Singapore, Japan and Abu Dhabi). Undoubtedly, BBC’s biggest problem, and one of the major flaws in this current contract was that Lewis Hamilton’s championship victory was not screened live on free-to-air television.
An eight year low in the TV same day world
The combined average of 3.74m is down 6.7 percent on 2014’s 4.01m, down 7.3 percent on 2013’s 4.06m and down 4.5 percent on 2012’s 3.92m. For the first time since the current rights agreement between BBC and Sky started, both channels dropped year-on-year based on overnight viewing figures. Last year I commented on the closeness of the figures from 2012 to 2014. 2015 has dipped below that line as it were, meaning this season sits between 2007 and 2008 in the popularity stakes. Considering Formula 1 has a British world champion, the idea that viewing figures have dropped to an eight year low in the UK may be considered alarming to those within the sport.
The most watched race in 2015 was the Canadian Grand Prix which averaged 5.35m, whilst the season ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix falls at the opposite end of the spectrum with 2.61m. As I noted earlier, all the numbers exclude online viewing, including iPlayer, Sky Go and Now TV. Including those methods of viewing would send 2015 above 2008’s average of 3.94m, but I would be surprised if it made much of a difference year-on-year, unless there has been drastic changes of viewing habits to more online methods from Grand Prix fans. If people are changing their viewing habits in relation to Formula 1, the question is why. There is always a reason if habits have changed, a live viewer does not become an on-demand viewer for an event which should be viewed live without a good reason.
It would be amiss I feel to write off 2015 as saying “well, online would increase numbers”. To do so would ignore the bigger picture. Formula 1 has well documented issues on and off the track at the moment concerning the spectacle the sport is presenting. One team dominating is historically a turn off for the casual viewer. Ferrari’s dominance in the mid 2000s led to a worldwide switch off (Germany and Italy aside). If the dominance of Mercedes is leading to the same pattern, then you have to be concerned. The casual viewer does not want to watch one team dominating. You can’t punish dominance, of course you can’t. But it does not help when that same team appears to be anti-racing, repeatedly. That is a switch off. Maybe you could blame Lewis Hamilton himself as the reason for the decline, in that he is in BBC’s and Sky’s coverage too much, and there is an argument that features with him as the main attraction do not move television ratings at the moment.
Heading into 2016
A dominant Mercedes or not, Formula 1 needs three things in 2016 if viewing figures are to move in a positive direction. A resurgent McLaren. Formula 1 cannot have two world champions at the back of the field. Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button should be near the front, competing for points and podiums, week in, week out. Secondly, Ferrari to challenge Mercedes. We did see flashes of it at the start of this season, but nothing ever materialised, aside from Singapore.
From a media perspective, Lewis Hamilton versus Sebastian Vettel writes itself. We never quite got it when Vettel was at Red Bull, plus other drivers were involved in the championship battle too. Hamilton versus Vettel, Mercedes vs Ferrari. It is something the casual audience would watch and become invested in. One of the reasons why 2011 was the most watched season in the modern era was not only because of Vettel, but because of Hamilton’s on-track duels with Felipe Massa. We need to see Hamilton versus Vettel, and I hope we see that in 2016. It would draw audiences, not only in the UK but in Germany too. In my opinion, Hamilton vs Nico Rosberg is not something the general public are interested in and the viewing figures reflect that.
Lastly, Formula 1 needs the BBC. Formula 1 needs the BBC more than the BBC needs Formula 1. The BBC could replace Formula 1 with repeats on a Sunday afternoon and claim one million viewers, whereas Formula 1 would need to find a new home on ITV or Channel 4, to a significantly reduced audience, more so on the latter. I’ll finish this piece with a quote from David Coulthard: “My personal view is that if F1 allows itself to lose free-to-air television coverage in the UK, it will not only affect the popularity of the sport, and by extension the teams’ ability to raise money to compete, but it will also reduce its exposure to the next generations of engineers and mechanics. F1 has inspired people to enter a workforce that numbers tens of thousands of people – the drivers are just the lucky ones at the end of the rainbow.”
Before I get into the round-up, no news on anything BBC F1 related concerning 2016. If we hear nothing before Christmas, we have to assume that things are staying the same for next season. Hopefully we will have direct confirmation one way or the other soon.
Formula E creates highlights programme for YouTube… but is it uploaded by a robot?
For those of you who are unable to watch the full session replays on the Formula E website because of geo-blocking, or new contractual agreements mean that you can no longer access the series, there is some good news. A 50-minute highlights programme will now be uploaded to YouTube one week after each ePrix, with no restrictions in place. Beijing and Putrajaya‘s extended highlights are already online.
Unfortunately Formula E has gone a few steps backwards in the accessibility ranks recently, but the move to upload an extended highlights programme to YouTube is certainly a sensible move. As usual, the question is whether anyone will (or has) noticed. You can do the best thing in the world, but if you do not communicate the message to the right people, you’re in a problematical situation. I am hopeful that things will improve for the Punta del Este ePrix in three weeks time, it should be better for the production team generally that the race takes place in a European friendly time zone.
Speaking of scheduling, whilst Battersea Park and Mexico are definitely taking place, question marks remain about Berlin, unfortunately the calendar for the second year running is fragile. That is the nature of having a series that takes place primarily on temporary circuits, inevitably things that are more important contextually will emerge.
Lastly on Formula E, I would be surprised if Roborace is covered live anywhere. The news was covered widely by a lot of technology outlets, and reached the people it needed to, such as the BBC, Mashable, Wired and The Verge. It is a great news story in my eyes for Formula E, and (coming from a Computing background) I’m fascinated to see how exactly the Roborace goes down. I look forward to the first Roborace testing session at Donington Park (because that surely will be a thing?) next Summer.
BTCC and ITV extend agreement
The main news on the rights front actually comes from ITV, with the announcement that they have extended their agreement to broadcast the British Touring Car Championship until 2022, taking their contract into a twentieth year. It is ITV’s longest agreement in history with the championship. Although viewing figures for the series have dropped recently, it is still fantastic news for the series and for fans, maintaining their presence on free-to-air television in the UK.
It also shows again that the championship, from a broadcasting perspective, clearly considers exposure over funding. I imagine they could get more money off a pay-TV partner, but choose not to in order to reach the widest possible audience. Okay, as mentioned numbers have dropped, but BTCC are unlikely to find another partner who are willing to dedicate the amount of airtime that ITV4 does to the championship.
Although this contract does not take effect until 2017, reading the article on the BTCC website, it looks like nothing has changed versus this deal. The timing is interesting, given that there have been rumours recently about ITV potentially being in the F1 race soon should BBC opt out. However, ITV have broadcast BTCC and F1 at the same time previously, from 2002 to 2008 they held the contract for both series.
In relation to Formula 1, Alan Gow said “the fact that we enjoy more live free-to-air television that even Formula 1 in the UK is testament to not only the BTCC but also the dedication and passion expressed by the ITV Sport team.”
Race of Champions makes history
Live coverage of the Race of Champions averaged 54k (0.4%) on Saturday 21st November on Sky Sports F1 from 15:00 according to overnight viewing figures, which will have been significantly up on the channel’s slot average during non-F1 race weekends. It was surprising to see Sky in their studio considering the Olympic Stadium is only an hour journey away from the studio.
You could say that the event made a bit of history, as Martin Haven was commentating alongside Jennie Gow for the World Feed coverage, which Sky largely used interspersed with studio discussion. Haven noted on Twitter that Gow would become UK’s first female motor sport commentator by commentating on the event, which is an amazing achievement. On the main stream motor sport outlets (I’m thinking BBC, Sky, ITV and BT to some extent) we have female presenters and pit lane reporters, but I do not ever recall a female commentator commentating on motor sport. It was a welcome change. and I enjoyed listening to a different voice during the proceedings.
The 2015 Formula One season ended with a whimper on Sunday afternoon, as 2.6 million tuned into the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in the UK, overnight viewing figures show.
Live coverage of the race, moved to BBC Two at the eleventh hour due to the conclusion of the Davis Cup, averaged 2.21m (16.9%) from 12:00 to 15:15, recording a five-minute peak of 3.08m (20.8%) as the race came to a conclusion. The race programme on Sky Sports F1 averaged 399k (3.0%) across the same timeslot. Sky’s coverage peaked with 632k (4.6%) in the five minutes from 14:00, which shouldn’t be too much of a surprise as this was in the gap between the first two Premier League games yesterday.
As alluded to above, the race faced competition from the Davis Cup on BBC One, which itself averaged 3.01m (22.9%) from 12:00 to 15:45. The decision to air the Davis Cup finale on BBC One was unsurprising, what was ridiculous however was that this was decided an hour before both shows were due to go on the air – certainly not something you expect when both events were known weeks in advance. I’m not convinced that number justified switching the two events at the last minute.
Comparisons with 2014 for the race are redundant given that last year was a championship decider and yesterday was not. Nevertheless, the combined average for Abu Dhabi of 2.60 million is comfortably the lowest ever recorded for that race. The previous low was 4.03 million from 2013, traditionally Abu Dhabi does well but for a variety of factors, viewers were not interested in Formula 1 yesterday. There are also these facts, based on the overnight viewing figures:
> lowest season finale since at least 2005
> lowest ‘European time zone’ race audience since the 2007 Bahrain Grand Prix
> lowest BBC F1 audience for a live race in the ‘European time zone’ since the corporation returned to the sport
> lowest Sky Sports F1 audience for a ‘European time zone’ race ever
The consolidated figures will make a few of the points above null and void, timeshift is larger in 2015 than in 2010, but I feel that the points still stand. For reference, ‘European time zone’ means any race that has aired live here during the lunch time hours, so anything from 11:00 through to around 14:00. There are multiple reasons for yesterday’s very low rating: increased competition, the switch from BBC One to BBC Two will have hurt the same-day timeshift figures and pure fatigue given that the championship race was over a long time ago.
However, Formula 1 has faced bigger competition before in recent years (Wimbledon finals and major games in football competitions) and has not dropped as low as Abu Dhabi did. Viewing patterns have changed as well, you cannot escape that fact. I will analyse the figures more in a post coming soon, but the picture, whichever way you want to paint it, is not promising.
Qualifying and Pointless
The final qualifying programme of the season averaged 2.05m (21.2%) from 12:10 to 14:05 on BBC One, with Sky Sports F1 adding a further 258k (2.7%) from 12:00 to 14:35. To end on a positive note, a Grand Prix themed edition of Pointless Celebrities averaged a massive 5.73m (29.2%) from 18:00 on BBC One on Saturday, one of its highest ever ratings.
The 2014 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.
An average audience of 4.57 million watched the Brazilian Grand Prix, overnight viewing figures show.
Live coverage of the race, broadcast live on BBC One from 15:25 to 18:00, averaged 4.02m (24.9%), up significantly on 2013’s number of 3.45m (19.9%). It should be noted that 2013’s broadcast was 185 minutes long, whereas yesterday’s was 155 minutes long and yesterday would have benefited also from a strong lead-out with the BBC News at Six focussing on events in Paris. Sky Sports F1’s coverage from 15:00 to 18:30 added a further 548k (3.3%), an increase on 2013’s number of 473k (2.7%) across the same timeslot.
The combined average of 4.57 million is the highest for Interlagos since 2012, when Sebastian Vettel clinched his third championship in the final race of the year. Last year, an audience of 4.27 million watched as BBC showed highlights of the race, whilst 3.93 million watched in 2013.
Whilst yesterday’s Grand Prix was not the greatest in the world, it would have benefited from little sporting competition on pay-TV channels with no domestic top-flight football being played. Considering the championship has already been resolved, it is a good number.
The 2014 Brazilian Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.