Vettel’s Bahrain victory peaks with 4.3 million viewers

Sebastian Vettel’s victory in the 2017 Bahrain Grand Prix peaked with 4.3 million viewers, overnight viewing figures show. In comparison to recent times, it was a stronger than usual afternoon for Formula 1.

Race
A special note about Channel 4’s live races this season. Channel 4 have decided this season to split their programming into three sections: pre-race, the race itself and then post-race analysis. As with Sky Sports F1’s viewing figures, this site will take Channel 4’s build up and race numbers for the season average. This will help provide a valid year on year comparison given that Channel 4’s live programming is expected to run longer this season.

With that in mind, Channel 4’s programme from 14:50 to 18:15 averaged 2.23m (15.2%). The build-up averaged 991k (8.2%) from 14:50 to 15:35, with the race itself averaging 2.57m (17.2%) until 18:15. Around 950,000 viewers continued to watch Channel 4’s analysis from 18:15 to 18:45. Channel 4’s average audience is in-line with last year’s average audience of 2.30m (16.2%), which considering the tough football competition on Sky is a strong number.

Sky Sports F1’s live coverage from 15:00 to 18:30 averaged 597k (4.1%), an increase of 51,000 viewers on the 2016 average audience of 546k (3.9%). Nevertheless, the average audience is down slightly on 2015’s average of 640k (4.3%).

Looking at Channel 4’s breakdown, one of the fascinating aspects is that its pre-race segment rated significantly lower year-on-year, by around 400,000 viewers which deflated the overall average. Channel 4’s programme clawed back the year-on-year difference throughout the build-up, drawing level at race start time.

Across Channel 4 and Sky Sports, the race started at 16:00 with 4.03 million viewers. The race followed the same trajectory as last year with a small dip to around 3.8 million viewers, but unlike last year the viewership climbed back up, hitting 4.04m (26.1%) at 17:00.

The audience dipped again slightly, but quickly picked back up, with 4.34m (25.9%) watching at 17:30, an increase of 433,000 viewers compared with the equivalent point last year, despite both races starting off with the same base. Last year’s race peaked as the lights went green, whereas this year built to its conclusion, showing the difference between a close fought contest and a relatively one-sided fight.

The combined average audience of 2.82 million viewers is in-line with last year’s average audience of 2.84 million viewers, the marginal drop a result of Channel 4’s pre-race build-up bringing in less viewers’ year-on-year. The combined peak audience of 4.34 million viewers is up 8.4 percent on last year’s peak audience of 4.01 million viewers. As with last year, both numbers are significantly down on the live BBC days from 2009 to 2011. Nevertheless, the increase compared with 2016 is promising.

Qualifying
Channel 4’s live coverage of qualifying, which aired on Saturday afternoon from 14:55 to 17:30 averaged 1.23m (12.7%), a drop of around 190,00 viewers on last year’s average audience of 1.44m (13.2%). An audience of 349k (3.5%) watched Sky Sports F1’s qualifying programme from 15:00 to 17:45, a marginal drop on their audience last year of 360k (3.3%).

A peak audience of 2.54m (22.6%) were watching qualifying across Channel 4 and Sky at 16:55, which compares with a peak of 2.60m (20.3%) last year. The reason the peak audience is much closer to last year was because 2016 saw the elimination qualifying farce, meaning that the session did not build to a crescendo like it did this time around.

The combined audience of 1.58 million viewers is down on last year’s average of 1.80 million viewers, the lowest for Bahrain since 2008.

Analysis
The overnight viewing figures that were released for the opening two rounds of 2017 were disappointing for all concerned. Does the Bahrain Grand Prix mark the start of a turnaround?

It is always fascinating that the first race live on free to air television in the first one that shows a stabilised, or increased in the case of the peak, picture year-on-year. A peak audience of 4.3 million viewers against two of the biggest football teams in the country is a good result and something that Channel 4 and Sky can further build on as we head towards the Russian Grand Prix.

The 2016 Bahrain Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.

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ITV4 grabs World Endurance Championship highlights

ITV4 will broadcast highlights of the FIA World Endurance Championship this season, The F1 Broadcasting Blog can confirm.

Highlights of the championship, which aired on Channel 4 last year, are expected to be shown in a Saturday morning time slot on ITV4, starting with the 6 Hours of Silverstone.

In addition, this site understands that there are plans for the channel to air some of the 24 Hours of Le Mans live in June. The exact technicalities of the Le Mans agreement are still being finalised, but expect the level of live coverage to be on a similar scale of that provided by Quest TV in 2015 and 2016.

Quest TV’s live Le Mans coverage peaked with 258,000 viewers in 2015 and 191,000 viewers in 2016, so ITV4 should be looking at a peak of close to half a million viewers for Le Mans. Whilst moving from Channel 4 to ITV4 for the highlights programming is a sideways move, having live coverage of Le Mans on ITV4 is excellent for all concerned (if that element goes ahead).

As noted in the Bahrain Grand Prix scheduling piece, BT Sport, Eurosport and Motorsport.tv are airing live coverage of the championship this year. BT Sport have signed a two-year deal to cover the series, which explains why the series’ organisers touted BT as “the new home of live WEC in the UK” last week.

Update on April 21st at 22:20 – This has now been (un)officially confirmed, on the basis that tomorrow’s schedules, which have been updated at the eleventh hour, show WEC highlights airing on ITV4 at 07:55. Really poor planning by the various parties not to publicise that information formally through a press release.

The 2017 Indianapolis 500: how, and where you can see it in the UK

The news that Fernando Alonso will be racing in the Indianapolis 500 has come to a major shock and surprise to motor racing fans across the world. A pleasant surprise, and one that will be fascinating to watch in front of our very eyes.

From a media perspective, the Indianapolis 500 will have more eyeballs on it this year given the attention that Alonso brings with him from Formula 1. Closer to the time, I will post a more concrete scheduling.

For those unfamiliar with IndyCar, the Indianapolis 500 is one of the 17 races on the 2017 IndyCar Series calendar, playing host to round six of the season. In the United Kingdom, the IndyCar Series is broadcast exclusively live on BT Sport, in a deal that runs through until 2022. The race itself starts on Sunday 28th May at 17:20 UK time, with BT airing it commercial free.

I do not envisage that changing however, it is possible that another broadcaster may want to try to get in on the action (for a fee) and show the Indianapolis 500 to a wider audience whether through live or highlights form (i.e. Quest TV, Dave, or Frontrunner to give some examples).

Certainly, there could be money left on the table if IndyCar bosses did not try to sign a series of one-off television deals for the race. I can imagine a situation in other countries whereby broadcasters just want to take the Indianapolis 500 for the Alonso effect, but no other IndyCar action.

As it stands, the Indianapolis 500 will be exclusively live on one of BT Sport’s portfolio of channels, but if any other broadcasters’ get in on the action, I will update the site as usual.

Scheduling: The 2017 Bahrain Grand Prix

The battle between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel rolls into Bahrain for round three of the 2017 Formula One season, in a busy weekend at home and abroad.

Bahrain marks Channel 4’s first live Grand Prix of the season. As revealed last week, in a change to their structure from last season, the broadcaster has opted to follow Sky’s approach by segmenting their programme into separate chunks. Mark Webber will be with Channel 4’s usual team fronted by Steve Jones and David Coulthard. Channel 4 will also air their first ‘F1 Meets’ programmes of the new season, with Lee McKenzie chatting to Murray Walker in an extended season.

Alongside Formula 1 in Bahrain is the return of the Formula Two Championship, which replaces the GP2 Series. As with GP2, every race of the Formula Two Championship will be live on Sky Sports F1. For the first time, the action will be covered in ultra high-definition.

Also returning this weekend is the World Endurance Championship, with Silverstone hosting the season opener. Live coverage will air across Motorsport.tv (was Motors TV), BT Sport and Eurosport, with Sky Sports News also airing news reports. Viewers watching across the first two networks will hear some slightly different voices compared to previous years. Toby Moody and Martin Haven will share play-by-play duties throughout the year, with Moody commentating on the season opener from Silverstone. Allan McNish will be present at six rounds, whilst Louise Beckett and Graham Goodwin are also part of the team.

Elsewhere, it is a very busy weekend on the domestic front, with a lot of racing within an hour and a half radius of one another across the weekend: the aforementioned WEC, BTCC from Donington Park, and the British GT cars are racing at Oulton Park on Bank Holiday Monday.

Channel 4 F1
Sessions
14/04 – 11:55 to 13:35 – Practice 1
14/04 – 15:55 to 17:35 – Practice 2
15/04 – 12:55 to 14:25 – Practice 3
15/04 – 14:55 to 17:30 – Qualifying
16/04 – 14:50 to 18:45 – Race
=> 14:50 – Build-Up
=> 15:35 – Race
=> 18:15 – Reaction

Supplementary Programming
15/04 – 14:25 to 14:55 – F1 Meets… Murray Walker

Sky Sports F1
Sessions
14/04 – 11:45 to 13:50 – Practice 1
14/04 – 15:45 to 18:00 – Practice 2
15/04 – 12:45 to 14:15 – Practice 3
15/04 – 15:00 to 17:45 – Qualifying
16/04 – 14:30 to 19:15 – Race
=> 14:30 – Track Parade
=> 15:00 – Pit Lane Live
=> 15:30 – Race
=> 18:30 – Paddock Live

Supplementary Programming
12/04 – 20:30 to 21:00 – F1 Report: Preview
13/04 – 13:00 to 14:00 – Driver Press Conference
13/04 – 20:45 to 21:00 – Paddock Uncut
14/04 – 18:30 to 19:00 – Team Press Conference
14/04 – 19:00 to 19:30 – The F1 Show
19/04 – 20:30 to 21:00 – F1 Report: Review

BBC Radio F1
13/04 – 21:00 to 22:00 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
14/04 – 11:55 to 13:35 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
15/04 – 12:55 to 14:05 – Practice 3 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
15/04 – 15:55 to 17:05 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
16/04 – 15:30 to 19:00 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
=> updates also on BBC Radio 5 Live

British GT – Oulton Park (Frontrunner)
17/04 – Races
=> 10:45 to 14:00
=> 15:00 to 17:15

British Superbikes – Brands Hatch (Eurosport 2)
16/04 – 14:15 to 17:00 – Qualifying
17/04 – 12:30 to 18:00 – Race

British Touring Car Championship – Donington Park (ITV4)
16/04 – 10:45 to 18:15 – Races

Formula Two – Bahrain (Sky Sports F1)
14/04 – 09:30 to 10:15 – Practice
14/04 – 18:00 to 18:30 – Qualifying
15/04 – 11:10 to 12:15 – Race 1
16/04 – 12:15 to 13:05 – Race 2

Formula V8 3.5 – Silverstone (BT Sport/ESPN)
15/04 – 11:30 to 13:15 – Race 1
16/04 – 09:30 to 10:30 – Race 2

World Endurance Championship – Silverstone
16/04 – Race
=> 11:30 to 18:00 (BT Sport/ESPN)
=> 11:45 to 18:20 (Motorsport.tv)
=> 17:00 to 18:15 (Eurosport 2)

As always, if the schedules change, I will update the above times.H

Chinese Grand Prix continues F1’s UK ratings turmoil

The Chinese Grand Prix continued what is turning into a difficult start to the year for Formula 1 in the United Kingdom, overnight viewing figures show.

Race
Live coverage of the race, broadcast on Sky Sports F1 from 06:00 to 09:30, averaged 484k (13.5%). This is a relatively strong number, an increase of around 50,000 viewers on last year’s average of 433k (11.1%). However, it is still a drop on 2015’s average audience of 589k (15.2%), which aired in the same time slot.

Sky’s coverage peaked with 813k, compared with 687k last year, an increase of 18.5 percent year-on-year. Certainly, Sky’s numbers appear to have been boosted by a competitive start to the championship between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, which they will be looking to maintain going forward.

Channel 4’s coverage was not boosted to the same effect, dropping slightly year-on-year. Their highlights programme, which aired from 14:30 to 16:45, averaged 1.52m (18.5%), a drop on last year’s average audience of 1.68m (17.0%), although the percentage share did rise. Coverage of Lewis Hamilton’s win peaked with 2.06m (22.3%) at 16:05, compared with a peak audience of 2.25m (21.6%) in 2016.

The combined audience of 2.00 million viewers is for the second year running the lowest for the Chinese round of the championship on record, a drop of 5.4 percent year-on-year. The combined peak audience of 2.87 million viewers is down slightly on last year’s peak audience of 2.94 million viewers.

In response to a Twitter user who wondered how this compared with 2011: yesterday’s average audience was down 57.8 percent on the 2011 average audience of 4.74 million viewers. That is a lot of lapsed viewers… a small portion will have moved onto other forms of viewing (such as Now TV and online streaming), but the harsh reality is that Formula 1 has lost a significant chunk of viewers in the past five years. Some of that can be blamed on the change of television deals, but some of it can also be blamed the haphazard direction of the sport in recent years.

Qualifying
Channel 4’s highlights of qualifying, which aired from 13:00 to 14:30, averaged 861k (13.6%). The raw audience is down 27.8 percent, but the percentage share was down only 3.3 percent on last year’s average of 1.19m (14.1%). Whilst Formula 1 was on air (including VOSDAL), the total television audience was 6.3 million viewers, compared with 8.5 million viewers from 2016. Clearly, the number is also a sizeable drop on historical BBC and ITV numbers for the Chinese Grand Prix qualifying sessions.

Sky Sports F1’s live coverage of qualifying averaged 255k (5.3%) from 07:00 to 10:00, the programme being extended due to the red flag caused by Antonio Giovinazzi. In any event, Sky’s average audience is down slightly on 2015 and 2016’s averages of 324k (6.2%) and 308k (5.9%) respectively. The average is, however, up on the 2014 fiugure of 236k (7.1%), although it should be noted that the 2014 qualifying session occurred an hour earlier than later years.

The combined average of 1.12 million viewers is down 27 percent on the 2016 combined average of 1.50 million viewers, and half of that recorded in 2015.

Analysis
As with the Australian Grand Prix two weeks ago, the Chinese Grand Prix saw some hefty drops across the board. You could argue that this is the start of a trend, showing that viewers are not interested in the new style Formula 1, and that the lack of overtaking is turning viewers off. It is an easy conclusion to come to, with multiple data points across two rounds supporting that argument.

However, such an argument at this stage is narrow-minded. Let us take a look at the total television audience for the slots that Formula 1 highlights programming has aired in for both Australia and China historically. This takes into account any VOSDAL activity within these slots as well, making up the overnight audience.

2015 2016 2017
Australia – Qualifying 9.3 million 9.0 million (-0.3 million) 6.7 million (-2.3 million)
Australia – Race 10.9 million 11.1 million (+0.2 million) 8.0 million (-3.1 million)
China – Qualifying 8.7 million 8.5 million (-0.2 million) 6.3 million (-2.3 million)
China – Race 12.1 million 9.9 million (-2.3 million) 8.2 million (-1.7 million)

What does this tell us? That, beyond Formula 1, television viewing figures on these particular Saturday and Sunday afternoons are down significantly compared with 2015 and 2016. Clearly with less of an audience around (whether it is sunshine related or not), audiences are bound to drop to some degree year-on-year, although this does not change the long-term problem for the sport.

For those hoping that Formula 1 was going to receive some ratings boost in the off-season, that has not happened – yet. With Hamilton and Vettel tied in the championship standings heading into this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix, live across Channel 4 and Sky Sports, broadcasters and paddock people alike will be hoping for a reverse in ratings fortunes, starting with Bahrain.

The 2016 Chinese Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.

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