Brilliant Baku helps Formula 1 attract season high

Formula 1 attracted its highest average audience of the season thanks to a dramatic Azerbaijan Grand Prix, overnight viewing figures in the United Kingdom show.

Even though this was the first race under the Azerbaijan Grand Prix banner, it was the second race held at the Baku City Circuit. Given that both races in Baku have occurred in June, it makes sense to compare to the equivalent European Grand Prix viewing figures from twelve months ago. Live coverage of the race overran on Sky Sports due to the red flag period, with their programme finishing at 17:45. As thus, the figure in this section is from 13:00 to 17:00 for Sky, whilst Channel 4’s audience is from 13:00 to 16:40 instead of ten past the hour as in previous races.

Channel 4’s coverage from 13:00 to 16:40 averaged 2.26m (21.6%), the channel’s highest Formula 1 audience of the year so far. I should note that Channel 4 have circulated a figure of 2.6m (25.2%) to the written press, which excludes all the pre-race and post-race discussion. The release compares it to last year’s programme average audience of 2.03m (19.3%), an apple and oranges comparison. So, the average audience is up by 227,000 viewers and 2.3 share points, but other media outlets may report a larger increase. Importantly though, the release does note that Channel 4’s programme had “the largest share of 16-34 year old viewers across the afternoon”, which is good news for Formula 1.

Compared with the difference in peak (more on that further down), the average audience increase year-on-year is not as high as you might expect considering that the race filled a higher proportion of the air-time because of the red flag. The explanation for this is that the build-up started poorly, a result of Channel 4 following Sky’s approach of ‘splitting’ their programme into chunks. It may inflate their ‘race’ average, but it is a detriment to the overall average, as they are offering viewers an excuse to by-pass their pre-show completely.

Sky’s programme, excluding Paddock Live, averaged 730k (7.0%) across Sky Sports 1 and their dedicated F1 channel. Sky simulcast their coverage last year to an audience of 613k (5.7%) across the two channels, so the year-on-year comparison is valid. An audience of 541k (5.2%) watched on Sky Sports F1, with the remaining 189k (1.8%) watching via Sky Sports 1. It is good news for Sky to see a healthy increase, aided by no clash with the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

A dramatic race, won by Daniel Ricciardo, helped the combined average audience hit its highest number of the year with 2.99 million viewers, up 344,000 viewers on last year’s average audience of 2.64 million viewers. The audience helps show the power of free-to-air television: Canada just two weeks ago aired in highlights form on Channel 4, with a combined audience of just 1.93 million tuning in.

The action started at 14:00 with 3.39m (35.7%) watching. During the early stages, audiences stayed steady around the 3.65 million mark, reaching a high of 3.75m (36.0%) at 14:45 as Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel collided. Viewing figures dipped during the red flag period to 3.45m (32.4%) at 15:00, but jumped back to 4.07m (35.5%) at 15:20. Impressively, the audience remained above four million as Hamilton and Vettel fought through the pack, with 4.31m (35.4%) watching the closing laps at 16:05.

At the time of the peak, 3.25 million viewers were watching Channel 4, with a further 1.06 million viewers watching across Sky Sports 1 and F1. The combined peak audience of 4.31 million viewers is the second highest of 2017, marginally behind Bahrain’s peak audience of 4.34m (25.9%). In that instance, the majority of the Bahrain Grand Prix was below four million viewers in the overnight viewing figures, showing the difference between a good race and a great one. The peak audience is up 464,000 viewers and 3.2 share points year-on-year.

Channel 4’s live coverage of qualifying, which aired from 12:55 to 15:30, averaged 1.19m (15.4%), an increase of 104,000 viewers and 3.9 share points on last year’s average audience of 1.08m (11.5%).

When factoring in Sky Sports 1, Sky’s programming performed well, averaging 405k (5.2%), compared with an audience last year of 306k (3.2%). Sky Sports F1 alone though was down year-on-year, averaging 281k (3.6%), with no simulcast in play last year.

Coverage of qualifying peaked with 2.21m (25.9%) at 15:05 as Hamilton claimed his 66th pole position. At the time of the peak, 1.59 million viewers were watching on Channel 4, with a further 656,000 viewers watching on Sky Sports, a ratio of 70:30. Channel 4’s coverage peaked slightly higher than 1.59m, with 1.62 million viewers (19.3%) watching at 14:55.

The combined average audience of 1.59 million viewers is up on last year’s audience of 1.39 million, a healthy increase. The peak audience of 2.21 million is up as well, albeit a smaller margin, with an increase of 55,000 viewers on last year’s number of 2.16 million viewers (20.3%).

We are moving into a phase of the season where viewing figures tend to increase, with three European races following in quick succession: Austria, Britain, and Hungary, which normally results in good viewing figures. The championship battle between Hamilton and Vettel will only help viewing figures further as we head towards the half way point of the season.

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


Bratches: Liberty Media “to honour and respect” Sky’s UK deal post-2018

Liberty Media is “to honour and respect” Sky’s deal to cover Formula 1 exclusively in the United Kingdom from 2019 to 2024.

Speaking to The Guardian amongst other media at the FIA Sport Conference, F1’s Managing Director for Commercial Operations, Sean Bratches said “Free to air is critically important to us. My vision as it relates to media rights is a hybrid of free to air and pay. Our plan is to balance the two but have a prominent, over the year, free-to-air voice.”

The exclusive deal between Formula One Management (FOM) and Sky Sports was announced following the 2016 Australian Grand Prix, three months after BBC television announced their exit from the sport and just after Channel 4’s first race covering Formula 1. Overnight viewing figures supplied by showed that Channel 4’s race day coverage averaged 1.96 million viewers in 2016, with Sky bringing in a further 669,000 viewers.

“There is the cauldron full of cash on the pay side and on the other side of the scale you have brand and reach. My view is a 30-70 model of free-to-air to pay, where you have a number of grands prix to be on free to air and then we can play and toil with the pay side to generate revenue that we can reinvest back into the sport,” Bratches continued.

As Bratches alludes to, Formula 1’s outfits should benefit financially from the Sky contract, helping to offset the loss of viewers and sponsors, which was a concern when the deal was first announced. Estimates produced by this site suggested that each team could gain around £6 million per season depending on how the revenue generated is distributed, and assuming the teams see every single penny.

Based on a 20-race calendar and a ’30-70 model’, the ideal situation would see around six of the 20 races live on free-to-air television. This would likely entail the season opener and closure, along with the ‘home race’ and three other rounds of the championship. However, this scenario is impossible in the UK now until 2025, by which point the landscape may be fundamentally different again.

“That deal is an agreement that we inherited. They are done between adult parties at an arm’s length and my suspicion is that Sky is very happy and we are going to honour and respect the deals that were in place when we arrived,” Bratches said.

The comments made by Bratches are not surprising, you cannot tear up a legally binding broadcasting contract unless one side violates the agreement or activates a get-out clause. It is also unlikely that highlights will find a home elsewhere, other than Sky Sports Mix as announced previously.

Elsewhere at the FIA Sport Conference, it was revealed that regionalised graphics will be introduced for the 2018 season. Depending on location, some countries will see miles per hour (mph) in their graphics set, whilst others will see kilometers per hour (kph). Personally, I have no issue seeing both kph and mph, but I assume that FOM are planning on making other graphical changes, otherwise introducing a regionalised version feels like an unnecessary overhead.

519,000 viewers watch Le Mans climax

The 24 Hours of Le Mans performed well in the United Kingdom over the weekend despite hot weather depleting the total available audience, overnight viewing figures show.

Live coverage of the race aired across Eurosport, Quest TV and ITV4. Eurosport and Quest TV had the same arrangements as 2015 and 2016, with Eurosport airing the whole race live. ITV4 joined the fray this year, airing the last four and a half hours live. The viewing figures in this piece exclude those who watched via the Eurosport Player, FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) App or via other online means.

The race from 13:45 on Saturday to 14:15 on Sunday averaged 98k (1.6%), when taking into account the various outlets, an increase on last year’s number of 73k (0.9%) and in-line with 2015‘s average audience of 98k (1.5%). To be level with 2015’s number, despite a live presence from ITV4 could appear disappointing, but television over the weekend took a hit due to the weather.

Eurosport’s coverage of the complete race averaged 58k (0.99%) from 13:45 on Saturday, peaking with 166k (2.52%) as the race ended at 14:00 on Sunday. Their 2016 average is in-line with last year’s number of 60k (0.79%), although the audience share is significantly up. Both metrics are down on 2015, which averaged 70k (1.1%).

For the second year in a row, Quest TV’s coverage struggled compared to 2015, with all their shows recording under 100,000 viewers. An audience of 89k (1.59%) watched the race start on Quest from 13:30 to 15:30 on Saturday, whilst 98k (0.66%) watched their evening update.

Quest TV’s Sunday programming struggled badly, suggesting a significantly overlap between their demographic and ITV4’s core audience. Quest’s Sunday update at 10:00 averaged just 14k (0.25%), with the race conclusion from 13:00 to 14:30 averaging 39k (0.62%). Certainly, the evidence would suggest that live coverage should air on Quest or ITV4, but not both at the same time.

ITV4’s live programme on Sunday aired from 09:30 to 14:30 and averaged 146k (2.4%). Considering that the broadcasters’ coverage was relatively unadvertised, with little promotion from series organisers, this is a solid number. ITV4’s coverage grew to a peak of 284k (4.3%) at 14:00.

The combined peak audience of 519k (7.9%) came on Sunday at 14:00 as the race ended, with 284k watching on ITV4, 166k on Eurosport and a further 69k on Quest TV. It is the highest Le Mans peak in the UK for many years, with an excellent combined share as well across the three networks.

However, whilst it is great to see Le Mans broadcast on three networks, there is evidence to suggest that one network with full live coverage and another free-to-air network broadcasting some action live. Assuming there are no clashes, I think the free-to-air network in question should be ITV4 given that the network reaches more viewers than Quest.

Most of the talent working on Quest’s coverage had either or currently do work on ITV4’s motor sport portfolio, so it would make sense to rationalise the output with emphasis on promoting ITV4’s live coverage as well. To the contrary though, Quest is part of the Discovery family (which Eurosport is a part of), so they get Le Mans as a ‘freebie’ to promote Eurosport’s programming which Discovery would probably be keen to keep.

The 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans ratings report can be found here.

Scheduling: The 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

The second Grand Prix at the Baku City Circuit takes place this weekend, but on this occasion under the Azerbaijan Grand Prix banner. Last year’s race was the first to in Baku, but under the perhaps slightly dubious European Grand Prix banner.

With the Baku race starting at 14:00 UK time, MotoGP organisers over in Assen have moved their main attraction to 12:00 UK time, avoiding any potential overlap that may occur. Nevertheless, it will be a clash that Dorna and Liberty Media will be looking to avoid next year, as difficult as it is with many key motor sport events around this time of the year.

Channel 4 will again be broadcasting Baku live. If, like last year, the race turns into a ‘dud’, it will be their third live ‘dud’ in a row, following poor on-track showings in Russia and Monaco. Sky’s F1 action will be simulcast on Sky Sports 1, except for the final practice session.

Channel 4 F1
23/06 – 09:55 to 11:35 – Practice 1
23/06 – 13:55 to 15:35 – Practice 2
24/06 – 10:55 to 12:25 – Practice 3
24/06 – 12:55 to 15:30 – Qualifying
25/06 – 13:00 to 17:00 – Race
=> 13:00 – Build–Up
=> 13:35 – Race
=> 16:10 – Reaction

Supplementary Programming
24/06 – 12:25 to 12:55 – F1 Meets… Toto Wolff

Sky Sports F1
23/06 – 09:45 to 11:50 – Practice 1 (also Sky Sports 1)
23/06 – 13:45 to 15:55 – Practice 2 (also Sky Sports 1)
24/06 – 10:45 to 12:10 – Practice 3
24/06 – 13:00 to 15:40 – Qualifying (also Sky Sports 1)
25/06 – 12:30 to 17:10 – Race (also Sky Sports 1)
=> 12:30 – Track Parade
=> 13:00 – Pit Lane Live
=> 13:30 – Race
=> 16:30 – Paddock Live

Supplementary Programming
21/06 – 20:50 to 21:20 – F1 Report: Preview
22/06 – 12:00 to 13:00 – Driver Press Conference
22/06 – 20:45 to 21:00 – Paddock Uncut
23/06 – 16:00 to 16:45 – Team Press Conference
23/06 – 16:45 to 17:15 – The F1 Show
28/06 – 20:30 to 21:00 – F1 Report: Review

BBC Radio F1
22/06 – 21:00 to 22:00 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
23/06 – 09:55 to 11:35 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
23/06 – 13:55 to 15:35 – Practice 2 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
24/06 – 14:00 to 15:00 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live)
25/06 – 14:00 to 16:00 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live)

MotoGP – Assen (BT Sport 2)
23/06 – 08:00 to 15:00
=> 08:00 – Practice 1
=> 10:45 – Reaction and Build-Up
=> 12:00 – Practice 2
24/06 – 08:00 to 15:15
=> 08:00 – Practice 3
=> 11:00 – Qualifying
25/06 – 07:30 to 09:15 – Warm Up
25/06 – 09:30 to 15:30
=> 09:30 – Moto3 race
=> 11:15 – MotoGP race
=> 13:15 – Moto2 race
=> 14:30 – Chequered Flag

MotoGP – Assen (Channel 5)
26/06 – 19:00 to 20:00 – Highlights

Formula Two – Europe (Sky Sports F1)
23/06 – 08:00 to 08:45 – Practice
23/06 – 12:00 to 12:45 – Qualifying
24/06 – 08:55 to 10:25 – Race 1
25/06 – 10:55 to 12:15 – Race 2

IndyCar – Road America (BT Sport/ESPN)
25/06 – 17:30 to 20:30 – Race

The above schedule will be updated if anything changes.

Update on June 23rd – There will be a further live show following Channel 4’s broadcast at 17:00 on the Channel 4 website, as confirmed on their Twitter.

Canadian Grand Prix dips below two million viewers

The Canadian Grand Prix averaged under two million viewers in the United Kingdom this past Sunday, overnight viewing figures show.

Live coverage of the race, simulcast across Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports 2, averaged 962k (5.2%) from 18:00 to 21:30, representing Sky’s highest audience of the season. The audience was split 704k (3.8%) versus 259k (1.4%) across the two channels. The combined audience is up on last year’s average audience of 853k (4.0%). Sky simulcast last year’s programme across the dedicated F1 channel and Sky Sports 1, so the year-on-year comparison is like for like.

Sky’s coverage peaked with 1.47m (7.0%) at 20:30, representing a slight increase on the peak audience in 2016 of 1.41m (6.3%). It is Sky’s highest average audience for the Montreal round of the championship since they started covering the sport in 2012, so they should be relatively happy with audience numbers (although the peak is down 300k on 2012).

Channel 4 aired their highlights from 22:30 to 00:35, to an average audience of just 970k (11.6%), down 25.3 percent on 2016’s average of 1.30m (15.3%), which aired in a slightly later slot. Yesterday’s scheduling was poor, with a 15-minute filler repeat of Gogglebox preceding the highlights and averaging just 549k (3.3%). It is Channel 4’s second lowest highlights audience yet, only ahead of last years’ United States Grand Prix.

Channel 4’s peak audience was lower than Sky’s, hitting a high of 1.33m, down around 387k year-on-year. The numbers recorded by the free-to-air broadcaster are poor, one of the many reasons why races such as Canada, USA and Mexico should air live on free-to-air television to reach the highest possible audience – not just in the UK but all over Europe. F1 going out in the graveyard slot does not do the sport any good in the long-term.

The combined audience of 1.93 million viewers is down on last year’s audience of 2.15 million viewers; with the combined peak audience of 2.80 million viewers representing a similar drop year-on-year, down from 3.13 million viewers. Both represent record lows for Canada.

The pattern for qualifying was identical to that described above: Sky Sports increasing, Channel 4 decreasing, although on this occasion Channel 4 aired their highlights programme later than in 2016.

Live coverage of qualifying on Sky Sports F1 averaged 342k (2.2%) from 17:00 to 19:40, an increase on last year’s average audience of 285k (1.8%). The competition year-on-year was broadly similar with tough international football action in both years. Last year saw the opening weekend of Euro 2016, whilst qualifying this year clashed with England vs Scotland.

A later time slot affected highlights on Channel 4. Airing from 22:30 to 23:55, their highlights averaged 879k (7.6%), a drop on last year’s audience of 1.22m (8.0%) which aired half an hour earlier.

The combined average audience of 1.22 million viewers is down 19 percent on last year’s audience of 1.51 million viewers.

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