The ratings picture: The Verdict so Far

The final part of my mid-season Verdict so far Series focusses on the ratings picture for this year’s Formula One season. Due to the change in broadcasting rights, with Sky Sports taking over exclusive live coverage for ten races, a change in the television ratings was anticipated. But have the ratings gone down, or have they gone up?

Before I start though, complete clarity on the figures I use. All of the figures in the blog are programme averages, unless stated otherwise. This is because these are the figures most readily available, and I do not have industry access to the viewing figures. Therefore, I am relying purely on the figures I already have and those that are reported in the public domain. I also have the Formula 1 viewing figures going back to the early 1990’s, those can be sourced from Broadcast magazine.

Unfortunately, the viewing figures for this season reveal that Formula 1 viewing has decreased to a four year low, with an average of 3.91 million viewers across the first eleven races of this season. The figure consists of:

– Sky live and BBC highlights for Australia, Malaysia, Bahrain, Canada, Germany and Hungary
– Sky live, BBC live and BBC re-run for China
– Sky and BBC live for Spain, Monaco, Europe, Britain

With the exception of the Chinese Grand Prix earlier this year, every race has been down year-on-year. At this point I want to dispel a myth that this is due to Sky Sports F1’s longer build-up and post-race, thus distorting the figures year-on-year. That is false. Let us take the Spanish Grand Prix.

BBC had 3.49 million viewers for its broadcast. From 11:30 to 16:15*, Sky Sports F1 had 551,000 viewers, a 4.62 percent viewing share. With the 5-minute breakdown in hand, from 12:10 to 15:15, the typical BBC F1 broadcast length from last year, Sky Sports F1 had 744,000 viewers, a 6.09 percent viewing share. That’s a difference of 232,000 viewers, or 35.1 percent. Keep that number in mind.

* note: Sky’s programme went on until 16:45 due to the Williams fire incident, as I note above, I have access to that particular breakdown so have taken the 11:30 to 16:15 chunk only. Most of Sky’s broadcasts now end at 16:15, hence the 16:15 cut-off to give the most accurate figure.

Sky Sports F1’s live race day broadcasts have average 669,000 viewers this season. Extrapolate that up 35.1 percent, and you get 904,000 viewers. That is an increase of 235,000 viewers.

Add that to the 3.91 million viewers and you get 4.14 million viewers. Which is down on 2009, 2010 and 2011:

– 2009: 4.32 million
– 2010: 4.29 million
– 2011: 4.55 million
– 2012: 4.14 million

The figures are still down, but not as much as it appears. If you were to look at the first eleven races excluding Bahrain as that was not part of last years calendar, then you get:

Averages (Aus, Mal, Chn, Spa, Mon, Can, Eur, GB, Ger, Hun)
– 2009 – 4.29 million
– 2010 – 4.30 million
– 2011 – 4.54 million
– 2012 – 4.09 million

Again, there is a drop, a substantial drop on last year, but not much of a drop on 2009 and 2010. The consensus there seems to be that there is a drop of 2009, 2010 and 2011, albeit not as much as is touted around in the media.

If we are to compare further back, using data from 2000 onwards for Australia, Spain, Monaco, Britain, Germany and Hungary, we see the following:

Averages for the above six races
– 2000 – 4.30 million
– 2001 – 3.61 million
– 2002 – 3.32 million
– 2003 – 3.22 million
– 2004 – 2.95 million
– 2005 – 3.00 million
– 2006 – 2.73 million
– 2007 – 3.35 million
– 2008 – 3.68 million
– 2009 – 4.22 million
– 2010 – 4.28 million
– 2011 – 4.52 million
– 2012 – 3.83 million (or 4.06 million using the ‘35.1 percent’ above)

A similar method would be to look at the first elevent races only:

Averages for the first eleven races
– 2006 – 2.87 million
– 2007 – 3.58 million
– 2008 – 3.62 million
– 2009 – 4.29 million
– 2010 – 4.36 million
– 2011 – 4.62 million
– 2012 – 3.91 million (or 4.14 million using the ‘35.1 percent’ above)

The problem that I have is that after years of increases since 2006 is that ratings have dropped by at least 400,000 irrespective of which comparison you use. It does not matter which ratings comparisons you use or how you choose to interpret them or spin them, but the fact of the matter is that this season will be the lowest rated season since 2008, unless there is a big increase in the next three months.

Why? Being a broadcasting blog, the first reason you could argue is that the BBC and Sky deal is sending viewers away from the sport. It is quite possible that this is happening, with the casual fans not knowing which races are live and which are highlights, therefore not bothering to tune in. It may be a lack of promotion on the BBC side of things. Take next weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix, there have been dozens of adverts on Sky, yet I have only seen one advert on BBC. If you don’t promote things, then viewers may not be aware that it is on, therefore won’t tune in. Outside of the ramifications of the BBC and Sky deal, the Olympics and Euro 2012 argument could be brought in.

Historically, the Olympics has dented things badly. In 2008, the European Grand Prix had only 2.64 million viewers compared with 3.24 million viewers the previous year, while in 2004, the Hungarian Grand Prix recorded a programme average of 2.11 million viewers compared with 2.73 million viewers in 2003. So the olympics definitely does have a negative effect on Formula 1 ratings. As I have said multiple times in this blog, it is madness that FOM and FIA schedule races against major sporting events. They won’t win viewers, they will only lose them, so why do it? It confuses me. Back to this year, however, and Canada may have had its viewership slashed because of Sky exclusivity (an example of a race that needed terrestrial coverage), but on the other hand the European Grand Prix had its highest rating since 2000, while the British and Hungarian Grand Prix’s were down, but not by as much as I anticipated. Aside from that, Australia, Malaysia, Spain and Monaco were down versus 2011, and none of those races were influenced at all by the Olympics or Euro 2012.

Qualifying has not done too badly, in fact while the 2.38 million viewers average may be down on 2009 and 2011, it is in line with 2010, coincidentally another sporting year with the World Cup playing a part. There has been a major fluctuation though between events, Australia was 1.2 million viewers down on 2011, yet Bahrain had an average of 3.45 million viewers, benefiting from a primetime slot on BBC One. So the deal does have swings and roundabouts regarding viewership.

I suspect there are multiple causes to the race drop outside of broadcasting. Maybe viewers are finding the ‘random’ Formula 1 this season with Pirelli a turn-off? It is possible, I guess, along with DRS and KERS hurting the viewership as fans and casuals want to see more ‘pure’ racing. I don’t know, the pattern of low ratings may not be repeated across Europe, it may just be a UK thing, because of the new deal.

Moving onto practice, and for the European based races, Practice 1 has averaged 83,000 on Sky Sports F1, Practice 2 has averaged 82,000 and Practice 3 has averaged 130,000. Interestingly there is very little difference between the programme averages for practice in Sky exclusive weekends versus the joint BBC and Sky races (74k/85k/128k vs 82k/69k/120k) which suggests that either not many people watch BBC Red Button, or that very few people that watch the Red Button for practice choose to watch the Sky exclusive practice sessions as well. I know the “it’s only practice” argument can be bandied around, but I do think Sky would have been hoping for higher figures for their exclusive practice sessions.

I hope that the ratings in general increase back to 2011 levels for the final haul of the season now that the Olympics and Euro 2012 are over. There is no reason, really, why the ratings should not increase as the championship reaches its climax, and looks set to be resolved at a later stage compared to last season. It would look odd if the highest rated season in the UK since 1999 would be a season where it was actually a German that won the title…

To end the blog post, I thought it would be a good idea to look at the GP2 and GP3 Series ratings. While I do not have averages for the series’ so far, the series is not benefiting one bit from being on Sky Sports F1, take this from the Spanish Grand Prix Qualifying day:

12:00 – F1 Qualifying: 342k (4.0%)
* peak: 632k (6.7%) at 13:55
14:35 – GP2 Race 1: 62k (0.7%)
* peak: 106k (1.3%) at 14:35
16:15 – GP3 Race 1: 42k (0.4%)
* peak: 57k (0.6%) at 16:25

As someone pointed out to me on my blog a few weeks ago: Who’s James? Who’s Max? That is referring to James Calado and Max Chilton, of course. The GP2 and GP3 figures are not spectacular, and is not bringing in any extra viewers than what it would usually on British Eurosport 2, or ITV4 in the case of GP2 in 2008. GP2 races in 2008 on ITV4 typically had between 80,000 and 100,000 viewers, so the Sky viewership is slightly down on that.

That is it for the mid-Summer verdict on the blog. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the pieces, and as always comments are welcome.

Note: All the figures quoted here are the averages for the whole race programme, not the race average as these figures are unavailable. Figures are mostly official figures from BARB and Broadcast magazine. While I have made comparisons and analysis of figures, I should note that I do not have every single ratings figure. The figures for that races that I am missing are:

1992 – Australia, San Marino, France, Portugal, Japan (live and both for AUS, JPN)
1993 – France (live), Japan (highlights)
1994 – Pacific (highlights), San Marino, France, Hungary, Japan (live)
1995 – Australia, Argentina, San Marino, Spain, Japan (all live)
1996 – Canada, Japan (all live)
1997 – Japan (live)
1998 – Australia,France, Japan (all live)
2000 – Malaysia (live and re-run), Japan (live)
2001 – Japan (live)
2003 – Malaysia; Japan (both live)
2004 – China (live)
2006 – China (live)

If anyone is reading and has any of them ratings, leave a comment. While this piece focusses primarily on the 2012 ratings picture, my April piece focussed on the ratings picture for the past twenty years. For anyone wishing to read that, please click here.

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2 thoughts on “The ratings picture: The Verdict so Far

  1. Sorry if this comments seams late, but I found it looking for the seasons viewing figures.
    You speculated why the figures have gone down, and suggested they might have gone down due to DRS, Kers or tyres that made the early races unpredictable. But F1 fanatics reports the fans there voted 2012 the best season in the last 5 years.
    http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/2012/12/03/2012-rate-race/

    • I believe that the drop in viewing figures is explained my by a lack of UK contender for the championship. It might be illuminating to see the individual figures for each race. I’d expect the later races to have fewer viewers. By the same token, as the season goes towards a conclusion, the figures should go up.

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