UK F1 viewing figures record slight year-on-year drop

Lewis Hamilton’s championship victory may have brought joy to both BBC and Sky Sports F1’s ratings in the latter half of the season but despite this, viewing figures are down year-on-year according to unofficial overnight viewing figures. Whereas 2013’s figures dropped sharply after the Summer break, the 2014 season has seen the opposite occur.

> BBC average figures drop year-on-year
> Sky record highest figures since channel launch
> Numbers still down on 2009-11 figures

As always, for those that are new to the blog, it is best stating what figures we are comparing here. For Sky Sports F1, all the viewing figures are for the three and a half hour race day slot: one hour before the race and approximately 45 minutes after the race. I have used the equivalent slots for 2012 and 2013 to present a fair and complete picture, there would be little use in presenting a skewed picture, so all data is for the equivalent timeslots. Over on BBC, I have used their programme averages, whether it be live or highlights, irrespective of whether the highlights were shown on BBC One or BBC Two, as was the case for Bahrain and Austria this year. Repeats are taken into account for Asian-based races that the BBC showed live. As always, viewing figures are for TV only. iPlayer, Sky Go and the such like are not included.

The 2014 story
It is worth a reminder that, in my Summer post, I stated that the UK’s audience for Formula 1 had “dropped to their lowest level since 2008.” Luckily, that has not happened. Thanks to a British driver winning the championship, numbers have increased. Crucially though, have numbers increased as much as expected, and has the scheduling hit the numbers badly?

Sky Sports F1’s race day programme has averaged 790k from 12:00 to 15:30, or equivalent across 2014. That number is up a massive 23.4 percent on 2013’s figure of 640k and up 11.1 percent on 2012’s figure of 711k. Whichever way you spin that, for Sky, those are very positive numbers. Things were not looking good for Sky during 2013 with numbers falling, but this year, they have turned it around, and then some more, to record an average higher than both 2012 and 2013. Back in the Summer, I was taking about a “meagre 22k.” The numbers bandied around above are much bigger than 22k, and in my opinion is definitely something worth recognising.

So, why the increase? Better picks? Absolutely. Having both USA and Brazil exclusively during the title run in would have done the average wonders. But even then, it is more than just that. In fact, 14 out of 16 races recorded increases between 2013 and 2014 on Sky Sports F1 (the other four didn’t take place), so even the races where Sky shared coverage with BBC did the numbers increase. That suggests to me that viewers are liking the product that Sky are putting out, otherwise they would not be tuning in to their pre and post-race shows. The substantial increase correlates with feedback on this blog to suggest that people are liking Sky’s race day show more than previously. Sky’s figures are no fluke, in my opinion.

The BBC’s figures dropped year-on-year by 5.9 percent, recording an average of 3.22m versus 3.42m in 2013. Numbers are up slightly on 2012’s average of 3.21m, although those two numbers are within the margin of error to be statistically insignificant. Scheduling was not great. Bahrain and Austria were both screened on BBC Two in highlights form, USA and Brazil, two races bound to draw big audiences if shown live, were shown as highlights. Under this current agreement, I feel that there will be a yearly discussion about what things could/could not have been done differently as a result. With USA, Brazil and Mexico back to back in 2015, BBC will not be able to screen all three live, although at least one of the three will be screened live.

Still down on BBC only days
The combined average of 4.01m is up 2.3 percent on 2012’s 3.92m, but down 1.3 percent on 2013’s average of 4.06m. What is fascinating to me is the closeness of those three figures despite the complete parallels that each of those three seasons faced. 2012 had a battle between Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso until the end. 2013 arguably peaked in Malaysia from a fan perspective, with figures tumbling in the latter half of the season. In contrast, 2014 started with backlash from the wider media over the sound, or lack of, developing into a rivalry between Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, inevitably helping the British figures in the final half of the year due to Hamilton’s involvement. I would suggest that it is a coincidence that the three years line up next to each other, although astonishing at the same time.

However, the 2011 season averaged 4.5m, a 10 percent drop. In fact, 2009, 2010 and 2011 all averaged higher than 2014. It will be, for me, an age old question of whether figures are really down 10 percent versus 2011, or whether more people are now watching Formula 1 via tablets, smart phones and as thus not being included in those figures. I don’t know. I’m not sure whether FOM even know the exact answer to that statement. For some people, 2009 through to 2011 will always be the barometer of Formula 1 coverage in the UK. Whether a group of fans bailed out of watching every race live at the end of 2011, I don’t know. I think it should probably be noted that a lot of shows have dropped year-on-year (the majority of ITV’s schedule is just one example), so in comparison, F1 has done well to hold onto the majority of its existing audience.

My own opinion is that viewing figures are down versus the BBC only days. That is an undeniable fact. When you include other devices, I think 2014 would close the gap in on 2011 slightly. Not significantly, as it seems clear to me that people have moved on. Sadly this is something that you cannot prove statistically, but anecdotally. If you were to grab a few people who have watched F1 at some stage in the past few years, chances are they would tell you that they are watching less F1 than when every race was live on BBC One, because it is not as readily available now as it was previously.

Heading into 2015
Whilst the overall picture is not exciting, the movement of viewers between BBC and Sky is somewhat interesting. There has been a 10 percent shift from BBC to Sky, although whether these are new viewers watching Sky’s coverage, or returning viewers to the channel from 2012, it is impossible to tell. It will be intriguing to see if Sky can continue the upwards swing heading into 2015, or whether BBC can claw back a few viewers off Sky that they have lost during 2014.

A BBC spokesperson said “In what has been a fantastic year with a wealth of sport available to watch on the BBC including the Winter Olympics, World Cup and Commonwealth Games we’re delighted with our F1 coverage this season which reached an impressive 26.1m people. This was undoubtedly helped by a brilliant season finale – Abu Dhabi was the most watched race of the season, with 6.5m people tuning in.”

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12 thoughts on “UK F1 viewing figures record slight year-on-year drop

  1. Well Sky’s viewing figures were (and still are) so low, that a few dozen extra viewers adds a significant % to their total, and this has been achieved by manipulating the programme lengths to artificially bump up the averages, and considering the average gain by their deception, it looks more like a loss in viewers when the true calculation is used.

    • “For Sky Sports F1, all the viewing figures are for the three and a half hour race day slot: one hour before the race and approximately 45 minutes after the race. I have used the equivalent slots for 2012 and 2013 to present a fair and complete picture, there would be little use in presenting a skewed picture, so all data is for the equivalent timeslots.”

      I included the above paragraph in the article – for good reason, which you appear to have ignored.

  2. Numbers like this make you wonder just how long Sky will continue with F1 coverage considering how much the contract is costing them.
    The BBC gets more viewers for its highlights than the live coverage on Sky.
    It’s not looking like a great investment.
    Also, F1 sponsors want their logos in front of as many eyeballs as possible. Free to air broadcasts must be what they prefer, and they pay far more than the broadcasters to keep F1 viable.

  3. Sky will drop F1 at the earliest opportunity, unless BT bid for it.

    Sky content is driven by new customer take up, package expansion and market share.

    In the early days they targeted the biggest potential market, football fans, taking away their free to air access, forcing them to get Sky.

    Slowly but surely they have been chasing smaller and smaller demographics to attract new custom. The latest being Sky Arts, Sky have no interest in the arts or promoting it, what they are interested in is the relatively untapped upper middle class demographic.

    F1 was just another acquisition on the road to market share by Sky, they’ve had their fill of potential sign-ups from it and now it’s just a millstone round their necks.

    The sad thing is, that when this day comes, and the half arsed Sky production teams gravy train hits the buffers, they’ll maybe wish they’d put more effort in to actually making some quality output.

    • It’s one of those situations where Sky are with their backs against the wall, in their case with BT in the most likelihood of buying most of the PL rights. However, if we’re talking motorsport, then it’s one of those situations where Sky bought all the race rights and gave the BBC half of it.

      Same with BT for MotoGP, I think the problem that blights motorsport is the fact that when the regulations change, it can become for the casual fan confusing and quite distracting. That’s why I think the terminal decline in terms of viewing figures have declined for F1 and MotoGP systematically.

      As well, the content suffers, which is a great point you’ve made and exposes how Sky are only there to fill up the shareholder’s pockets for the football.

      Commentary as well, radio will undoubtedly have the better commentary over TV because it tells you what’s going on without having David Croft shout for the umpteenth time. It’s those small things that can ultimately affect the audience share over a GP weekend.

  4. I see many skewed and frankly biased opinions here – as is always true whenever Murdoch or Sky are discussed. People seem unable to discuss things without bringing their dislike of him or his businesses into the equation. I remember when the Sky deal was first done and immediately a number of Murdoch dislikers wanted to start petitions and get the deal discussed in Parliament and many other things – all of which came to nothing. Many comments were, and continue to be, more about dislike of Murdoch than an understanding of the situation.

    For example, what Sky want is subscribers pure and simple. Viewing figures for individual events are less important for them than, say, the BBC than if someone has subscribed. The BBC, which for many is free to air in that only one householder needs to have paid the licence, is available in every home with a TV set. Sky is not. If you haven’t got the equipment you can’t officially watch it. Their viewing figures will always be less and they are working to different criteria than the BBC. What would be interesting is if both forms of coverage were available to the same amount of people. That would be the true head to head. If the BBC was a subscription service would you be paying a monthly whack for their sports package? One also needs to remember that Sky might have an attitude much like Bernie Ecclestone in that they don’t want everyone to watch – just the people with money. F1 is sponsored by Rolex not Lidl. So they want potential Rolex buyers to watch.

    To go back to the main article (which I think is very good overall): Sky’s product has got better and better. You might expect this as the team bed down and they find their feet year on year. I don’t have inside information but I would imagine that they are quite happy with their viewing figures. As was said above, I think the increase indicates a satisfaction from the viewers regarding the content. Saying the BBC have more misses the point that many BBC viewers will always be grazers – people who would be watching that channel whatever was on it. Being available universally encourages this mentality. In contrast, Sky viewers have to actively choose and pay for it. I read earlier today that Sky Sports has about 4 million subscribers. I’m not sure how many Sky F1 has but assuredly much less. However, if they are happy with a couple of million watching their football coverage then I would think that 750k plus pleases them for F1. And, again, these are the right kind of paying customers from their perspective.

    Finally, I agree that after the Sky deal came out some casual fans that had been built up on the back of the BBC coverage melted away. Indeed, this even affected the BBC staff when people like Brundle left for Sky and Jake Humphrey went to BT Sport. I leave it to you to decide who or if anyone cared about this fact as these fans might have been said to be casual fans putting nothing into the pockets of F1 or their sponsors anyway. It would seem to me that these were exactly the types of fans that Bernie Ecclestone seems not to care much about anyway.

    • I don’t really get the point you’re trying to make here.

      I can’t see any anti Murdoch posts in this thread.

      I think any increase in viewing figures is more due to the decline of the BBC content and races screened, and the Hamilton supporting glory hunters than anything to do with Sky’s output.

      The reason people called for Sky’s deal to be discussed in parliament is because it is a monopoly.

      Any company that manipulates a market to be the only supplier of a service or product is running a monopoly and should be referred to, and regulated by, the Competition Commission.

      I’m intrigued as to what exactly is ‘better and better’ about Sky’s coverage?

      To me Sky’s output is as poor as it’s ever been, although it may actually be worse.

      This because they’ve settled into a pattern of predictable rubbish. At least they used to try new content, which was nearly always terrible, but at least it looked like they were trying.

      The output now is like F1 for Big Screen estate pub viewers which probably make up a tiny fraction of real paying F1 fans.

      • To sum up your post: I hate Sky and I hate Hamilton.

        Fair enough. But you have no arguments. The competition rhetoric is just that: rhetoric. If any other TV company wanted to pay what Sky pay Bernie would snap their hand off and you know it. Just never forget that every legitimate Sky viewer directly supports F1 with their wallet.

    • “People seem unable to discuss things without bringing their dislike of him or his businesses into the equation.”

      I dislike Murdoch, and the reporting of his news empire, but that is irrelevant to discussing Sky as a broadcaster / platform. For many years I took a Sky satellite feed, and before that paid for Sky channels via cable.

      The problem is the rise and rise of prices – yes, Sky has to make money, but they are continually doing it by moving the few things that an individual person wants into ever bigger and more expensive packages.

      It gets to the point where it is unsustainable. Nearly £1000 a year, excluding unbundled channels and box office? That’s insane. And for what? So that highly paid footballers can be paid even more money that they don’t need?

      If I could subscribe to just Sky’s F1 coverage at reasonable cost – even just subscribe to Sky Sports collection, with HD, and without all of the other bundling, I would consider it.

      But no, it’s all or nothing. So I choose nothing.

  5. WTF, are you on crack?

    Where have I at any point slagged off Hamilton?????????

    I think you need to get a dictionary and look up two words, fact and rhetoric.

    It is a fact that any company that has sole control over a product or service has a monopoly, this isn’t an opinion, it’s fact.

    The fact that Sky outbid every other broadcaster only reinforces my point. If one company can afford to buy all the apples or all the cars in a country, they can control the quality and price the public have to tolerate, that’s a monopoly, do you not understand this concept?

    Pay TV does not support F1.

    Pay TV pays Bernie, it doesn’t support F1. Most team costs within F1 are met by sponsors, sponsors who want maximum exposure, not reduced viewing figures due to NO free-to-air access.

  6. I don’t think the rating are dropping because of SKY coverage i think the rating are dropping because F1 has become a bore-fest . Artificial overtaking, no more refueling and tires that wear artificially. Engines with so many restrictions that make variety impossible anymore.
    This has been happening for some time now and is not getting any better .
    lets get things into perspective everyone is saying car manufacturers will use the technology gained in road cars.

    what road car is designed to race around a track ,

    What road car uses a high revving V6 turbo engine that needs changing every 4 or 5 outings.

    what road car uses slick tires.

    what road car uses tires designed to not last.

    what road car does not need to be refueled for an entire trip.

    What road car has need of KERS.

    What road car uses DRS.

    What is F1 about saving fuel or the fastest cars on earth ?. Lets decide which one we want because as we are seeing we cant have both.

    Forget about all the crap that has made F1 boring.
    Bring back refueling and before everyone starts spouting safety why are all the other motor sports safely using refueling. Nascar being one. Bring back ground effect and let them use use engines that they want but it must be an engine that they use in one of their road cars and up a limited capacity say 3500cc. and lets get the v10s and v12s back.
    Make F1 a spectacle again and rid of this bore-fest and get people watching again.

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