It has been a promising start to the 2015 Formula One season in the UK, with TV viewing figures recording an increase of eight percent compared with the first half of 2014, unofficial overnight viewing figures show. The figures have been boosted by better scheduling decisions, along with closer racing heading into the Summer break.
> BBC viewing figures increase 12 percent
> Sky slides to record low
> Combined numbers up on 2012 and 2014, but down on 2013
For newer readers to the blog, it is worth mentioning what the figures cover. All the figures in this post are BARB overnight viewing figures. BBC’s viewing figures are for their entire programme, irrespective of whether it ran 160 minutes or 190 minutes. Sky’s viewing figures are for the three and a half hour slot from 12:00 to 15:30, or equivalent. The pay-TV broadcaster opted to split their race day programming into four blocks, the numbers for Sky Sports that I report on this site covers the Pit Lane Live and Race Show segments and are all weighted averages. Sky’s figures also include any simulcasts that have occurred. For the avoidance of doubt, the last four races have been simulcast on Sky Sports 1: Canada, Austria, Britain and Hungary.
To the contrary, online viewing is not included. Only Sky will know how many people are watching Formula 1 via Sky Go, similarly the same can be said for BBC iPlayer, although some figures are released into the public domain for the latter, which I’ve summarised below. All comparisons are for the first half of each season. 2015’s half way figure includes Hungary, as it was round 10 of 19. 2014’s half way analysis did not include Hungary, as it was round 11 of 19.
The 2015 story
Beginning with Sky Sports F1, their race day programming from 12:00 to 15:30 has averaged 657k. As mentioned, that number includes Sky Sports 1 simulcasts. It is the lowest number since the channel has launched. The previous lowest was for the first half of the 2013 season, which averaged 724k. The 2015 number is down 15.3 percent on the first half of 2012, down 9.3 percent on 2013, and down 11.9 percent on 2014. You don’t need to know a lot about viewing figures to realise that the numbers are grim for Sky. Only three races have increased year-on-year for the broadcaster – Spain (up 5.0 percent due to exclusivity), Austria (up 4.3 percent) and Britain (up 27.0 percent due to no Wimbledon clash). All the other races have dropped, in some cases by fairly sizeable proportions.
The substantial drop for Sky is surprising given that at the end of 2014, I was reporting the highest figures since channel launch for the broadcaster. Quoting from that post, I said: “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.” It is difficult to say exactly why the audiences have dropped, although I think the negative publicity that Formula 1 faced at the beginning of 2015 could be attributed to it. Sky’s numbers are also affected by the earlier start times for Australia, Malaysia and China, all three of which dropped year-on-year, although you would expect same day timeshift to make up the drop in figures.
Where Sky have dropped, BBC have gained. Their average audience has increased by 12 percent, up from 3.12m to 3.51m. 2015’s number is down though on 2013’s first half average number of 3.81m, which was influenced by the “multi 21” controversy, alongside the German Grand Prix highlights show directly following the final of Wimbledon. BBC’s figures so far this season are good. Luck has come their way compared with previous years: the removal of the German Grand Prix meant that BBC have three live races in a row, whilst the crew have also covered both of the surprise Ferrari victories live this season.
Only one race has recorded a lower audience on the BBC compared with last year, that being the Spanish Grand Prix which the broadcaster screened as a highlights programme versus live in 2014. Every other race has increased, which shows that, even in Sky’s fourth season, free-to-air is still king. Sky should be attempting to make in-roads into BBC’s audiences, but that is not happening, meaning that they are in turn failing to entice new people on-board.
Online and other viewing
As I have said before, tracking online viewing is incredibly difficult due to the nature of the beast. However, that is set to change soon. It was announced by BARB last month that they would be releasing the TV Player Report from September in beta. The report will provide “official figures on the level of viewing to on-demand and live-streamed content through online TV Player apps.” The report should give us a better indication of the broader picture regarding online viewing. I would expect some mentions of sporting events, depending on the size and shape of the weekly reports.
In terms of Sky Go, Sky say that it is now available in six million households.As I alluded to earlier, that figure means nothing without further detail. Just because it is available in six million households, it doesn’t mean that those six million households are using it regularly, let alone watching sports content. Over on the BBC TV, the Malaysian Grand Prix attracted 553k requests, Bahrain had 466k requests. As the BBC files show, the numbers include those that watched the live streams as well as On Demand afterwards. The highest number of requests that an F1 show has ever received on BBC iPlayer is 662k for the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix (although that is down to the circumstances involved). Aside from that, F1 has settled into the half a million requests region for iPlayer requests. If F1 is getting around that number on iPlayer, it is fair to assume that Sky Go’s numbers for Formula 1 struggle to hit 100k.
Combined audience and final thoughts
The combined TV average at the halfway stage of 2015 is 4.16m, an increase of 12 percent on 2014’s halfway figure of 3.87m. The viewing figures so far for 2015 are also up on 2012, but are down on 2013’s halfway average audience of 4.53m. Overall, the viewing figures so far have been really good, although admittedly as I have mentioned above, the BBC gets the majority of the credit for the increase. The TV viewing figures will be slightly below those recorded from between 2009 and 2011 when BBC covered the coverage exclusively, but when you include the online audience on BBC iPlayer, 2015 will not be that far behind 2011’s numbers. Working out the exact amount is impossible for a variety of reasons, but F1 2015 stands up well in comparison.
It is a very significant turnaround compared to this time last year, when I was reporting the lowest viewing figures for TV since 2008. The climb can be attributed to better scheduling, a lack of opposition this Summer, as well as a British driver being on top. However, the figures may be a surprise considering all but the last two races before the Summer break were mediocre in nature. Either way, anyone hoping that Formula 1’s viewing figures were going to drop will probably be left disappointed by the latest set of numbers. The only viewing figures that are dropping are Sky’s, a fact that they will be looking to turn around significantly in the latter half of 2015.
With reference to the 15 minute reach figures, a BBC spokesperson said “We’re delighted that our Formula 1 TV coverage continues to go from strength to strength with 1m more people watching our coverage compared to at this stage in 2014. It’s been a fantastic season so far and we look forward to bringing audiences the thrilling action of F1 for the remainder of 2015.” Sky did not respond within the timeframe to a request for comment concerning the viewing figures. If Sky do comment on the figures in the forthcoming days, I will amend this article.