UK F1 TV viewing figures rise, but Sky hit the skids

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.

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26 thoughts on “UK F1 TV viewing figures rise, but Sky hit the skids

  1. Interesting figures, which to me clearly illustrate that the SkyF1 Pay TV option has now hit the buffers in terms of any further growth. In spite of all the problems F1 seems to find itself in, we’ve had some good races this season with Ferrari wins and Hamilton leading the championship. This I reckon is where the BBC (and free to air broadcasters in general) score because the casual or lapsed viewer will quickly turn on their TVs again to watch when something gets exciting. This I’m sure goes a long way to explaining the increased BBC figures. What these viewers are very unlikely to do though is pay a large subscription to start watching it on Sky.

  2. I think Sky have got the wrong side of the price vs value ratio and this is what’s effected their figures.

    Whether you like Sky’s output or not, it’s diminished in appeal generally in the last season and a half and I think people just don’t feel like it offers anywhere near value for money.

  3. Sky have had 3 years to make this a success – and they haven’t. F1 is not a sport that can be moved to PPV like some other sports and I’m sure the Sky bosses have now realised that.
    Their coverage is inferior the the BBC’s before it moved to PPV and they needed to have a much better and higher quality output. To many ex-drivers, clowning around and dumbing down and trying to appeal to the footie crowd just hasn’t worked and Sky seem unable to try and change anything.
    Out of all the PPV saga, the only winner – as usual – has been Bernie.

  4. Not sure where you get those sky figures and assumptions from.
    Was talking with sky on a customer testing day at their hq a few weeks back and they are very happy with their F1 audience and its increased.
    They did mention a large increase in sky go, now tv and ipad sport app use for F1 and other sports.
    Assume then those are the old fashioned barb paper reports, whcich are only a guess really. Sky do not release their real figures.
    I and loads of my community watch F1 and many motorsports, apart from the touring cars and Formula e on itv, i do not know anyone who watches the bbc f1 coverage or thinks very highly of it, so wondering who they quizzed.

  5. Would be interesting to see whether combined or average peak figures for both broadcasters are up or down. Personally I think that the reason for sky’s drop is because of the extended 4-part race day show. The format is poor and I would think that as a result viewers don’t watch for as long just tuning in for the race. Therefore sky’s average is down. For quali this may not be the case as the show is better and shorter.

  6. Sky have got it all wrong IMO. They have went from quantity rather than quality and I believe they thought that throwing money at the broadcast would win. It didn’t.

    I hate the ‘boys club’ feel to their broadcasts. The innuendo and sniggering is ridiculous. I also really dislike Simon, and I feel that they employed Damon Hill to be a ‘David Coulthard’ and Johnny Herbert to be a ‘Eddie Jordan’ – it doesn’t work.

    I think Sky could easily fix the problem by covering the races well, but focussing on other programming.

    On Racedays, the coverage should mirror the format of BBC (ie. short build-up, race, reflection). They need to get shot of Simon, replace him with someone like Mark Webber or even someone with personality like Max Rushden. Loose Hill and Herbert – Have an Anthony Hamilton & Bruno Senna as ‘pundits’.

    Sky needs to focus on other F1 Programming:
    – A 30 min guide to the area and track by Ted (‘Teds Track Guide’) shown before FP1 & Quali
    – A 30 min ‘Teds Notebook’ after Quali & the Race
    – Keep the F1 show but give them a couch and have Natalie as the main host
    – Keep the Midweek Report – the best thing they have
    – Have a weekly 30 min show based on a season – “The 1988 F1 Season”
    – Have a weekly ‘behind the scenes’ show – how things like tracks are maintained, cars built, drivers train, build motor homes, transport teams around the world etc.
    – I would love to see something along the lines of the ‘Suzi Wolf Show’ – a 30 min analysation of the weekend. I feel that she would do a good job with it.
    – I also feel that there is a massive opportunity for a ‘fly on the wall’ type show with Manor. Would cost very little to make and would be brilliant for them to gain sponsors.

    They key to SkySports F1 is to give better value for money. If it is the place for F1 I would pay for it. Right now I don’t as I am fine with the beebs highlights (sometimes better than watching the race) andI watch Ted’s stuff on the Sky Website for free. I also get the F1 Show on Sky 1. I don’t need Sky Sports F1.

  7. #CANCELSKYF1SUBCRIPTION because all we are paying for is a load of repeats, presenters, pit lane reporters and commentators are terrible. All sky is trying to do is bring down a brilliant sport what BBC and ITV made it to be and they try to take it away from people who can’t afford to watch every single race live please Bernie bring it back to FTA for the fans because end of the day you can’t buy supporters

  8. One thing none of you have considered is piracy. Because BBC is free to air, you don’t get people streaming it on unauthorised websites, aside from international viewers. This obviously isn’t the case with Sky. Infact Sky is the main piece of coverage that is posted to users of the reddit F1 board through illegal streams. I think the person here who said BARB is unreliable hit the nail on the head. Back in the day, it would have been a very reasonable guess. But now with the internet it’s probably a mile away and we will never know. I don’t trust viewing figures one bit.

    However I’m not defending Sky. I loved their coverage in 2012 and 2013 but it has vastly deteriorated since then. There was a noticeable change in their coverage focus. Quantity, not quality. Spend all morning churning out the same old garbage about psychological advantages and how amazing Hamilton has been (Even as a fan of his, it gets boring). And who on earth finds Simon Lazenby climbing up the mast of a ship entertaining television? Certainly not sports fans.

    A change of personality wouldn’t go a miss. I don’t know how long contracts for TV presenters tend to be but 2016 will mark the fourth year and I hope they bring in fresh talent. I would replace Johnny Herbert and David Croft and bring in someone for Ant while he’s gone. I’m sure Gary Anderson wouldn’t mind returning to TV!

    I hope the viewing figures continue this trend so Sky don’t renew in 2018.

      • Yes it is, but a viewer is a viewer despite their location. Most pirate because they think Sky’s coverage is world class compared to what NBC produce and it gives them the live races, yet they have no option to legally subscribe in their country or simply don’t want to. Viewing figures should be a thing of the past.

    • Ye but sky is on a pay channel and they need to make their coverage more attractive to people to buy and watch it and there a point your missing

  9. If the BBC can’t afford all of the coverage, they should buy coverage of just Qualifying and the Grand Prix and let Sky keep the whole weekend but they should keep 10 fully-live weekends. Then replace the highlights shows with the format stated above.

  10. Wow interesting reading, I really didn’t think it was just me that thought Sky’s F1 output was self indulgent, mediocre dross.

    I thought I was alone in thinking Lazenby was a smug generic sports presenter with no passion.

    I also assumed I was alone in thinking that they produced dumbed down, football style, inappropriate coverage that F1 fans hated.

    And finally it appears I wasn’t far off the mark in pointing out that Sky’s output Vs budget is shocking. It’s lazy, dispassionate, generic and dull.

    So glad to know I’m not alone.

    • Agree on everything but Lazenby. I think he has plenty of passion and is one of Sky’s gems. He gets on with the job and I’d select him over Suzi Perry anyday.

      • I’m afraid I have to disagree, listen to his mood and tone change when he’s plugging the rugby or the golf, it’s like a kid giving a book report who’s suddenly asked about his trip to Disney.

    • Sky loose out pre-races. There’s none of the entertaining features with the drivers like we have on the BBC. One thing you can’t grumble at with Sky is the quality of their post-race analysis, putting Ted’s tantrum in Monaco aside. It destroys the BBC’s hands-down who go off air too quickly, and in doing so have missed events like the Williams garage fire. At least with Sky I know I’m going to get the perspective from everyone, because they really do go very deep with it. The show before the race is the main event though.

  11. skys problem is people dont pay £50 a month to watch 1 live f1 race month they think its a rip off.

    Its just different to being football fan where they have 10 – 12 games a week.

  12. What Sky won’t tell you is that a lot of the production team have left over the last few months. It points to some of the wider problems that Sky has in terms of attracting/retaining good people off screen as well as on it.

    • That’s hysterical, the team have sucked since day one, any change can only be for the better.

      The F1 ‘team’ were/are the old rugby coverage team and some ‘in it for the travel’ jobbing TV people.

      It has been clear from the beginning that Sky managed to assemble a disingenuous, dispassionate team who would rather be covering the football or cricket.

      Sky’s coverage ethos is rotten from the top down, like getting Kerry Katona to manage a royal garden party.

  13. I have been an F1 fan since the days of Tyrell but now disappointed that from 2019 I won’t be able to watch live races anymore. Out of all the pubs showing live sport in Sutton only one shows F1. That will only show it during opening hours. One very disappointed ex-F1 fan

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