Japanese Grand Prix slumps to record low

For the second race running, Formula 1 found itself losing a ratings battle against the Rugby World Cup, as the Japanese Grand Prix slumped to its lowest rating since at least 2005, overnight viewing figures show.

Race
Before analysing the figures, it needs to be stated that historical comparisons are difficult for Japan. In the UK in recent years, Japan has started at 05:30, 06:00, 06:30 and 07:00, probably more start times that I can count. From 2010 to 2014, the race started at 07:00 UK time. Prior to that, the race started at 06:00 UK time, although the two events from Fuji in 2007 and 2008 began at 05:30 UK time. You would hope the repeat airing balances things out, but it is worth noting. Due to the events of last year, which affected the viewing figures, no comparisons will be made with 2014 in this post.

Live coverage of the race, broadcast live on BBC One from 05:00 to 09:00 averaged 925k (35.2%). It was billed as an extended race day show with the forum from around 08:30 onwards. The coverage from 05:00 to 08:00 averaged 954k (41.9%), a big difference in share, but no major difference in the raw figure. Sky Sports F1’s coverage from 05:00 to 08:30 averaged 255k (10.2%), with Sky Sports 1 adding a further 21k (0.8%). All of the live numbers are down on 2013, however this is not a surprise given the earlier start time.

BBC One’s repeat struggled against the Rugby World Cup on ITV, averaging only 1.44m (17.0%). The Rugby World Cup match between Scotland vs USA, which kicked off at 14:00, averaged 2.13m (23.0%) on ITV, comfortably beating the Grand Prix highlights. The peak audience for the Formula 1 live airing came at 07:30, as 2.00m (48.2%) watched Lewis Hamilton take victory. The peak share was a massive 1.60m (70.3%) at 06:10, down to a lot of viewers no doubt timeshifting the action to watch later in the day.

Overall, the combined audience of 2.65 million is the lowest on record (since 2005) for the Japanese Grand Prix. The 2009 race from Suzuka averaged 3.61 million. The live airing did fine, it is the BBC repeat that has dragged the numbers down significantly. The drastic drops for Singapore and Japan have had a major effect on the season average, and the numbers need to pick back up, and fast, otherwise the final average at the end of the year will not look pretty. The Russian Grand Prix clashes with Argentina vs Namibia, but I don’t expect that to be troubling the F1.

Rugby World Cup hits BTCC too
Formula 1 was not the only sporting contest kicked into touch yesterday. Live coverage of the British Touring Car Championship from Silverstone, which aired on ITV4 from 10:00 to 18:30, averaged 112k (1.2%). The action peaked with 231k (3.4%) at 12:00. BTCC does not seem to have recovered much of the lost ground compared with 2014. I’m not sure what is happening, but the audience has shifted away from the series in the past year or two, or are consuming less of it compared to previously.

The 2014 Japanese Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.

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Were Mercedes “blacklisted” from the World Feed during the Japanese Grand Prix?

The Japanese Grand Prix saw a return to the usual status quo, with Mercedes back on top form as Lewis Hamilton cruised to victory.

But on the broadcasting side of things during the World Feed coverage that Formula One Management (FOM) produce, something looked odd: the noticeable lack of coverage given to either Mercedes car during qualifying or the race. Deliberate or just a coincidence? Conspiracy theories abound as to the reason why. AUTOSPORT, amongst other media outlets, are reporting that Mercedes are going to query it with Bernie Ecclestone. It is not the first time that a team has been “blacklisted” from FOM’s World Feed, most notably Force India during the 2012 Bahrain Grand Prix qualifying session.

First points first, the direction was abysmal, probably the worst of the entire year to date. I’ve complained about the direction before with relation to virtual advertising and missing changes for the lead, but today was a different kettle of fish. Which is sadly saying something considering Fuji TV hosted the Japanese Grand Prix feed prior to 2012, famously concentrating their coverage on local stars such as Kamui Kobayashi and Takuma Sato. Incidents today included a static camera for around half a minute and a camera on Sergio Perez’s car that served no purpose at all. I don’t know if the same crew does Singapore and Japan, I assume it is the same people, but that may be one reason why the direction was worse than usual.

During qualifying, Mercedes were rarely shown during Q1 and Q2, whilst their fastest laps were not aired on the World Feed. The race itself started with Lewis Hamilton overtaking Nico Rosberg. The only two camera angles we had were from far distance, neither onboard was featured in the World Feed coverage, although they were broadcast during the post-race shows.

Mercedes were only really shown immediately before and after pitstops (as the above graphic shows), alongside team radio. It is difficult to “blacklist” a team who are running at the front of the field and who will obviously play a pivotal part in the race. I don’t think “blacklist” is an appropriate word given that they were actually featured, but it does feel like that there was a concentrated effort to feature either car as little as possible. We did see a Mercedes pass through shots on multiple occasions, but they were never the main focus, pitlane aside.

In my opinion, there was definitely an effort to not show Mercedes as much as possible. Clearly someone has done something to annoy Bernie in the past seven days…

Update on September 27th at 17:50 – I’ve updated the above to add a bit more context. I notice that the BBC are noting that Mercedes are not FOM’s (or Ecclestone’s) only issue. Whilst they say that the Mercedes issue is down to their refusal to supply Red Bull, they are also reporting that Ecclestone is “in dispute with the teams about the display of sponsor logos in the garages.” This explains why we never saw any garage shots of team members observing the action, instead FOM choosing to use a fly-by overhead camera during the weekend. At the end of the day, it is the viewers that lose out here, and why, I’m not entirely sure. So we can see another Rolex logo in the garage? I think Ecclestone and FOM need to look at the definition of “over exposure”, because that is seriously what they are doing if that is what they are thinking about.

Update on September 28th at 19:30 – Bernie Ecclestone says no. Speaking to a German newspaper, Ecclestone said that the new approach was decided “a couple of weeks ago”, with the intention of showing more of the midfield teams. So, evidently he is denying that there was a Mercedes blackout.

Rugby World Cup kicks Singapore Grand Prix into touch

The Rugby World Cup sent the Singapore Grand Prix crashing to its lowest ever viewing figures in the UK yesterday, overnight viewing figures show.

Race
Live coverage of the race, broadcast live on Sky Sports F1, averaged 681k (6.6%) from 12:00 to 15:30, down significantly on last year’s audience of 1.00m (10.9%) across the same timeslot (or 961k/10.5% up to 15:45). Later on, BBC One’s highlights programme from 17:00 to 18:35 averaged just 2.77m (16.5%), compared with 3.72m (23.7%) from 2014. I believe BBC’s number is their lowest for a European highlights show that has aired on BBC One since this deal began in 2012. BBC’s audience is down 25 percent, with Sky Sports F1 down 32 percent year-on-year.

Normally, ITV average less than one million viewers on a Sunday afternoon. Yesterday, Samoa vs USA from 11:30 to 13:55 averaged 1.38m (16.3%). Wales vs Uruguay which followed it averaged 2.89m (24.3%), whilst New Zealand vs Argentina from 16:30 averaged 3.98m (24.2%). The peak for the rugby was 4.97m (28.1%) at 18:15, directly against BBC’s F1 highlights programme. It is rare that BBC’s main F1 programming loses its slot, but that happened yesterday thanks to the rugby. I did mention that “tricky waters lie ahead” for the F1 in my Italy ratings piece but I was unclear at how much the F1 would be affected.

The combined average of 3.45 million from yesterday is comfortably the lowest ever recorded for the Singapore Grand Prix. The previous lowest was 2008, which averaged 3.85m (39.7%), but apart from that numbers have always been near to, or over four million viewers. It is a disappointing number, although it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise given that the Rugby World Cup, like many other popular sporting events, brings in some casual viewers. Next up for Formula 1 is the Japanese Grand Prix, which should be aiming for an audience around the mid 3 million mark, similar to 2013.

The 2014 Singapore Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.

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Scheduling: The 2015 Japanese Grand Prix

From Singapore, the ten teams and twenty drivers head to Suzuka as the F1 paddock wonders whether Mercedes lack of pace from Singapore is a one off, or a new trend. Due to the events that occurred last year, the Japanese Grand Prix start time was moved forward one hour, with the race now starting at 14:00 local time, eight hours ahead of the UK, meaning the race begins at 06:00 UK time.

There is a bit of unusual scheduling from the BBC this year, who are covering the weekend live. The race show on BBC One is a mammoth four hours long, which I believe is the longest that they have ever billed it as. As a result of the extended BBC One show, there is no formal F1 Forum. I believe it is only the second time since Formula 1 returned to the BBC that a post-race forum has not happened after a live race (the first being Canada 2011 due to the red flag period). In a way you could say it is disappointing, but I imagine the last hour to 45 minutes on BBC One will be like a forum, without it being called a forum. EditSuzi Perry on Twitter calls it a Forum.

Saying the above, early indications are that the race weekend could be affected by a Tropical Storm similar to 2014. Obviously if the schedule changes, I will update this piece and/or republish this post elsewhere. The return of the Formula 1 fly-away races means that we get Formula 1 and MotoGP on the same day, and without a clash. It looks like BT’s coverage may be studio based again due to the majority of their team working on the Rugby World Cup – it certainly is that way for MotoGP’s fly-away rounds, but I’m unclear as to whether that applies for Aragon as well.

BBC F1
BBC TV – Sessions
25/09 – 01:55 to 03:35 – Practice 1 (BBC Two)
25/09 – 05:55 to 07:45 – Practice 2 (BBC Two)
26/09 – 03:55 to 05:05 – Practice 3 (BBC Two)
26/09 – 06:00 to 08:30 – Qualifying (BBC One)
26/09 – 13:00 to 14:30 – Qualifying Replay (BBC One)
27/09 – 05:00 to 09:00 – Race (BBC One)
=> 05:00 – Race
=> 08:00 – Forum
27/09 – 13:15 to 15:15 – Race Replay (BBC One)

BBC Radio – Sessions
25/09 – 01:55 to 03:35 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
25/09 – 05:55 to 07:35 – Practice 2 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
26/09 – 03:55 to 05:05 – Practice 3 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
26/09 – 06:55 to 08:05 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
27/09 – 05:30 to 08:00 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live)

Supplementary Programming
25/09 – 18:45 to 19:00 – Inside F1 (BBC News Channel)
26/09 – 08:30 to 09:30 – F1 Rewind: Rivalries (BBC Two)
26/09 – 19:45 to 20:00 – Inside F1 (BBC News Channel)

Sky Sports F1
Sessions
25/09 – 01:45 to 03:50 – Practice 1
25/09 – 05:45 to 08:00 – Practice 2
25/09 – 03:45 to 05:15 – Practice 3
26/09 – 06:00 to 08:45 – Qualifying (also Sky Sports 1)
27/09 – 04:30 to 09:15 – Race (also Sky Sports 1)
=> 04:30 – Track Parade
=> 05:00 – Pit Lane Live
=> 05:30 – Race
=> 08:30 – Paddock Live

Supplementary Programming
24/09 – 07:00 to 07:30 – Driver Press Conference
24/09 – 20:45 to 21:00 – Paddock Uncut: Japan
25/09 – 08:00 to 08:45 – Team Press Conference
25/09 – 10:00 to 11:00 – The F1 Show
30/09 – 20:30 to 21:00 – Midweek Report

British Touring Car Championship – Silverstone (ITV4)
27/09 – 10:00 to 18:30 – Races

MotoGP – Aragon (BT Sport 2)
25/09 – 08:00 to 15:00
=> 08:00 – Practice 1
=> 10:45 – Reaction and Build-Up
=> 12:00 – Practice 2
26/09 – 08:00 to 15:15
=> 08:00 – Practice 3
=> 11:00 – Qualifying
27/09 – 07:30 to 09:15 – Warm Up
27/09 – 09:30 to 15:00
=> 09:30 – Races
=> 14:00 – Chequered Flag

MotoGP – Aragon (ITV4)
28/09 – 20:00 to 21:00 – Highlights

If anything changes, I will update the schedule above.

Update on September 22nd – I’ve received confirmation that there is no F1 Forum on the Red Button across the weekend, so I have updated the description and schedule to reflect that.

ITV retain Formula E rights

ITV will screen the second season of the FIA Formula E Championship, it has been confirmed.

As with the first season, every race will air live on ITV4, with the season ending London ePrix airing on ITV. In addition, ITV’s main channel will air a highlights programme after every ePrix, presumably on Saturday or Sunday evenings after peak. The deal appears to be a one-year extension, rather than a multi-year deal.

Ali Russell, Director of Media and Strategic Partnerships at Formula E, said: “It’s fantastic news that we are extending our partnership with ITV. The interest and following of Formula E in the UK has been overwhelming, which was evident at the final two rounds in London. We look forward to continue to build Formula E together over the course of the season.” Niall Sloane, Director of Sport at ITV, said: “We are delighted to renew our Formula E deal for next year. The sport is building significantly on a thrilling first year and we look forward to bringing this fresh, innovative and futuristic series to our viewers on ITV and ITV4.”

As of writing, there is no word on who will be presenting the programming, although it assumed that Jennie Gow will be returning to the role with Andy Jaye filling in where necessary. The final round of Formula E’s first season, which saw Nelson Piquet Jnr win the championship, peaked with 1.2 million viewers. It goes without saying that this is fantastic news, but also important for Formula E to grow further in the UK. Season 1 (excluding the London finale) averaged 168k (2.2%), peaking with 285k (3.4%), so hopefully season two’s numbers grow on the base already established.

I’m hopeful that the highlights programming may be strategically placed depending on the race is, for example it may be better to show Beijing and Putrajaya in an earlier slot potentially on Saturday afternoon or early evening, if the contract allows that. From ITV’s side, I hope the advertising is better as it seemed to completely disappear after the first round or two, never reappearing until London.