Formula 1 stumbles to the finish in 2015

The 2015 Formula One season ended with a whimper on Sunday afternoon, as 2.6 million tuned into the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in the UK, overnight viewing figures show.

Race
Live coverage of the race, moved to BBC Two at the eleventh hour due to the conclusion of the Davis Cup, averaged 2.21m (16.9%) from 12:00 to 15:15, recording a five-minute peak of 3.08m (20.8%) as the race came to a conclusion. The race programme on Sky Sports F1 averaged 399k (3.0%) across the same timeslot. Sky’s coverage peaked with 632k (4.6%) in the five minutes from 14:00, which shouldn’t be too much of a surprise as this was in the gap between the first two Premier League games yesterday.

As alluded to above, the race faced competition from the Davis Cup on BBC One, which itself averaged 3.01m (22.9%) from 12:00 to 15:45. The decision to air the Davis Cup finale on BBC One was unsurprising, what was ridiculous however was that this was decided an hour before both shows were due to go on the air – certainly not something you expect when both events were known weeks in advance. I’m not convinced that number justified switching the two events at the last minute.

Comparisons with 2014 for the race are redundant given that last year was a championship decider and yesterday was not. Nevertheless, the combined average for Abu Dhabi of 2.60 million is comfortably the lowest ever recorded for that race. The previous low was 4.03 million from 2013, traditionally Abu Dhabi does well but for a variety of factors, viewers were not interested in Formula 1 yesterday. There are also these facts, based on the overnight viewing figures:

> lowest season finale since at least 2005
> lowest ‘European time zone’ race audience since the 2007 Bahrain Grand Prix
> lowest BBC F1 audience for a live race in the ‘European time zone’ since the corporation returned to the sport
> lowest Sky Sports F1 audience for a ‘European time zone’ race ever

The consolidated figures will make a few of the points above null and void, timeshift is larger in 2015 than in 2010, but I feel that the points still stand. For reference, ‘European time zone’ means any race that has aired live here during the lunch time hours, so anything from 11:00 through to around 14:00. There are multiple reasons for yesterday’s very low rating: increased competition, the switch from BBC One to BBC Two will have hurt the same-day timeshift figures and pure fatigue given that the championship race was over a long time ago.

However, Formula 1 has faced bigger competition before in recent years (Wimbledon finals and major games in football competitions) and has not dropped as low as Abu Dhabi did. Viewing patterns have changed as well, you cannot escape that fact. I will analyse the figures more in a post coming soon, but the picture, whichever way you want to paint it, is not promising.

Qualifying and Pointless
The final qualifying programme of the season averaged 2.05m (21.2%) from 12:10 to 14:05 on BBC One, with Sky Sports F1 adding a further 258k (2.7%) from 12:00 to 14:35. To end on a positive note, a Grand Prix themed edition of Pointless Celebrities averaged a massive 5.73m (29.2%) from 18:00 on BBC One on Saturday, one of its highest ever ratings.

The 2014 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.

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BBC F1 versus Sky Sports F1: Your 2015 Verdict

Year 4 of the current BBC and Sky Sports Formula 1 contract has come to an end with the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. 2015 has seen Lewis Hamilton clinch his third Formula 1 championship, alongside the emergence of Max Verstappen and the downfall of McLaren.

I’ve commented a lot this year on BBC’s and Sky’s coverage, now it is your chance to give your opinion on all things BBC and Sky in 2015, and how both sides can improve in 2016. What is the best that each team currently has to offer? Obviously this assumes that nothing is changing. Because what happens next? We would like to know, but at the moment we simply do not know. Will BBC even be broadcasting Formula 1 on TV in 2016, or is the newspaper speculation simply hot air? As said by Suzi Perry at the end of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix show, over a caption for the 2016 Australian Grand Prix: “We will see you next year, hopefully.”

With TV viewing figures stagnant, it would be interesting to know if you have been consuming Formula 1 differently in 2015. More iPlayer, less TV, more highlights, less live? The picture is definitely changing, are you part of that change?

Assuming the contractual situation does not radically change in the next few weeks, I will publish the best thoughts and opinions in a new post just before Christmas. For those of you wanting to comment on all things MotoGP, head this way

Scheduling: The 2015 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

The 2015 Formula One season comes to an end with the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, as the events off the circuit dominate the agenda. At this stage, whether the Abu Dhabi race next weekend will signify the end of anything, remains up in the air.

What we do know is that the BBC and Sky will be broadcasting this race live, with both sides fielding their full line-up. There’s a special Formula 1 edition of BBC One game show Pointless Celebrities airing on Saturday evening. The four teams consist of current BBC F1 pundit David Coulthard and new World Endurance Champion Mark Webber. BBC Radio 5 Live commentator Allan McNish and Claire Williams make up team two. 1992 champion Nigel Mansell and Murray Walker are next up, with Christian Horner and BBC F1 presenter Suzi Perry rounding off the line-up.

The two review shows will air before Christmas meaning that, alongside the absence of Sky Sports F1 over the festive period, there will be very little new F1 programming over the off-season until testing in February kicks into gear. Elsewhere, Channel 4 are airing highlights of the Race of Champions, presented by Charlie Webster.

As always, the full schedule is below…

BBC F1
BBC TV – Sessions
27/11 – 08:55 to 10:45 – Practice 1 (BBC Two)
27/11 – 13:00 to 14:35 – Practice 2 (BBC Red Button)
28/11 – 09:55 to 11:05 – Practice 3 (BBC Two)
28/11 – 12:10 to 14:05 – Qualifying (BBC One)
29/11 – 12:00 to 15:15 – Race (BBC Two)
29/11 – 15:15 to 16:00 – Forum (BBC Red Button)

BBC Radio – Sessions
29/11 – 12:45 to 16:00 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)

Supplementary Programming
26/11 – 21:00 to 22:00 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
27/11 – 18:45 to 19:00 – Inside F1 (BBC News Channel)
28/11 – 11:05 to 12:05 – F1 Rewind: Amazing Races (BBC Two)
28/11 – 18:00 to 18:50 – Pointless Celebrities (BBC One)
28/11 – 19:45 to 20:00 – Inside F1 (BBC News Channel)

Sky Sports F1
Sessions
27/11 – 08:45 to 10:50 – Practice 1
27/11 – 12:45 to 14:50 – Practice 2
28/11 – 09:45 to 11:15 – Practice 3
28/11 – 12:00 to 14:35 – Qualifying
29/11 – 11:30 to 16:15 – Race
=> 11:30 – Track Parade
=> 12:00 – Pit Lane Live
=> 12:30 – Race
=> 15:30 – Paddock Live

Supplementary Programming
26/11 – 11:00 to 11:30 – Driver Press Conference
26/11 – 20:45 to 21:00 – Paddock Uncut: Abu Dhabi
27/11 – 16:00 to 16:45 – Team Press Conference
27/11 – 17:00 to 18:00 – The F1 Show
02/12 – 20:30 to 21:00 – Midweek Report

GP2 Series – Abu Dhabi (Sky Sports F1)
27/11 – 07:15 to 08:05 – Practice
27/11 – 15:05 to 15:45 – Qualifying
28/11 – 14:35 to 16:05 – Race 1
29/11 – 10:15 to 11:30 – Race 2

GP3 Series – Abu Dhabi (Sky Sports F1)
27/11 – 11:10 to 11:45 – Qualifying
28/11 – 08:20 to 09:20 – Race 1
29/11 – 08:55 to 09:55 – Race 2

Race of Champions Highlights (Channel 4)
28/11 – 07:05 to 08:00 – Day 1
29/11 – 06:45 to 07:40 – Day 2

If anything changes, I will update the schedule above.

Update on November 29th – A very late BBC schedule change. Due to the conclusion of the Davis Cup final, it has swapped with the F1, so the F1 is now on BBC Two. Why on earth they did not just put the Davis Cup on BBC One in the first place, I do not know.

The negotiations have begun between BBC and FOM…

…but for the BBC, it didn’t end well.

Multiple outlets are reporting this morning that the BBC are attempting to renegotiate their television contract to broadcast Formula 1.

Telegraph.co.uk – Bernie Ecclestone turns down BBC plea to renegotiate F1 contract
Daily Mail – BBC set to pull plug on live F1 with Abu Dhabi Grand Prix set to be swansong race
The Times – BBC rebuffed in bid to revise F1 deal

As the three headlines show, the news is bleak.

The articles say that the BBC met with Formula One Management and commercial rights holder Bernie Ecclestone in his Kensington office yesterday afternoon, following the announcement minutes earlier that the BBC were making further cuts to various budgets, including BBC Sport. Simply put, the offer by the BBC to renegotiate the financial aspect of the contract was refused by Ecclestone. The current cost of the contract is between £15 million to £20 million per year for the BBC.

Various quotes from Ecclestone are making the rounds in the broadsheet papers listed above, which can be summarised as follows, this from The Telegraph: “We had a chat with them [BBC] today. What they would like to do is not spend as much money. They want to know if they can schedule it different ways or pay a bit less now. They don’t have a lot of choice because they’ve got a contract with us. They’re there for another three years. Beyond then [2018], I’ve no idea. I don’t know what’s going to happening tomorrow morning. I can’t tell you what I’m going to do in two years’ time. Definitely, we want them to carry on [with the BBC]. Of course.”

Ecclestone claims that he has not had contact off any other broadcasters concerning future Formula 1 rights. On the BBC side of things, Daily Mail have reported that an e-mail from BBC’s Director of Sport Barbara Slater, circulated to BBC Sport staff, does not list Formula 1 as part of their crown jewels. Most startlingly perhaps is the suggestion from Charles Sale and Jonathan McEvoy of the aforementioned Mail that the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will be the last live Grand Prix on the BBC. Yes, that is Abu Dhabi, which takes place in just ten days time, with the BBC either screening highlights only from 2016 or the rights transferring to another free-to-air broadcaster.

ITV is the broadcaster suggested by the Daily Mail. Sale is either hitting the mark, or extremely wide of it. Suggesting that ITV could formulate a team, and put aside the relevant money by Melbourne in four months time seems far-fetched to me. Some of Sale’s track record has been hit and miss, notably claiming earlier this year that BT Sport would broadcast La Liga exclusively live, only for Sky Sports to officially claim the rights a few hours later.

Clearly, this is going to be a fast moving story over the next few weeks and months. If BBC want to get out of live Formula 1 at the end of this season, an announcement would surely come within the next week, it would be ludicrous if there are no on-air references to their coverage ending in Abu Dhabi. However, if we hear nothing before Christmas, we can assume that BBC will broadcast Formula 1 with the same deal as now in 2016.

Update on November 25th – Enter Channel 4. Per yesterday’s edition of The Chris Evans Show (thanks madmusician on DS for the tip), and I quote from Evans: “This is what I heard yesterday, that Channel 4 may sweep in and take the rights to Formula 1 away from the BBC next year.” Given that Evans has involvement with both the BBC and Channel 4, namely through his own show, Top Gear and TFI Friday, I would say that rumour has legs. I have noted on these pages before about their previous efforts when BBC’s rights were under threat in 2011. Will it be second time lucky for the broadcaster?

Update on November 29th – Suzi Perry at the end of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix show: “We will see you next year, hopefully.” – so, there you are.

Update on November 30th – BBC pundit David Coulthard has used his column on the BBC website to comment on the rights situation. He notes that, as reported above, BBC’s rights are under threat because of budget cuts around the corporation. The most important part of Coulthard’s column, was this, which I wholeheartedly agree with: “My personal view is that if F1 allows itself to lose free-to-air television coverage in the UK, it will not only affect the popularity of the sport, and by extension the teams’ ability to raise money to compete, but it will also reduce its exposure to the next generations of engineers and mechanics.”

Update on December 7th – Current Sky Sports F1 commentator and former BBC F1 commentator Martin Brundle spoke about the situation at last night’s AUTOSPORT Awards. In an off-topic diversion, Brundle said “I really hope the BBC stays in F1 next year. We [BBC and Sky] push each other along and it’s good for F1.”

Quick thoughts on the latest BBC F1 speculation

It is that time of the year where the BBC announce their latest round of cuts, and it is therefore unsurprising to see what could be first on the chopping block:

BBC.co.uk – “…it could throw doubt on the corporation’s coverage of sports such as F1 racing.”
The Guardian – “could hit athletics and Formula One”
The Telegraph – “faces losing Formula 1”

The amount of money that BBC Sport will have to save is £35 million annually. I have estimated before that Formula 1 costs the BBC between £15 million and £20 million. My opinion is that BBC will axe F1 this time around, and regular blog readers should not be surprised to read that, given the climate that the latest licence fee settlement was negotiated within.

We have been predicting BBC F1’s demise since 2012, you could argue that it is miraculous that nothing has changed on the rights front since then. Bernie Ecclestone’s latest plea to BBC came in August, in anticipation of today’s BBC cuts. Ecclestone said “I hope [BBC] continue. We’re not interested in the money, we’re interested in entertaining the public and doing a service. That’s what we’re there for. I think it would be good [to continue as we have at the moment]. It’s works at the moment, so there’s no reason why it should change. Sky have done a super job. They’ve lifted the level and lifted the BBC up.”

If BBC were to continue, it would be in highlights only form, with the first, last and British Grand Prix live, in my opinion. 45 percent of blog readers think BBC will try and renegotiate their contract before 2018. As I’ve said before, I think 2016 will be a very interesting year on the F1 rights front. My gut instinct tells me that the rights will be different for 2017. In what way? Your guess is as good as mine. A combination of BBC, ITV, Channel 4, BT Sport and Sky Sports would appear to be the most likely way forward as of 2017 onwards.

When live Formula 1 does disappear from free-to-air television in the UK, it will be an extremely sad day for motor sport fans as it will essentially reduce Formula 1 to a minority sport in this country. It looks like that day is getting closer to reality…