Highlights of the first round of this year’s World Rally Championship performed well on Channel 5 yesterday, overnight viewing figures show. The series, which was shown in highlights form on ITV4 from 2013 to 2015, moved to Channel 5 in a surprise move for the start of this season. The broadcaster has placed the series in a primetime slot, with highlights airing each Monday evening at 19:00.
The first programme of the year aired yesterday focussing on the Monte Carlo rally, averaging a solid 446k (2.1%) across the hour long broadcast. The programme recorded a one-minute peak audience of 533k (2.4%) at 19:53 as Sébastien Ogier fought off early competition from Kris Meeke before the British driver retired. Astoundingly, the last time a World Rally Championship round achieved a figure like that was at the back end of 2006. In other words, last night’s rating was the best for rallying in the UK for nearly a decade.
The viewing figures show how much rallying has fell out of the public spotlight: not necessarily the deals in the late 2000s with the move to ITV4 and then Dave, but after that with pay-TV deals exclusive to ESPN and BT Sport. Only in recent years has rallying got back in the spotlight with highlights airing on ITV4 and now Channel 5. The programme was slightly down on Channel 5’s slot average in 2015 (Mondays, 19:00-20:00) of 478k (2.4%), but the numbers above are a good starting base when you consider the low publicity surrounding it.
In comparison, BT Sport’s live coverage did not bring in many viewers. The highest average was 15k (0.3%) for the 08:00 segment on Sunday morning (24th January) on BT Sport 2. The low numbers should not be a surprise, but it demonstrates why series such as the World Rally Championship need a mainstream presence on free-to-air television in order to sustain a viable audience in this country, as channels such as BT Sport treat sports such as rallying as ‘schedule fillers’ and nothing more.
I applaud the series organisers for bringing the series back to the wider audience, and I hope Channel 5’s audiences increase as the year progresses.