UK’s Formula 1 ratings hit new low as pay TV beats free-to-air highlights for first time

The United States Grand Prix dropped to a new low for the 2016 Formula One season as Sky Sports’ coverage of the race beat Channel 4’s highlights programme, overnight viewing figures show.

Race
Live coverage of the race, broadcast on Sky Sports 1 and F1 from 19:00 to 22:30, averaged 984k (4.6%). An audience of 569k (2.7%) watched on Sky Sports F1, with a further 416k (1.9%) watching on Sky Sports 1, the audience split 58:42 in the dedicated channel’s favour. Sky Sports 1’s coverage benefited from following Chelsea’s 4-0 thrashing of Manchester United, which 1.47m (10.3%) watched from 15:30 to 18:30.

The numbers are Sky’s lowest for USA since 2013 when the championship was already wrapped up. Since then, Sky Sports F1’s numbers have dropped, with Sky Sports 1’s simulcast increasing slightly, arresting the decline. Sky’s average is down 13 percent on 2015 and down 26 percent on 2014. On the other hand, Sky’s USA viewing figures are their highest of the season so far.

Channel 4’s highlights programme averaged 841k (13.5%) from 23:00 to 01:00. In the Channel 4 landscape, based on that timeslot, it is a good number and will be above their own slot average. In the Formula 1 landscape, this is a frankly awful number and one that raises a lot of questions. There are a lot of takeaways from this number that are worth mentioning.

Sky Sports beat Channel 4’s highlights programme. Only just, at a ratio of 54:46, but they can say that they’ve done it, although I wouldn’t shout about it considering both channels averaged less than one million viewers. The time slots are imbalanced and in Sky’s favour, but it shows how times have changed from BBC’s viewing figures last season. Let’s make it clear: viewers have not switched from free-to-air to pay TV in how they consume Formula 1. They’ve either switched off completely or moved to other methods of viewing, such as Now TV and Sky Go.

“Viewing of F1, EFL and cricket is up strongly year on year, and The Open saw a reach of 8m on TV and 2.8m unique users online. Through our growing digital platforms and apps, On Demand service and Now TV offering, there is something for every sports fan.” – Sky Sports’ Managing Director Barney Francis, speaking to The Guardian in response to press articles about declining football viewing figures

The shared contract between Sky and BBC/Channel 4 has underlined how poor the deal has been with respect to the North American races. Historically, North American races would have been a four to five million plus banker rating. Now, thanks to the way the ‘pick’ system works, America has been reduced to being aired on the fringes of primetime to a depleted audience. It simply is not good enough. Nothing will change on this front anyway, but Channel 4’s number illustrates the point well in my opinion.

The other point is that Channel 4’s scheduling was poor. Scheduling a film premiere before it is good, but it was not blockbuster power. The Grand Budapest Hotel averaged 1.22m (6.7%) from 21:00 to 23:00. Formula 1’s highlights programme ideally should have started at 22:30, with a 90-minute run-length. Stretching it out until 01:00 was only going to deplete viewing figures, which should have been considered when scheduling the highlights. It was by choice as opposed to a contractual obligation: in 2014, the BBC’s highlights programme started at 22:30 despite the race starting at 20:00.

The combined audience of 1.83 million viewers is the lowest Formula 1 has averaged in the overnight viewing figures since the 2006 French Grand Prix. That race averaged 1.82m (23.2%) from 12:05 to 14:55 on July 16th, 2006 on ITV. It is a desperately poor number in a season that has continued to lose interest since the Summer break. The consolidated numbers won’t change the picture too much unless a significant number of people time shifted the highlights programme.

Qualifying
Live coverage of qualifying averaged 306k (1.5%) on Sky Sports F1 from 18:00 to 20:45, a record low for USA. 2014’s qualifying session averaged 532k (2.8%), airing an hour earlier.

Channel 4’s highlights programme averaged 1.00m (7.1%) from 22:00 to 23:30 meaning that their qualifying programme beat their race programme, which is extremely rare. It probably isn’t too surprising when you compare the respective time slots but underlines why the highlights need to be aired in the earliest possible time slot for the American races.

The combined average of 1.31 million viewers is the second lowest of 2016, only ahead of Japan from two weeks ago.

The 2015 United States Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.

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18 thoughts on “UK’s Formula 1 ratings hit new low as pay TV beats free-to-air highlights for first time

  1. I can see a consistent trend in your viewing figures posts – practically all are containing the word “hits new low” and it’s summing up the sport nicely. Even though C4’s highlights were extremely late, the combined viewing numbers are very poor as you say

  2. All American-based races should be live by choice, even if it goes against the 3 races in a row. Or the pick order should be changes to where Channel 4 can choose 7/8 races and then have all of the late night races live for the audience. Shocked to see them choose to do this and they could have simply had shorter ad-breaks and a 105 minute slot, 90 minutes would be a bit short for a commercial broadcaster. It is also crafty of Sky to not allow a repeat of the broadcast, which the BBC did once in either 2012/2013.

  3. I watched it on line as well – to me C4 aired both qualifying & race highlights at a reasonable time, considering – 3 hrs after the start (which was 1900 & 2000 respectively).
    I agree these races need to be live or started earlier than 1400 local, perhaps 1200 so live shows & highlights are in a reasonable Prime Time slot

  4. You say
    “The shared contract between Sky and BBC/Channel 4 has underlined how poor the deal has been with respect to the North American races. Historically, North American races would have been a four to five million plus banker rating. Now, thanks to the way the ‘pick’ system works, America has been reduced to being aired on the fringes of primetime to a depleted audience. It simply is not good enough. Nothing will change on this front anyway, but Channel 4’s number illustrates the point well in my opinion.”
    This may be a controversial thing to say but can we sort of blame the BBC for cuddling up to Sky for this initially? I think the deal is now having more of a negative impact in terms of viewing figures. Say what you like about ITV’s coverage (and the first 3 great years on the BBC exclusively) but, as every race was live, people stayed interested.
    Surely these viewing figures should give cause for alarm?

  5. Would Channel 4 have had the choice to show the race earlier than 11 pm, given that F1 has a four-hour slot for the race? I’m not sure the FOM would necessarily accept a second-tier broadcaster potentially showing the start of the race before the race was completed (granted that this was a theoretical risk due to complete use of the 4-hour slot requiring at least 2 hours under a red flag, but still…)

  6. What do these low viewing figures actual mean though, in terms of a return to free-to-air. Do you think FOM or Liberity media will look at them and think, we must increase FTA coverage? Sadly I think not, but I hope I’m wrong.

    Also in terms of sky’s new exclusive deal do you think there is any change of sky sub-licensing half the race to FTA to increase viewing figure, abut like eurosports and bbc olympics deal?

  7. I think we really need to see the combined TV and Online numbers before being too harsh on viewership. It’s possible that the online views are significantly boosting the total and maybe getting close to matching the number of lost viewers on TV. Especially in 2016 where viewing habits are constantly shifting.

  8. If you record the programme on a sky box, is that included in the viewing figures? I often watch things just 20 mins after being live so I can skip all the ads.

  9. as a non sky viewer i did not watch the highlights on c4 as i have to work early in the monday morning. The youview box record the highlight but i deleted it last night as there is no point watching a s knew what happen and it s 5 days ago.

    I also gone from a fan who watched all races to not even knowing the mexican grand prix is this weekend until i check this website out.

  10. What’s truly sad about this is that going purely PPV is gutting the popularity of the sport. I’m sure the bottom-line profits seem great, but as the viewership shrinks into the ranks of the rich and the Illuminati, the popularity of the sport amongst the rest of the population will collapse to near nothing, leaving the grandstands empty, and the merchandising market starved to death.

    We here in AmurrriKKKa are seeing the same thing happen to Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League: they signed cable/satellite-only broadcast deals with Fox (hah, imagine that!), and the viewership numbers have collapsed to near nothing. And it affects the game attendances as well: if you can’t follow your team easily, you eventually forgo that team altogether, to the point of finding something else to do instead of attending a game.

    It’s time for Ecclestone to step down and die; and it’s time for true fans to demand better and access to our sports. We already provide the lion’s share of the money to start with (the 1-percenters, rich as they may be, are still only providing a small percentage of the revenue), they need to remember this.

    And we must remind them, as well.

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