Rosberg’s title victory peaks with 5 million viewers

A peak audience of 4.99 million viewers watched Nico Rosberg clinch his first ever Drivers’ Championship at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, overnight UK viewing figures show.

Race
Live coverage of the race, broadcast on Channel 4 from 12:00 to 16:35, attracted 2.25m (19.1%), peaking with 3.85m (29.5%) at 14:35 as Lewis Hamilton won the Grand Prix. The average was depleted more than usual due to the longer broadcast. From 12:00 to 15:30, an average of 2.57m (22.3%) watched the broadcast.

Of course, Channel 4’s viewing figures were always going to be down on the BBC’s past title deciders, but the scale of the drop is higher than anticipated. In 2014, when Hamilton became a two-time champion, BBC’s coverage peaked with 6.53m (42.1%). So, at the time of the peak, Channel 4’s coverage was down by around 2.7 million viewers (or 41 percent) compared with the BBC in 2014.

Yes, the BBC reaches a lot more viewers than Channel 4. But, on the other hand you would expect Channel 4 to claw back some viewers with it being the championship decider. Channel 4’s coverage did thrash its own slot average, but the audiences were marginally down on Silverstone in July and Mexico last month. In 2010 and 2014, when Abu Dhabi was the last race and played host to the title decider, it soared to season high numbers by a comfortable margin. That didn’t happen yesterday.

Sky Sports’ coverage of the race from 12:00 to 15:30 averaged 770k (6.7%). 557k (4.8%) watched on the Formula 1 channel, with a further 212k (1.9%) watching on Sky Sports 2. Sky’s programme peaked with 1.15m (8.8%) at 14:35. Both metrics are down around 15 percent on 2014’s average of 963k (7.1%) and peak audience of 1.36m (8.8%). So, despite a far more exciting race yesterday than in 2014, viewing figures were down. Sky planting a triple bill of football against the F1 couldn’t have helped.

The race started off with 3.95m (36.3%) at 13:00. Audiences climbed during the first phase of the Grand Prix to 4.55m (39.2%) at 13:25. At this point, audiences stabilised around the 4.4 million mark, which isn’t too much of a surprise as there was a mid-race ‘lull’ as Hamilton temporarily disappeared into the distance. At 14:10, 4.40m (36.0%) were watching and it was at this point where casual viewers started to tune into the F1. The audience climbed again, peaking with 4.99m (38.3%) at 14:35.

The combined audience of 3.01 million viewers is up on last year’s non-title deciding number, but heavily down on 2010 and 2014 by around 2.5 million viewers. The combined peak audience of 4.99 million viewers is the third highest of 2016, only behind Silverstone and Mexico. Again, the peak was down on the 2010 peak audience of 7.35m (46.3%) and the 2014 peak audience of 7.89m (50.9%).

Qualifying and Analysis
Live coverage of qualifying averaged 1.15m (13.7%) on Channel 4, with Sky Sports F1 adding a further 330k (3.9%). The combined audience of 1.48 million viewers is actually on the lower end of the spectrum for the 2016 season as a whole.

I don’t fully blame Channel 4 for this. I do, however, blame them for the lack of advertising in the latter end of the season. A genius move would have been to not only advertise on their own channel but to buy slots on other channels to get word out about the season decider. Advertising through the season is critical, and some of the low figures above may be attributed to failing to get word out to the harder to reach audiences.

However, the figures also tell us that interest simply was not as high as first time around for a battle between Hamilton and Rosberg. For all the previous title battles that went to the wire, the fight was new: Hamilton vs Massa in 2008, the four-way fight in 2010 and Hamilton vs Rosberg in 2014. They were new and would have hooked on a significant portion of new viewers. Hamilton versus Rosberg, part II was not interesting. Unfortunately for Formula 1, the abject failure of Ferrari not turning up in 2016 has meant that we have gone another season without a compelling, multi-team championship battle.

There will be more analysis on this in a next few weeks, but if a Verstappen or Ricciardo or Vettel or Raikkonen challenges Rosberg and Hamilton for the championship in 2017, then viewing figures will rise. That I admit is easier said than done…

The 2015 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.

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Channel 4 F1 versus Sky Sports F1: Your 2016 Verdict

The 2016 Formula One season has come to a climax in Abu Dhabi, with Nico Rosberg being crowned Drivers’ Champion! The season has also seen Max Verstappen continue to make an impression, whilst Ferrari have faltered on numerous occasions. On the broadcasting side, 2016 marked Channel 4’s first year covering Formula 1 after BBC TV’s shock exit at the end of 2015.

I’ve written countless words concerning both Channel 4’s and Sky’s coverage this season. Now, it is your opportunity to have a say. Have Channel 4 done Formula 1 justice? How can both they and Sky Sports improve in 2017? Has Steve Jones lived up to the billing as “F1 presenter”? Do you want Channel 4 to continue covering Formula 1 in some form from 2019 onwards?

Of course, the BBC did stay in the radio game, so for anyone listening via that form of communication, all thoughts are welcome on the BBC’s radio coverage and anything else on the broadcasting landscape, including Formula One Management’s (FOM) television coverage. Has the way you consume Formula 1 changed under the new rights deal?

The best thoughts and opinion will be collated into a new piece, which will be published in a few weeks’ time.

Verstappen leads the Google Trends table

Mercedes may have led the way on track, but have they been the most searched ? According to Google Trends, the answer is no. Using data from Google Trends, Max Verstappen leads the way in the popularity rankings, whilst Lewis Hamilton has been searched more than double his team-mate.

To start off with, Google Trends data is described as follows:

Trends adjusts search data to make comparisons between terms easier.

Search results are proportionate to the time and location of a query:

  • Each data point is divided by the total searches of the geography and time range it represents, to compare relative popularity. Otherwise places with the most search volume would always be ranked highest.
  • The resulting numbers are then scaled on a range of 0 to 100 based on a topic’s proportion to all searches on all topics.
  • Different regions that show the same number of searches for a term will not always have the same total search volumes.

To analyse the data, we need to find the largest data point from every driver in 2016. They largest point is scaled at 100 with the remainder of the data following afterwards. The data is aggregated weekly, so we can see which driver led each race week throughout the season.

Max Verstappen’s win at the Spanish Grand Prix was the most searched Formula 1 topic of 2016, narrowly beating Fernando Alonso’s spectacular crash at the season opening Australian Grand Prix.

Most Searched Drivers’ on Google in 2016
14 x Max Verstappen (RUS, SPA, MON, CAN, BAK, GBR, HUN, GER, BEL, SIN, JPN, USA, MEX, BRA)
3 x Lewis Hamilton (AUT, ITA, MAL)
2 x Rio Haryanto (BAH, CHN)
1 x Fernando Alonso (AUS)

It was a Verstappen whitewash at the top of the table for the majority of the year, showing the global impact he has made in such a short space of time since his move to Red Bull following the Russian Grand Prix.

Behind Verstappen were the aforementioned Hamilton, Alonso and Haryanto, in that order. Hamilton has been a title contender all year-long, so his placing should not be surprising. Alonso would not be as high up the pecking order without his Australia crash, which generated a lot of press attention and imagery to go along with it. Haryanto was the first Indonesian driver in Formula 1, becoming somewhat of a celebrity in his home country as a result.

Nico Rosberg has been consistently behind Hamilton throughout the season by a ratio of 2.5 to 1, never once moving ahead of him and only once equalling him in the search rankings following the Austrian Grand Prix. Even if Rosberg does win the championship on Sunday, Hamilton will remain by far the more recognisable figure outside the paddock thanks to his superstar status.

Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, Daniel Ricciardo and Jenson Button are the only other drivers’ that get respectable search numbers via Google. Everyone else is clustered within the same region, led currently by Felipe Massa. The Sauber drivers of Felipe Nasr and Marcus Ericsson trail the table, with Jolyon Palmer just ahead of the pair.

Analysing each team is difficult as someone searching Ferrari could either be searching the racing team or cars to buy, whereas Red Bull could either mean the racing team or the soft drinks. Using the data already gathered though, it is possible to see which race weekends generated the biggest impact via the Google search engine. As already discovered, the Spanish and Australian weekends lead the way, thanks to Max Verstappen and Fernando Alonso respectively, although the Spanish race win for Verstappen was due to Mercedes’ own misdemeanour as well.

The wet race in Brazil featured as the 3rd best race of the season, again Verstappen the key here for the search metrics. Austria and Mexico rounded out the top five positions. It’s clear to see why those five races generated a lot of search traffic. Shockingly, races with big moments result in a surge in search activity for those associated with the action.

At the other end of the spectrum, the European Grand Prix from Baku generated the least amount of search traffic all year. Not only was the race poor, but it clashed with Euro 2016 and more importantly from a motor racing perspective, Le Mans. Hopefully Baku manages to avoid a Le Mans clash in 2017 as it hurt the former more than anticipated in the process.

The alternative reality

The 2016 Formula One season comes to an end this weekend in Abu Dhabi, marking the end of Channel 4’s first season of covering Formula 1. But, the outlook could have been so much different. Here, this site looks at the alternatives that might have materialised.

BBC TV stay covering Formula 1
An unlikely alternative. BBC’s television coverage of Formula 1 had always been well received and applauded, but the problem was that it cost the corporation too much money. The licence fee settlement resulted in another round of budget cuts at BBC Sport, and Formula 1 was in the firing line. On December 21st, 2015, the BBC announced their television exit from Formula 1.

Had the BBC continued to cover Formula 1, I suspect production costs would have been slashed and the quality of the show would have decreased. Yes, viewing figures would be higher on the BBC than what they are currently on Channel 4, but viewing figures matter less to the BBC. Their obligation to Formula One Management (FOM) was to cover half the races live and half in highlights form, but they were not obliged to have high-quality build-up coverage, so could have cut the extras if they so desired.

It wouldn’t have been a popular move with the viewers, but if it kept F1 on the BBC, there might have been supported. As it turned out, the BBC did the right thing. In March, it was announced that Sky would be taking the exclusive live rights from 2019 onwards.

ITV take over Formula 1 from BBC
The major surprise was that ITV did not grab Formula 1 from the BBC and instead took horse racing from Channel 4. Horse racing provides ITV and ITV4 with a lot more hours than Formula 1 and is cheaper to produce. ITV were unwilling to broadcast Formula 1 without adverts, which is what swung the deal in Channel 4’s favour.

A return to ITV would have meant a return to Formula 1 being interrupted by commercial breaks. Beyond that, it is likely ITV’s coverage would have again been produced by North One Television as it was in 2008. Remember that Whisper Films and North One were the leading two contenders for Channel 4’s production contract. As we know, Whisper won that battle but had the two been battling over at ITV, chances are that North One would have grabbed the deal.

On the personnel side, ITV would have still faced the same hurdles as Channel 4: they would still need to fill their line-up within a very short two-month period. The talent pool wouldn’t change meaning that the ITV line-up would have been quite close to what we saw at Channel 4 with ex BBC faces moving over, alongside some new faces.

Channel 5, Eurosport or BT Sport
The three broadcasters listed above are unrealistic in an alternative reality. Channel 5 could have stepped in, except taking on Formula 1 for around £20 million a year would have hurt their overall budget significantly. Demographically, it would be a fantastic fit for the channel but the price range makes this an unlikely venture.

Eurosport and BT Sport were unlikely as a shared deal between them and Sky would take Formula 1 off free-to-air television, although BT could have committed to showing Formula 1 on their BT Sport Showcase channel on Freeview. Had Liberty Media’s acquisition of Formula 1 happened a year earlier, it would have made the landscape even more interesting: would Eurosport (owned by Discovery, who are in turn owned by Liberty) have splashed the cash to take Formula 1 exclusively from 2019 onwards? We’ll never know.

Sky’s exclusivity blocked by teams
Of course, Sky wanted to step in for the BBC as early as this year. Once Sky got wind that the BBC were planning to exit their TV contract at the end of 2015, the broadcaster made moves to try to secure Formula 1 exclusively from 2016 onwards. The contract featured a clause stating that, should the BBC exit, then Sky pick up the rights exclusively. As referenced in March:

When it became apparent in the run up to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last November that the BBC were set to terminate their contract, Formula 1’s teams are understood to have requested that Formula 1 remains on free to air terrestrial television in the UK in some capacity until at least the end of 2018. The concern for teams was that they would have difficulty persuading sponsors to stay on board with F1 behind a pay wall in the UK. This led to the sequence of events that saw Channel 4 step in and take over BBC TV’s rights from 2016 to 2018 inclusive.

Sky’s new deal from 2019 onwards was signed early after an onslaught from BT Sport, who attempted to take the rights away from Sky.

The only way the destination would change is if Channel 4 or ITV committed to a longer time frame when the signed the contract with FOM last December. However, that would have required Sky’s involvement, and given the amount of money they were prepared to lay on the table, I think the same conclusion would have been reached.

No matter what, the destination post 2018 remains the same: a deal with Sky showing every race exclusively live.

Motorsport Network increases footprint with acquisition of Motors TV

Motorsport Network, the company which runs Motorsport.com and AUTOSPORT amongst others, has acquired the Motors TV network, it has been confirmed.

Zak Brown, the Chairman of Motorsport Network, said: “Today’s news to expand our commitment to automotive from the global digital presence we are building with Motor1.com and our digital motorsport estate including Motorsport.com and Autosport.com into the broadcast arena is a bold step to build a genuinely integrated platform across small and large screen alike. The investment will enable us to create the very first dedicated broadcast ‘home’ in our expert areas of performance motoring and motorsport”

As documented on this site, Motors TV has been in financial trouble historically, more of which has come to the limelight this year. In February, Motors TV’s UK channel briefly disappeared from Sky whilst court proceedings were issued against the French company in May. The takeover from Motorsport Network was due to be concluded in June, but were never finalised due to the court proceedings.

I’m undecided as to whether this takeover is a good or bad thing. We’ll start off with the good: the channel will be in high-definition from March 2017 and will be available on a vast array of devices such as Apple TV, Amazon Fire and Roku. This should open the horizons and hopefully allow Motors TV to tap into a new audience. I’m all for bringing new people towards motor sport, and there is real potential that having a dedicated motor sport channel, with performance motoring also covered, ran by people with money behind them, is a very good thing indeed. The channel should find it more straightforward to attract rights holders in the future.

However, the press release implies that Motors TV will be leaving Sky in 2017. The press release states that “2017 will mark its transition from traditional linear broadcasting to a Video on Demand (VOD) service with the launch of Motorsport.tv’s new digital platform.” It is unclear whether the Motors TV name will disappear, stating that Motors TV will be “absorbed” into Motorsport.tv suggests that the Motors TV brand will cease to exist. In the short-term, I don’t see Motors TV disappearing overnight but can see it happening within the next year.

It feels like Motorsport Network has bought the Motors TV name to remove a competitor. After all the existence, or lack of, where Motors TV is concerned would not have stopped them pressing ahead with their digital platform plans. A monopoly is not a good thing. Yes, Motors TV’s picture quality is poor and a relic of the mid 2000s but it provides coverage of local, club series on a UK level. Will those series get as much coverage in 2017 on the new look Motorsport.TV if the Motors TV brand on satellite disappears? Alongside this, there are much bigger concerns about the linkages between Liberty Media, F1, Motorsport Network and Zak Brown.

Is it healthy for the motor sport media landscape on television, new media and beyond to be intrinsically linked to each other and owned by the same group of people? Personally, I don’t think so.

Update on November 23rd – It looks like Motors TV will be staying on Sky in the UK and potentially broadening its pay-TV reach abroad as well.