Formula 1 records highest peak audience since 2015

The United States Grand Prix performed well across Channel 4 and Sky Sports over the weekend, overnight viewing figures show.

Race
For the first time since 2007, the race was broadcast live on free-to-air television, and the audience figures reflect that fact. Live coverage aired on Channel 4 from 19:00 to 22:15, with an audience of 2.78m (12.8%) tuning into their show. It is Channel 4’s second highest average audience, only behind last year’s Mexican Grand Prix, which averaged 2.89m (12.6%) over a slightly shorter slot.

Sky Sports’ coverage aired across their dedicated Formula 1 channel and Main Event, with 730k (3.5%) watching from 19:00 to 22:30. As this is the first time that Sky have shared coverage of the USA round of the championship with a free-to-air broadcaster, year-on-year comparisons are not possible. An audience of 499k (2.4%) watched via the F1 channel, with the remaining 231k (1.1%) watching via Main Event, a split of 68:32. In total, around a fifth of the F1 audience opted to watch Sky’s programming.

The combined average audience of 3.51 million viewers is the highest average audience of the year so far, and the highest since last year’s Mexican Grand Prix, when an average of 3.77 million viewers tuned into watch the broadcast. The first fact is unsurprising, the second part might be a little more surprising. The pre-race build-up was up against Strictly Come Dancing, which depleted the audience more than usual compared to if the race itself clashed with Strictly. Lastly, the drop off effect after the flag was greater due to the late finish.

An audience of 5.01m (21.8%) tuned in to the race start at 20:05, an excellent number for the start of the race. The audience trickled downwards during the 20:00 hour, hitting a low of 4.34m (18.3%) at 20:50, as The X Factor on ITV came to a conclusion. Arguably, Lewis Hamilton overtaking Sebastian Vettel as early as he did hurt the viewing figures further, meaning that more of The X Factor’s core audience switched back to the singing show instead of watching the F1.

Once The X Factor finished, the Grand Prix jumped back up above 4.5 million viewers, peaking with 5.19m (25.2%) at 21:30. The combined peak of 5.19 million viewers is the highest peak audience since the 2015 Brazilian Grand Prix! At the time of the peak, 4.13m (20.0%) were watching on Channel 4, with 1.06m (5.1%) watching via Sky, a split of 80:20 in Channel 4’s favour. In further good news, an average of 4.39m (21.4%) were watching the F1 during the 21:00 clock hour across Channel 4 and Sky, comfortably beating BBC One and ITV.

USA marks Formula 1’s fifth audience increase in a row, a brilliant streak. It is therefore unfortunate that next Sunday in Mexico, not only could Lewis Hamilton win the championship, but also UK’s F1 viewing figures could come crashing back down thanks to highlights of the race being aired in a graveyard time slot.

Qualifying
Live coverage of qualifying suffered due to its late time slot, resulting in a clash with the BBC’s Match of the Day highlights programme.

An audience of 1.18m (7.0%) watched Channel 4’s live broadcast from 21:00 to 23:30, with a further 315k (1.9%) watching via Sky Sports’ F1 and Mix channels. The combined average audience of 1.50 million viewers is marginally up on last year’s average of 1.31 million viewers. But even so, compared to the race day average, the qualifying number is nothing to shout about.

Evidence of the late slot affecting audiences comes with the qualifying peak, which occurred at the end of Q1, with a combined audience of 2.21m (13.0%) watching. You would normally expect the audience to further grow heading towards Q2 and Q3, but that did not happen here due to the late finish and the football clash as noted above. I suspect the timing, to persuade fans on-site to stay for a Justin Timberlake concert, hurt viewing figures worldwide for qualifying.

The 2016 United States Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.

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2 thoughts on “Formula 1 records highest peak audience since 2015

  1. Even more reason why that penalty that Verstappen got was a poor decision, will it hurt the viewing figures going forward? Anyway, it is even more evidence that the exclusive Sky contract from 2019 is going to hurt F1 a lot.

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