MotoGP’s viewing figures in the UK rose during 2017, because of the move of its highlights programming to Channel 5, overnight numbers show.
As regular readers will know, MotoGP aired on the BBC until the end of 2013, regularly averaging around one million viewers. With pay-TV money arguably more important to MotoGP than it is to other forms of motor sport, Dorna left the BBC at the end of 2013, instead choosing BT Sport as their new home, the rights fee rising considerably as a result.
BT Sport has been the sole live broadcaster of MotoGP since 2014, with free-to-air highlights airing on ITV4 from 2014 until 2016. This season, Channel 5 took over the baton on that front, exposing MotoGP to a larger audience in the same Monday evening time slot. The one down side is that Channel 5 also have the rights to some England cricket highlights, which caused MotoGP to air in a midnight time slot for the British round in August, a less than ideal situation.
In 2017, the MotoGP championship battle between Marc Marquez and Andrea Dovizioso went down to the wire in Valencia, with Marquez coming out on top. This was the second season finale championship decider that BT have aired live, the first being the controversial tussle between Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo in 2015.
The BT Sport picture
Throughout 2017, BT Sport’s live coverage of race day, around five hours of coverage in total, has averaged 100k (1.7%), a decrease of around 12 percent on last year’s audience average of 114k (1.9%). BT’s average audience is their lowest since their opening year in 2014, which averaged 90k (1.4%).
All figures in this article are overnight audience figures (live, plus VOSDAL supplied by Overnights.tv, and exclude viewers who watched via BT Sport’s online platform, nor does it include fanatics who may have ventured towards the official MotoGP app to consume their coverage.
The patterns presented above repeated themselves for the other two key metrics: the MotoGP segment and the peak audience. The 18 races, using the 90-minute slot covering 30 minutes of build-up and a small wrap-up at the end, averaged 165k (2.6%), a slightly smaller drop of 9 percent compared with 2016’s equivalent audience of 181k (3.1%). In 2015, BT Sport’s coverage of each MotoGP race averaged 212k (3.6%), meaning that 2017’s numbers represent a 22 percent drop.
BT Sport’s coverage throughout 2017 peaked with 223,000 viewers for each race, a drop on last year’s peak audience of 245,000 viewers. The picture is the same throughout the trends, with BT Sport’s coverage of 2017 slotting in below 2015 and 2016, but ahead of 2014, despite this year’s action going down to the wire. In comparison, live coverage of British Superbikes peaks with around 130,000 viewers on Eurosport, inflated to 190,000 viewers if you include viewers watching on Quest. Contrary to popular belief, British Superbikes does not bring in higher audiences than MotoGP.
Marquez versus Dovizioso not a draw for UK audiences
In 2015, the season finale in Valencia recorded BT Sport’s highest ever audience for a MotoGP race, peaking with 433k (3.9%), a figure that has yet to be beaten. Whilst low compared with the BBC days, the figure showed that there was clearly a portion of the audience who do not normally tune into MotoGP, yet chose to watch the race on that day.
Fast-forward two years, and the 2017 season finale in Valencia peaked with 254k, not far above the season average, and not the highest peak audience of the season either. Live coverage of the season finale across the five hours of coverage from 09:30 to 14:15 averaged 125k (1.5%), with the MotoGP segment averaging 173k (1.9%). The programme average was 25 percent above the season average (and their highest programme average since Austin in April), but the MotoGP element was lower than the likes of Austria and San Marino just a few months earlier.
You normally expect a noticeable boost for any championship decider, yet such a boost did not materialise this year, suggesting that the battle between Marquez and Dovizioso did not appeal to BT’s audience. To put it another way, you may argue that BT not market the battle very well to their audience in other popular junctions (such as football). In 2016, Cal Crutchlow’s two victories helped BT Sport, Britain’s first premier class wins in over 30 years.
Channel 5’s highlights boosted compared to ITV4’s numbers
Highlights of MotoGP averaged 406k (2.4%) on Channel 5 this season, an increase of 42 percent on ITV4’s average audience from 2016 of 285k (1.4%), a pleasing rise. ITV4’s audience dropped across their three years, meaning that compared with 2014’s ITV4 number, Channel 5’s average audience is up 18 percent.
Channel 5’s highest audience in 2017 came with the Australian round of the season in October. The thrilling race, which arguably was the one which helped decide the destination of the championship, with Marquez winning and Dovizioso down in 13th, averaged 487k (2.6%) for the free-to-air broadcaster, peaking with 636,000 viewers. Audience figures like that show why MotoGP needs a free-to-air presence of some form after 2018.
Despite the promising numbers in some areas, Channel 5’s broadcasts lost steam after the Summer break, averaging 365k (2.3%) for the second half of the year, compared with 446k (2.5%) for the opening phase of the season. This impacted on the overall combined figures for the season…
Final thoughts and combined audiences
The switch to Channel 5 helped MotoGP bring in its highest combined audience since leaving the BBC, with an audience of 571,000 viewers watching. As noted above, the second half of the season struggled, with the phase from Austria through to San Marino struggling on Channel 5. An average of 632,000 viewers watched during the first half of the year, dropping to 509,000 viewers for the second half.
The Grand Prix of the Americas from Austin in April brought in a combined average audience of 701,000 viewers (split 475,000 to 226,000), peaking with 951,000 viewers (split 668,000 to 282,000). Including the BT Sport and MotoGP app, it is highly likely the peak audience will have exceeded one million viewers, a major achievement.
Aside from Britain, the Austrian Grand Prix was the low-light, averaging 456,000 viewers, whereas every other race before it had averaged 544,000 viewers or higher.
If the ITV4 trajectory is to go by from 2014 to 2016, then Channel 5’s audience figures might see a second-year dip in 2018. Next year will be fascinating on the MotoGP broadcasting front, as the destination of the series for 2019 onwards should be known, with BT Sport’s contract expiring.
Speaking to this site earlier this year, Dorna did not give anything away, but did say that they were happy with BT’s coverage and in negotiations with them post-2018. But do not rule out Sky or Eurosport snapping up the rights, with the latter becoming a more prominent player in the market. Where MotoGP ends up in 2019, is anyone’s guess.