The Chinese Grand Prix continued Formula 1’s positive start to 2018, overnight UK viewing figures show.
It was a clean sweep on race day, with both Sky and Channel 4 recording year-on-year increases, across both the average audience and peak audience metrics.
Live coverage of the race, which Sky aired across its F1 and Main Event outlets, averaged 494k (12.1%) from 06:00 to 09:30, a slight increase on last year’s audience of 484k (13.2%). It is Sky’s highest audience figure for China since 2015, when the race averaged 589k (15.2%).
The slight drop in share for Sky’s coverage of the race maybe a result of the BBC’s coverage of the Commonwealth Games, resulting in a higher number of viewers watching television at breakfast time.
Sky’s coverage on the F1 channel averaged 335k (8.3%), with Main Event adding a further 159k (3.8%). I should note that last year’s coverage aired exclusively on the F1 channel, but the impact of a simulcast in the breakfast slot is small regardless.
Daniel Ricciardo’s victory peaked with a healthy 847k (13.4%) at 08:45, a 4.1 percent increase on last year’s peak audience of 813k. At the time of the peak, 541k (8.5%) were watching via the F1 channel, with 305k (4.8%) watching via Main Event, a split of 64:36.
Later in the day, Channel 4’s highlights programme averaged 1.88m (17.6%), a massive 23.8 percent up on last year’s average of 1.52m (18.5%). The audience share is lower as total television audience during Formula 1’s time slot was up by 2.4 million viewers year-on-year.
There are various reasons why the total audience can fluctuate massively year-on-year: the weather, Bank Holiday weekends, football matches, other sporting competition not just on free-to-air but elsewhere, and so on. There is an argument as a result to say that their audience should have been even higher than what it actually was.
However, Channel 4’s audience is the highest for China in the three years that they have been covering Formula 1, so it is a very solid number. A peak audience of 2.48m (20.6%) watched Ricciardo’s victory on Channel 4, also a substantial increase on last year’s peak audience of 2.05m (22.3%).
The combined average audience of 2.37 million viewers is an increase of 18.6 percent on last year’s average of 2.00 million viewers. Compared with 2016, the average audience is up by 12.1 percent, making it the highest rated Chinese Grand Prix since 2015, when the race averaged 3.56 million viewers. Similarly, the combined peak audience of 3.32 million viewers is the highest since 2015, up 15.9 percent year-on-year.
Qualifying and Analysis
For the third race in a row, viewing figures for qualifying dropped compared to 2017.
Live coverage of qualifying aired across Sky Sports F1 and Main Event to an audience of 188k (5.1%) from 06:00 to 08:45. 140k (3.9%) watched via the F1 channel, with the remaining 48k (1.2%) watching via Main Event. This was the earliest time slot for qualifying in China since 2014. Back then, Sky’s exclusive coverage of qualifying averaged 236k (7.1%).
Channel 4’s highlights programme aired from 13:00 to 14:30, with 840k (11.0%) tuning in, a decrease on last year’s audience of 861k (13.9%). The combined average audience of 1.03 million viewers is likely to be the lowest for a Saturday qualifying session since the mid 2000’s.
The audience trends so far in 2018 are very interesting. The great news for Formula 1 is that all three races have increased their audience year-on-year, with Bahrain and China recording three-year highs. Given the events of Baku last year, I think we should expect a small year-on-year decrease for Azerbaijan, but nothing dramatic.
You would expect qualifying to follow the trend, except the numbers for qualifying show that viewing figures are dropping for the third consecutive season, even in the face of increases for the race programming. The format of qualifying has been the same for 2006, and you do wonder if the time for change is coming, as mooted in some quarters.
As always, the UK is just a very small snippet of the overall F1 picture, but it would be fascinating to see if the same viewing trends are happening worldwide.
The 2017 Chinese Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.