After a promising start to the 2018 season, Formula 1’s UK audience figures crashed through the floor during the Canadian Grand Prix weekend, overnight viewing figures show.
Live coverage of the race aired across Sky’s dedicated F1 channel, and their Main Event channel. Main Event were meant to join Sky F1 at 17:30, however this was pushed back to 19:05 as England’s cricket ODI with Scotland overran.
Sky Sports F1’s broadcast from 18:00 to 21:30 averaged 704k (4.2%), an identical figure to 2017, and an increase on 2016’s figure of 620k (2.9%).
What hurts Sky is that their Main Event simulcast performed poorly. An audience of 120k (0.7%) watched the simulcast, compared with 234k (1.1%) in 2016 and 259k (1.4%).
The combined average audience for the live broadcast was 787k (4.7%), down 18.3 percent on 2017’s average of 962k (5.2%), and a slightly smaller drop compared with 2016’s figure of 853k (4.0%).
It is likely that ITV’s Soccer Aid took away some of the floating casual audience that would have tuned into Sky’s F1 broadcast. The charity match averaged 3.86m (21.2%) across a three and three-quarter hour slot for the free-to-air broadcaster.
The race broadcast on Sky peaked with 1.30m (6.8%) at 20:40 as Sebastian Vettel won the Grand Prix, a dip compared to their 2016 and 2017 peaks of 1.41m (6.3%) and 1.47m (7.0%) respectively.
It should be noted that the total television audience dropped compared with previous years, but I would have expected Formula 1 to hold up better and to increase its share in this situation, as live sport tends to do.
Channel 4’s highlights programme struggled, averaging just 856k (12.2%) from 22:40 to 00:40, a decrease on both 2016 and 2017’s average audiences of 1.30m (15.3%) and 970k (11.6%) respectively.
The time slot for all three years was broadly the same, so the scale of the drop is somewhat shocking. Channel 4’s show peaked with 1.26m (14.7%) at 23:10 as the highlights edit started.
The combined average audience of 1.64 million viewers is the lowest average audience in the modern era for a Formula 1 race in the UK dating back to at least 2005.
Realistically, you probably need to go back to the days when the BBC did not air some races live in the mid-1990s, which makes Canada’s number a near 25 year low for the sport in the UK.
Compared with 2017, the combined average audience is down 15.0 percent (1.93m), and down 23.7 percent on 2016 (2.15m).
To show the scale of the problem for Canada, the combined peak audience of 2.56 million viewers is 300,000 viewers lower than the average audience from the Monaco Grand Prix two weeks ago.
Qualifying and Analysis
Live coverage of qualifying aired on Sky Sports F1 from 18:00 to 20:35, averaging 345k (2.7%), a slight bump on last year’s figure of 342k (2.2%).
Channel 4’s highlights suffered in a late-night time slot, averaging 614k (7.9%) from 22:55 to 00:25. Sky’s live coverage peaked with 684k (4.8%), compared with Channel 4’s peak audience later in the evening of 780k (9.5%).
The combined average audience of 960,000 viewers is the lowest for a Saturday qualifying session since the late 2000’s, and the lowest for Canada since 2006.
The above set of numbers do not include Sky Go, Now TV or All 4, which will increase total volumes slightly. However, even including them is not changing the fact that all the numbers are frankly abysmal and a new low for the sport in this country, an especially poor number coming off what has been a positive start to 2018 for Formula 1.
Canada has had a few problems, the main one being that the free-to-air highlights have aired in a graveyard time slot when not aired live since 2012. The problem was exacerbated this past weekend, with Channel 4 prioritising live rugby coverage over highlights of F1 weekend.
However, the fact also that Sky’s television audience is not improving with 2019 fast approaching should be a clear message to Liberty Media that viewers are unwilling to tune into Sky’s pay-TV broadcasts of Formula 1 in large volumes.
It is a problem that needs to be addressed and tackled, one way or the other. Time is ticking…
The 2017 Canadian Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.