Austrian Grand Prix falls foul of poor scheduling

Poor scheduling from Formula One Management hurt viewing figures for the Austrian Grand Prix in the UK this past weekend, overnight viewing figures suggest.

Race
The race aired live across Channel 4 and Sky Sports, starting at 14:10 UK time. The latter phase of the Grand Prix clashed with the World Cup round of 16 clash between Spain and Russia, which had an adverse impact on audience figures. Last weekend was the first time Austria aired live on free-to-air television since 2003.

Live coverage of the race averaged 1.52m (15.8%) on Channel 4 from 13:00 to 16:30, their worst average audience for a live European round. Their previous lowest was for last year’s Belgian Grand Prix, which averaged 1.65m (19.6%) in the August Bank Holiday slot.

Sky’s race day show aired across their F1 channel and Main Event from 13:00 to 16:25 to an audience of 423k (4.4%), Sky’s lowest European audience since the 2015 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. 327k (3.4%) watched via the F1 channel, with 97k (1.0%) watching on Main Event.

The race started with 3.25m (35.5%) at 14:15 watching across Channel 4 and Sky Sports, around half a million viewers lower than other European races this season, such as Azerbaijan and Monaco. Nevertheless, the audience remained above three million, with 3.03m (29.9%) watching at 14:55.

However, the audience share dropped rapidly throughout the race, with new viewers heading straight for the football on BBC One. By 15:05, around half a million viewers had switched from the F1 to the football: 2.57m (23.4%) were now watching the Grand Prix, significantly lower than you would expect for a live free-to-air round at this phase of the season.

An audience of 2.50m (21.2%) watched Max Verstappen win the race at 15:30, with 1.87m (15.9%) watching via Channel 4, and 625k (5.3%) watching via one of Sky’s two channels covering the race. The audience dropped more than usual during the post-race analysis: Channel 4’s post-race show averaged fewer than half a million viewers from 16:15 onwards.

The combined average audience of 1.94 million viewers is the third race in a row where Formula 1 has recorded an average below two million viewers. The average is down 16.9 percent on last year’s figure of 2.34 million viewers when Channel 4 aired highlights, although there are clearly other factors in play this year.

Due to the unique circumstances, the peak audience came at the start of the race, with the aforementioned 3.25 million viewers at 14:15, slightly higher than last year’s peak of 3.20 million. At the time of the peak, 2.52m (27.5%) were watching on Channel 4, with 733k (8.0%) watching on Sky. Sky’s own peak actually came at 14:55, 743k (7.3%) watched the race with them during the five minutes before Spain versus Russia started.

Qualifying and Analysis
The audience quickly bolted following the qualifying session, in the same way they did the following day. Channel 4’s programme averaged 948k (12.6%) from 12:55 to 15:40, with Sky’s show averaging 246k (3.3%) from 13:00 to 15:40.

Qualifying itself peaked with 1.95m (22.1%) at 14:55, with 1.46m (16.6%) watching via Channel 4, and 489k (5.5%) watching via Sky’s F1 channel. As soon as qualifying finished, the audience slumped to under one million viewers. By 15:15, 589k (6.2%) were watching analysis on either Channel 4 or Sky.

The combined audience of 1.19 million viewers and peak audience of 1.95 million viewers are roughly around where you would expect given the strong competition and the warm weather conditions. However, both figures are down on last year’s qualifying audience for Austria.

In my piece last week, I mentioned that F1 would suffer trying to face the World Cup, and that is now turning into reality. Why F1 is being stubborn, I do not know. Next Sunday’s British Grand Prix does not face the World Cup; however, the qualifying session could clash with the build-up to England’s quarter-final clash, assuming they beat Colombia tomorrow.

The 2017 Austrian Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.

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9 thoughts on “Austrian Grand Prix falls foul of poor scheduling

  1. Those stats really are interesting reading. Sky have a dedicated channel for F1 yet their viewing figures are poor when put against C4’s stats. With Sky due to take F1 away from the heart of F1, the British viewing public, from next season I feel this will be a very grave mistake by Sky and by F1 in general. If Sky think viewers will flood to subscribe to their platform they will be sorely mistaken, viewers will sadly turn their back on the sport unless C4 manage to somehow put something together to bring F1 back to FTA fir example which looks slim as I doubt that Sky will agree to that. Shame on Sky for trying to monopolise on the pinnacle of all sports, what will it be next The World Cup or the Olympics perhaps?

  2. I have to say I do enjoy seeing lower numbers because I want them to be forced to confront the major issues the sport still faces.

    I think next year not having any races live on FTA TV is not going to help of course. It’s hard to tell how bad it will be though.

    From the numbers we see of people switching straight over to the football in big numbers, you’d have to say that a large percentage of viewers are fickle and not actual fans that watch every race. Will those people spend money to watch on sky? Not likely. Will they watch the highlights of every race? Again, probably not likely.

    At Paul Richard, I remember seeing one of the French drivers talking about how he was surprised the event was so popular since viewership had fallen off after losing F1 from free to air TV over there. I can’t remember who that was but it’s a valid point and shows what we can probably expect here as well. Silverstone will still be sold out, but TV numbers might drop off a cliff.

  3. I have to say I do enjoy seeing lower numbers because I want them to be forced to confront the major issues the sport still faces.
    I think next year not having any races live on FTA TV is not going to help of course. It’s hard to tell how bad it will be though.
    From the numbers we see of people switching straight over to the football in big numbers, you’d have to say that a large percentage of viewers are fickle and not actual fans that watch every race. Will those people spend money to watch on sky? Not likely. Will they watch the highlights of every race? Again, probably not likely.
    At Paul Richard, I remember seeing one of the French drivers talking about how he was surprised the event was so popular since viewership had fallen off after losing F1 from free to air TV over there. I can’t remember who that was but it’s a good point and shows what we can probably expect here as well. Silverstone will still be sold out, but TV numbers might drop off a cliff.

  4. I wonder how low the numbers will go before Liberty & F1 are in crisis mode? 50k a race? 30k?

  5. Have to agree with all of you ! As bad as this sounds, I want the ratings to hit rock bottom because it will be the only way for Liberty to realise that the sky deal will be a massive massive mistake for all concerned !

  6. I have been travelling around quite a bit lately and have therefore followed the past few F1 races (plus practice and qualifying sessions) with live commentary and text reporting on my phone and tablet using the BBC F1 website and (for the times when I was out of the UK) using the BBC commentary on the F1 App.

    I know that it’s down to personal taste, but I really enjoyed listening to the BBC team of Jack Nicholls and Jolyon Palmer. I liked the ‘mates chatting in a pub style’ used for the practice sessions and pre and post race podcasts and I found the qualifying and race commentaries very clear, informative and balanced with plenty of amusing anecdotes and without all the gossip and artificial sensationalism often apparent on Sky and (increasingly) also on Ch4.

    Despite the lack of tv picture, I found that the radio and text coverage actually gave me a really comprehensive ‘picture’ of the race and, based on this experience, I am now preparing to go back to the future and rely entirely on the BBC live audio and website coverage (together with Autosport magazine) for my 2019 F1 fix!

  7. Interested to read Derek’s comments. As a fan of radio broadcasting, and having been the BBC 5 Live summariser and commentator, it was always good to get feedback like this. I always felt that painting the picture and adding to the listener’s imagination was more fun for us and hopefully more rewarding for the listener. And doing it in a fairly chatty style seemed to help both sides as well. Interestingly, this type of comment would increase noticeably at this time of year as potential TV viewers would be out and about, perhaps going to club races and listening in their cars. It was common to hear something like ‘Never really listened to you before. It was good. Thanks.’ which would be really rewarding. Agree with Derek that Jack and Jolyon seem to bond really well; a very important aspect that adds to the ‘fun’ element for commentators and listeners alike.

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