Formula E’s fourth season struggles to pick up traction

The fourth season of the electric Formula E championship struggled to gain viewers in the United Kingdom, overnight audience figures suggest.

For the first time, Eurosport aired live coverage of the series in the UK, with every race covered besides the Paris E-Prix, which aired on tape delay.

Channel 5 provided free-to-air coverage for the second season running. However, the championship received less than optimal coverage from the broadcaster, with some races demoted to 5Spike, and others not aired live.

Race Date Live Highlights
Hong Kong (R1) 02/12/2017 n/a Channel 5 (tape-delay)
Hong Kong (R2) 03/12/2017 n/a Channel 5 (tape-delay)
Marrakesh 13/01/2018 Channel 5 n/a
Santiago 03/02/2018 5Spike n/a
Mexico City 03/03/2018 5Spike Channel 5
Punta del Este 17/03/2018 Channel 5 n/a
Rome 14/04/2018 5Spike Channel 5
Paris 28/04/2018 5Spike Channel 5
Berlin 19/05/2018 Channel 5 n/a
Zurich 10/06/2018 Channel 5 n/a
New York (R1) 14/07/2018 5Spike n/a
New York (R2) 15/07/2018 5Spike Channel 5

Of the twelve races in total, four aired live on Channel 5, six aired live on 5Spike, whilst the season opening Hong Kong E-Prix double header aired in tape-delay form on Channel 5. When races aired live on 5Spike, Channel 5 committed to airing a 60-minute programme the following day. The exceptions were Santiago and the first race of the New York weekend, the latter failed to make the air following a technical error.

The Rome and Paris rounds of the championship clashed with live coverage of the Aviva Premiership Rugby, where Channel 5 have a contract to air five live games per season. Considering Formula E announced their calendar months in advance, and the final set of rugby games was announced in March, Channel 5 could, and should have, avoided Formula E weekends.

Having four Saturday’s of sporting action is better than two Saturday’s where they are competing against themselves for the same demographic. If anything, it demonstrates a serious level of incompetence from Channel 5. With inconsistent scheduling, channel switches, and large gaps between some rounds, it is little wonder that Formula E has struggled to gain traction this season.

Where Channel 5’s main channel did not air coverage live, this site has accounted for 5Spike’s live coverage, combined with the Channel 5 highlights programme that aired on most occasions. Eurosport used Formula E’s World Feed output as the basis for their coverage. Instead of taking the World Feed commentary led by Jack Nicholls, Eurosport opted to use their own in-house team off-tube, usually led by Tom Gaymor and Mike Conway.

Fans cannot watch the race itself live via Formula E’s social media channels, including YouTube, as the existing broadcasting rights restrict this.

The 2017-18 story
The season started with an average audience of 217,000 viewers watching both Hong Kong races across Eurosport and Channel 5, a marginal increase on last year’s figure of 206,000 viewers on Channel 5.

Whilst the tape-delay situation was frustrating at the time, you can see Channel 5’s logic in it: a new presentation setup combined with the time zone difference meaning that a 09:00 time slot is significantly better than a 06:45 time slot.

Viewing figures took a downward turn with Marrakech, which averaged 198,000 viewers on January 13th, a poor figure for an afternoon round. With no highlights programme on Channel 5, Santiago bottomed out at 118,000 viewers across 5Spike and Eurosport.

Highlights of the Mexico City E-Prix on Channel 5’s main channel helped push its combined audience of 290,000 viewers above last year’s figure of 238,000 viewers, with Punta del Este two weeks later (live on Channel 5) also in a similar ballpark.

But channel hunting for Paris and Berlin meant that Formula E never hit 300,000 viewers until the Zurich E-Prix, which averaged 301,000 viewers. The combined peak audience of 412,000 viewers was also the highest of season five.

The season ended badly in New York, with a combined audience of just 69,000 viewers watching Jean-Eric Vergne winning the championship in race one, due to Channel 5’s highlights programme failing to make the air. The second race of the weekend picked up only 146,000 viewers.

Combined average and final thoughts
An average audience of 18k (0.20%) watched Eurosport’s coverage across the whole season, covering 15-minutes of build-up and some post-race reaction. The highlight for Eurosport was the Santiago E-Prix in February, which averaged 32k (0.17%), peaking with 65k (0.35%).

Formula E for Eurosport, in the United Kingdom at least, is filler and nothing more, part of a wider pan-European deal. If anything, Eurosport’s audience figures show that Formula E needs a free-to-air deal in this country otherwise the series will sink without trace.

Collectively, Channel 5’s coverage attracted a weighted average of 177k (1.8%) across the 12 rounds, a significant decrease on season three’s audience of 280k (2.6%), following the same trajectory that ITV’s coverage faced between their first two seasons, although it should be noted that ITV did not mess with the scheduling in the same way that Channel 5.

When Formula E airs live on 5Spike, the championship loses three-quarters of its audience. The races that Channel 5 aired live, including Hong Kong’s tape-delayed coverage, averaged 220k (2.2%), whilst 5Spike’s live races attracted 61k (0.46%). It is also worth pointing out that Formula E consistently rated below both Channel 5’s and 5Spike’s respective slot averages.

A combined audience of 196,000 viewers watched Channel 5’s and Eurosport’s season four coverage of Formula E, a hefty decrease of 30 percent on the 2016-17 average audience of 280,000 viewers. The audience is an increase on season two’s average audience of 138,000 viewers when the championship aired live on ITV4, but down on season one’s average of 216,000 viewers.

When factoring in ITV’s highlights programming, season four is likely to be the lowest on record for Formula E in the UK. Where could live free-to-air coverage of Formula E be heading next in the UK? Head over here to find out…

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9 thoughts on “Formula E’s fourth season struggles to pick up traction

  1. I think it’s been clear for a while that the U.K. is unfortunately probably the toughest market for the championship, and that is borne out in the sales of EVs here which are not growing like PHEVs are. Which is the opposite of other countries,

    We’re a deeply conservative country (not all of us, and we’re in a gradual process of recovery from that) so it will take time. And that’s before C5s total mismanagement and lack of belief in the series. They did an even worse job with scheduling than ITV did, and they didn’t believe in it either. Vernon Kay did a great job, so props to him. It’s not his fault. When you put the series on a channel like Spike with such a tiny audience share, you can’t expect much at all.

    Everyone involved just needs to keep plugging away, and if they do indeed get a deal with Channel 4, then we’ll be seeing a monumental increase next season. While also seeing continued growth in more progressive markets where they actually get EVs rather than run away screaming in panic.

    • Also, has anyone else reading this watched every single FE race since the beginning as I have. I’d really like to know how many of us hardcore fans there are. Probably not many but it’s something I’ve been thinking about lately.

      • I have. I miss the days of season one where I’d just watch it live on the YouTube stream. These days I always watch qualifying on YouTube. (As well as the odd practice session) It’s a shame that ITV must have complained that they were losing viewers to YouTube even though it’s clear that they didn’t really care about FE anyway. (Their low effort Magazine show is testament to that)

        I suspect things would be better on Channel 4 but I think it’s deeply unrealistic to expect all of the F1 viewership there to start watching Formula E; it’s not going to be impressive to start out with. Especially if my boycott of the Riyadh E-Prix gains any traction. (Although I doubt that it will) However we should hopefully see some growth as the season goes on. FE are always citing online figures/hits and their overall viewership, which I think personally is unreliable and easily manipulated.

      • I didn’t know you could watch the races on YouTube back in season 1. I used to watch practice and qualifying on YouTube (or now sometimes Facebook) and then switched to TV for the race.

        I don’t expect all C4 F1 viewers to switch to FE. But I do expect a big bump just because C4 is a far bigger channel, and also I expect a small amount of F1 viewers to come across.

        I won’t be boycotting that race for sure. They should have allowed women to drive equally with men from the start of course. But the championship can go there and send a great message about sustainability and equality so that’s great. Susie Wolff is happy with it so I don’t see why anyone else wouldn’t be.

  2. It isn’t just about women being allowed to drive though is it? It’s about Formula E holding a race in an active warzone whilst Yemen fires missiles at it; (Yes, usually they are intercepted, but not always) and after Riyadh launched a strike killing 30 children in a school bus, I’d bet the house that they will retaliate. Not to mention the way the Saudis lifted the ban on women drivers but also imprisoned Saudi women who had been campaigning for the right to let women driver for decades. When Canada requested last week that human rights activists be released, Riyadh used sanctions on them, and sent all their students studying in Canada home. The message is clear: Don’t talk about human rights to the Saudis or they will punish you.

    I’m not surprised that Susie “Marry my way to an F1 test” Wolff isn’t bothered; she’s not the one who can’t do anything without the permission of her male guardian. People like Wolff have let the debate become: “The problem with Saudi Arabia is that they don’t let women drive” rather than “The problem with Saudi Arabia is that they publicly execute gay people and have no respect for basic fundamental human rights”. As far as I’m concerned Formula E is legitimising the regime, not changing it. Don’t be so naive to think that any motorsport series, even Formula E, can make a backwards and barbaric regime suddenly become progressive; it’s all an illusion whilst activists are locked up and dissent is repressed.

    • I don’t know about any of that. I just want to watch racing. I’d prefer if they did it somewhere less controversial, but it’s not up to me. It seems to be a good reason to protest though so well done to you for being more principled than me in this case.

  3. Really nice analysis here, thanks for this post.

    “Formula E for Eurosport, in the United Kingdom at least, is filler”

    Not much evidence it’s any more than that for Channel 5 either, it’s more likely to be live on Spike and highlights on C5 only around half the time represents a fairly minimal commitment. Eurosport would be the better option if they went with just the world feed comms, trading slightly more pre- and post-race show for the HD and more regular scheduling, but I’ve little desire to listen to the Tom Gaymor commentary over Nicholls and Franchitti.

    With hindsight the Hong Kong tape delay is even more frustrating than it was at the time as now its clear most races were going to be live on Spike anyway, they should have been able to just put HK live on Spike too and then run the tape delay on C5 a few hours later.

  4. There’s very little interest in Formula E in the UK, it’s as simple as that. It’s got nothing to do with how a TV station promotes it or which FTA channel it broadcasts on. If you’re interested in Formula E, or any motorsport for that matter, then you’ll know where and when the race is on.
    Therefore the 61k average that it’s attracted on 5Spike is more than likely the true level of those who are genuinely interested in it.
    I’ve watched Formula E from the beginning, not all races because I struggle to maintain interest in it. The problem is that it’s slow, it looks even slower with the camera angles, the ‘circuits’ are woeful, the calendar is erratic etc.
    Manufacturers are jumping in not because they want to, but because they need to be seen to and it is very cheap exposure.

  5. It’s a shame that Santiago got the lowest viewing figures, as it was the best race of the season!

    I found C5/5S’s haste to get off air intensely annoying… I ended up recording both theirs and Eurosport’s coverage as, for all their sins, ES would generally stick with the world feed right up to the end of the podium. They’d also sometimes have more pre-show that wasn’t just Vernon Kay interviewing Hollywood celebrities.

    I just wish that ES would take the Varsha/Nicholls/Franchitti comms. There’s no need for either station to do their own tops and tails: FE seem to provide a superb world feed package with top-notch comms, I just wish there was some way I could access it in pure form, live!!

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