Sky’s Formula 1 viewing figures jump to four year high

Ahead of 2019, Sky’s Formula 1 viewing figures have jumped to their highest level since 2014, analysis of overnight audience figures shows.

> Audience figures static year-on-year
> Pendulum swings slightly towards pay-TV
> Free-to-air still makes up 75% of UK F1 TV audience

All viewing figures on this site, supplied by Overnights.tv, are known in the industry as ‘overnight viewing figures’. These numbers include both live viewers and those viewing on the same day as live (live + VOSDAL).

The audience figures presented do not include viewers who watched Formula 1 via on-demand platforms such as All 4, Now TV and Sky Go. As part of the consolidated numbers that BARB release, they are also now including on-demand figures, however this data set is in its infancy and we should treat it with caution.

We also have no historical comparison for BARB’s on-demand figures, and broadcasters may have a different set of metrics, meaning that it is difficult to say how many viewers watch Formula 1 in the UK outside of the television set – whether it is 5, 10 or 20 percent, perhaps more.

What is clear is that fans tend to view sporting events live, or as close to live as possible, meaning that the jump F1 makes between the overnight viewing figures and the consolidated viewing numbers is insignificant in the broad picture.

Industry body RAJAR processes and releases all radio data separately, including BBC Radio 5 Live. We exclude these figures from this article as RAJAR calculates the data using a different methodology to BARB.

Channel 4’s overnight figures
To work out Channel 4’s average audience across the season, and to provide a fair historical comparison, this site uses their full highlights slot, as well as their build-up and race segments from their live race day programme.

An average audience of 1.84 million viewers watched Channel 4’s race day programming in 2018, a decrease of 1.5 percent on their 2017 average of 1.87 million viewers. With 21 races of the calendar, Channel 4 aired eleven races as highlights and ten races live, the additional highlights programme deflating their average slightly.

The highlight of Channel 4’s season was the United States Grand Prix, which averaged 2.55m (11.9%) from 18:00 to 21:15 on October 21st, although that figure was down 8.4 percent year-on-year. After a bright start to 2018, the last third of the season proved to be Channel 4’s nadir.

Throughout 2018, 2.10 million viewers watched the ten races live on Channel 4, a slight dip on the equivalent 2017 figure of 2.13 million viewers. The Belgian Grand Prix leaped significantly year-on-year, jumping by 30.4 percent to its highest free-to-air audience since 2015, largely a result of torrential UK weather during the August Bank Holiday weekend.

At the other end of the live spectrum, the Austrian Grand Prix dropped by 13.2 percent year-on-year because of World Cup fever that gripped the nation, whilst both the Singapore and Japanese rounds dropped by double-digit percentages as Lewis Hamilton gained control of the championship.

Channel 4’s eleven highlights programmes averaged 1.61 million viewers, in-line with last year’s figure of 1.62 million viewers, although the difference is within the margin of error. Spain and Italy were top of the tree for Channel 4 in this respect, both becoming the most watched highlights show since 2015, a remarkable achievement.

Although not quite on the level of Spain and Italy, China also performed well year-on-year, increasing its audience by 23.8 percent. Like with the live audience figures however, as the championship battle slipped away from Sebastian Vettel, so did Channel 4’s viewing figures with a series of poor performances.

Mexico and Brazil struggled badly in late-night time slot, and again the scale of the drops for both races (down by 38.7 percent and 22.8 percent respectively) meant that any early season gains vanished as the season ended for the free-to-air broadcaster.

The Italian round was the last time until Abu Dhabi that Channel 4 managed to increase its average audience compared with 2017, in other words, Channel 4’s average audience dropped year-on-year for six consecutive races. Compared with 2016, Channel 4’s first year covering Formula 1, all three metrics (combined, live and highlights) are down by around five percent.

Across the year, Channel 4’s coverage peaked with 2.63 million viewers, an identical figure to 2017. Their highlights peaked with 2.20 million viewers, a drop on last year’s number of 2.25 million viewers, whilst the ten live races peaked with 3.18 million, a slight increase on the 2017 audience figure of 3.13 million viewers.

Sky’s overnight figures
The audience figures presented for Sky’s Formula 1 coverage on this site consists of a 210-minute time slot, traditionally from the top of the hour before lights out to the start of their Paddock Live show. For 2018, this slot is 13:00 to 16:30, or equivalent for non-European races.

Sky’s audience figures include simulcasts, which is worth bearing in mind. The latter phases of the season saw Sky broadcast several races on their general entertainment channel Sky 1 as well as Sky Sports F1.

An average audience of 669,000 viewers watched Sky’s race day programming throughout the 2018 season, an increase of 2.6 percent on their 2017 average audience of 652,000 viewers.

Eagle eyed readers will clock that 669,000 viewers also watched Sky’s F1 coverage in 2016, but rounding means that 2018 is Sky’s most watched season of Formula 1 since 2014, although it is within the margin of error. 722,000 viewers watched Sky’s exclusive races in 2018, with 611,000 viewers choosing Sky for races that they shared with Channel 4.

For Sky, it is a significant turnaround on their mid-season performance when 2018 was on-track to be their least watched season ever. Although Spain and Monaco increased their audience by over 20 percent year-on-year, five of the first nine races suffered heavy declines.

As with Channel 4 due to the World Cup, Austria’s viewing figures plunged by 27.9 percent, whilst Azerbaijan (which Channel 4 also showed live) dropped by 31.7 percent year-on-year. Australia, Bahrain, and Canada also did not cover themselves in glory, whilst France’s return to the calendar failed to make an impression.

All of this meant a rather torrid outlook heading into July for Sky. Yet, the broadcaster then went to increase their audience figures for seven of the last ten races. Hungary’s audience figure jumped by 46 percent year-on-year, to become Sky’s second-best race of 2018, and one of their most watched European races ever.

Belgium, USA, Mexico, and Abu Dhabi all recorded double-digit increases in the latter half of the season, with only Italy struggling badly. It really was a season of two halves for Sky, slow out the gates, yet bounced back in superb fashion from Hungary onwards.

Since 2016, Sky’s viewing figures have increased in the latter half of the season on every occasion, even when the free-to-air broadcaster has failed to see an increase. Some of this is inevitably down to the placement of the races: Mexico, USA and Brazil are all in the latter half of the season, and all are in prime time viewing hours.

The difference this year between Sky’s mid-season average and the end of season average is the largest it has ever been at 16 percent (577,000 at half way compared with 669,000 at the end), with Sky 1 simulcasts reversing some of the early season damage. Only Sky will know how many viewers watched their Sky 1 output, who never once tuned into the F1 channel.

Another factor inevitably is the football cycle. The F1 season begins in March as the football ramps up to its conclusion, meaning F1 does not get a look in for casual Sky Sports fans until May. This year, the World Cup meant that Sky’s F1 coverage only found itself with a decent audience after the tournament concluded.

Across the year, a peak audience of 1.09 million viewers watched Sky’s coverage, an increase of 5.3 percent year-on-year. The highlight in this respect for Sky was the Mexican Grand Prix, where a peak of 1.87 million viewers watched Hamilton clinch the 2018 championship.

Despite the positive audience figures to round off 2018, it remains a fact that Sky’s F1 coverage has never peaked with more than two million viewers. Will that fact change with exclusive live coverage in 2019?

Overall audience and final thoughts
The margins between 2017 and 2018’s audience figures are relatively fine, with very little difference, perhaps not a surprise considering the way both seasons transpired on the track.

2018 saw a slight shift from Channel 4 to Sky, which makes a large difference to the Sky’s audience figures, but very little difference to Channel 4’s. After all, when both broadcasters aired live coverage of Formula 1, just over three in every four people chose the free-to-air broadcaster.

A combined average audience of 2.51 million viewers watched Formula 1 in 2018 across Channel 4 and Sky, in-line with the 2017 audience of 2.52 million viewers. Nevertheless, rounding means that 2018 is the least watched season of F1 in the UK on record, at least according to overnight viewing figures.

On-demand audience figures are likely to increase the average closer to three million viewers, but does not close the historical gap compared to several years ago when an average of over four million viewers were watching F1 via the traditional television set.

When F1 aired on free-to-air television as highlights in 2018, a combined audience of 2.33 million viewers watched, compared with 2.71 million viewers when F1 aired live on free-to-air television. Both indicators are in the same ballpark as 2017, with little movement.

Only five races jumped or declined significantly (over 15 percent) compared with 2017. Daniel Ricciardo’s victory in the Chinese Grand Prix helped the Shanghai race increase its audience by 19 percent year-on-year, whilst the Belgian Grand Prix surged by 28 percent.

In contrast, the Austrian and Japanese rounds plummeted by 17 and 21 percent respectively, the former clashed with the World Cup, whilst the latter was a victim of Hamilton extending his legs at the top of the championship mountain.

Overall though, the positives and negatives cancel each other out. During the three-year contract between Channel 4 and Sky, Formula 1 has lost on average just over 100,000 viewers, which is peanuts.

The main thing for Formula 1 is that there has not been a continued, sustained decline during the three-year contract. Yes, the initial drop from 2015 to 2016 was significant, but numbers have held up since Channel 4 have come on-board.

However, even with Channel 4 airing highlights in 2019, expect another audience drop. The worry for Formula 1 is the scale of the drop, as any major drop will send the sport towards an average of close to two million viewers, an alarming number for those both inside and outside of the sport.

Is 2019 the year where the general media starts referring to F1 as a “minority sport” within the UK? Will Sky’s viewing figures rise sufficiently next year, and if not, will Sky choose to pull the plug on Channel 4’s highlights contract before 2020? It is all to play for…

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Karun Chandhok joins Sky’s F1 team for 2019 season

Former F1 driver Karun Chandhok will be part of Sky’s Formula 1 team for the 2019 season, the broadcaster has confirmed.

It is Chandhok’s second stint with Sky, having been part of their team in a supplementary role between 2012 and 2014. Chandhok stepped in at various races during the three seasons to provide expert analysis on the Sky Pad.

Not long after he left Sky, Chandhok was back on the UK radar, this time with Channel 4 from 2016 to 2018. His Channel 4 role was a considerable step up for Chandhok, as he became the broadcaster’s regular pit lane reporter during every race weekend.

Now, with Channel 4 stepping out of the live limelight (for all but one race), Chandhok makes the jump back to Sky for 2019.

Chandhok, who recently became a father for the first time, said, “I’m very excited to be re-joining the Sky Sports F1 team from the 2019 season. With their long-term commitment to Formula 1 and the team of people that’s in place, it’s a great time to return.”

“I believe that I’ve been able to develop and offer viewers a unique perspective of someone with a technical, strategic and historical knowledge of the sport combined with the experience of 18 years of driving racing cars.”

Scott Young, Sky’s Head of Formula 1, added, “We are delighted that Karun has decided to return to Sky Sports F1. Our team is renowned for their knowledge and credibility and Karun, who is a familiar and respected member within the paddock, will elevate our ability to tell the F1 story as it unfolds live across our screens.”

“This is an exciting time to be a part of the sport and our commitment to our customers is our daily focus as we prepare for a new era in live F1 coverage.”

It is the second announcement for Sky in quick succession, having announced Jenson Button’s arrival a few weeks ago. Unless Young axes anyone from Sky’s team between now and Australia, their on-air team stands at 14 people:

  • Simon Lazenby (Presenter)
  • Natalie Pinkham (Pitlane)
  • David Croft (Commentator)
  • Martin Brundle (Commentator + Pundit)
  • Anthony Davidson (Pundit)
  • Damon Hill (Pundit)
  • Jenson Button (Pundit)
  • Johnny Herbert (Pundit)
  • Karun Chandhok (Pundit)
  • Nico Rosberg (Pundit)
  • Paul di Resta (Pundit)
  • Ted Kravitz (Pitlane)
  • Craig Slater (Sky Sports News)
  • Rachel Brookes (Sky Sports News)

With 21 races on the calendar, it is clear that Sky need more on-air personnel to cope with the ever-expanding Grand Prix schedule. However, there is also a possible element of “too many cooks” here.

Chandhok is a fantastic addition to Sky’s line-up, if there was one person I thought Sky should try to grab, it was him. I really hope Sky use him well across the Grand Prix season, not only using his expertise for Formula 1, but also for their Formula Two and Formula Three output, which I really hope benefits from the additional on-air personnel.

An expanded team should give Sky the capability to do more throughout the weekend, so that their product is more all rounded than what is currently on offer to fans. Of course, this assumes Sky are not quietly dropping anyone as mooted a few months ago

Inevitably, Chandhok’s departure from Channel 4 raises the question of who is going to be part of their line-up. With only one race, departures were expected.

At a minimum, Channel 4’s production team (whether it is Whisper Films or someone else) need a presenter, a commentator, a pundit who can double up as a commentator, and a reporter.

I understand that there are further changes afoot as well at Whisper where Channel 4’s F1 coverage is concerned, which I am currently working to confirm.

Scheduling: The 2018 Ad Diriyah E-Prix / Christmas reviews

A bass riff may not accompany Formula E, nor may it be airing on one of the BBC’s traditional television outlets, but nevertheless, the electric series takes a major step into the future as season five begins, with live coverage across the BBC’s digital platforms.

The start of the 2018-19 season takes the championship to a new, perhaps controversial, location as the series descends on Saudi Arabia for the Ad Diriyah E-Prix.

For UK fans, as well as the BBC and incumbents Eurosport, the actions airs live on BT Sport and YouTube for the first time. The BBC’s coverage is of the race itself, from the five-minute sting to after the chequered flag, excluding the pre-race festivities.

In a departure from last season, Eurosport are taking the World Feed commentary with Bob Varsha, Jack Nicholls and Dario Franchitti, a surprise considering Eurosport usually provide their own commentary feed for motor racing events.

However, BT Sport is the only UK television station that will air every Formula E session live, including the Shakedown on Friday afternoons, as well as practice on Saturday mornings. For non-BT Sport fans, the good news is that every session airs live via YouTube. Additionally, highlights air on Discovery-owned channel Quest following their Football League highlights show on Saturday, with a repeat on Sunday morning.

Vernon Kay and Nicki Shields complete the World Feed line-up. Kay stays in the Formula E paddock after impressing as Channel 5’s presenter last season. Last year, North One Television produced Channel 5 output, North One also forming part of Formula E’s worldwide output alongside Aurora.

Laurence McKenna hosts the tailored YouTube race programme, called ‘Voltage’, with Becky Evans alongside him. Neither are names regular readers will recognise, but both are young and active in the car scene on social media, and are exactly the right people to grow Formula E’s presence amongst the younger generation.

Red Bull profiled Evans here, whilst McKenna has presented a variety of social media output and podcasts in the past few years. KSI and Zerkaa, who form part of the Sidemen (a group of YouTube personalities), join McKenna and Evans in the YouTube London hub.

Elsewhere, December is packed with season reviews. BT Sport are going the extra mile with their MotoGP review show airing live from The Bike Shed in London. Suzi Perry presents as usual, with special guests including Bradley Smith, Sam Lowes, and triple MotoGP champion Jorge Lorenzo.

Sky’s F1 review show premieres on Christmas Eve, whilst Channel 4 are not airing a formal Christmas show following their short review during the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend.

Formula E – Ad Diriyah
All sessions air live via YouTube and the following UK channels…
14/12 – 11:45 to 12:30 – Shakedown (BT Sport 1)
15/12 – 04:00 to 04:45 – Practice 1 (BT Sport/ESPN)
15/12 – 06:00 to 06:45 – Practice 2 (BT Sport/ESPN)
15/12 – 07:30 to 09:00 – Qualifying (BT Sport/ESPN and Eurosport 2)
15/12 – 11:00 to 13:30 – Race: World Feed
=> live on BBC’s digital platforms from 12:00
=> live on BT Sport/ESPN
=> live on Eurosport 2
15/12 – 11:30 to 13:10 – Race: Voltage (YouTube)
15/12 – 22:30 to 23:30 – Highlights (Quest)

Jaguar I-Pace eTrophy Series – Ad Diriyah (BT Sport/ESPN)
15/12 – 04:45 to 05:30 – Qualifying
15/12 – 09:30 to 10:30 – Race

MotoGP (BT Sport 2)
09/12 – 19:30 to 21:00 – Season Review

BBC Radio F1
TBC – Season Review

Sky Sports F1
24/12 – 19:00 to 21:00
=> 19:00 – Fernando Alonso: What’s Next?
=> 20:00 – Season Review

In the run-up to Christmas, keep an eye on this post in the event of any changes to the review programming over the festive period.

Tracking BBC’s and Channel 4’s Formula 1 picks from 2012 to 2018

Over the past seven years, the BBC and Channel 4 have negotiated with Sky on a yearly basis to decide which races they would like to broadcast live, and which races they will air in highlights form.

The picking process is complex, and required compromise, strategic thinking, and scheduling discussion with other departments to avoid significant clashes. For example, a live Formula 1 race on free-to-air television clashing with an England World Cup game would not be in anyone’s interests.

With seven years of data, we have enough information to work with to pick out some trends. Which races were popular with free-to-air broadcasters, and which races failed to scratch the surface? In addition, is there any correlation between a driver winning, and the race airing live on free-to-air television in the UK? The second part is not entirely serious, the analysis was more out of intrigue rather than trying to seriously suggest there was a genuine pattern.

For readers unfamiliar, the pick process worked as follows:

  • BBC / Channel 4 make three live picks
  • Sky make three exclusively live picks
  • BBC / Channel 4 make one live pick
  • Sky make one exclusively live pick
  • BBC / Channel 4 makes one live pick
  • Sky make one exclusively live pick

The process continues until there are no more races to select. The free-to-air broadcaster cannot air three races live consecutively, and similarly Sky cannot air three races exclusively live in a row. In the end, there should be a balance of races live on free-to-air television, with no skew towards one way or the other.

Both sides have their priorities, and restrictions because of the rules around the process. 139 races have taken place across the seven seasons, 25 distinct races, whilst 15 races have kept their place on the Formula 1 calendar between 2012 and 2018.

There are some obvious skews to this data, in that the free-to-air broadcaster aired the British Grand Prix as well as the final race of the season live every year as part of the agreement.

Hamilton and Mercedes more likely to win when F1 airs exclusively live on pay-TV
If you are hoping for a competitive 2019 when F1 moves primarily onto pay television, look away now. Since 2012, 68 races aired live on free-to-air television, with the other 71 airing in highlights form.

Of the races that aired in highlights on free-to-air, Mercedes have won 61 percent of them, compared to 51 percent when F1 airs live on free-to-air. In 2016, Mercedes were victorious in all the races that Channel 4 aired as highlights, with the only two non-Mercedes victories (by Red Bull in Spain and Malaysia) airing live on Channel 4.

UK F1 - wins between 2012 and 2018

Overall, the chances of Red Bull and Ferrari winning increases by 7 and 5 percentage points respectively when F1 airs live on free-to-air compared to in highlights form. This season, Mercedes won eleven races, of which seven aired exclusively live on Sky. Four of Ferrari’s victories aired live on Channel 4, with their other two (Australia and Canada) covered exclusively live by Sky.

In a parallel universe where only races that aired live on free-to-air television in the UK counted towards the F1 championship, Sebastian Vettel comes within a whisker of winning the championship, losing out to Lewis Hamilton by just eight points.

Unfortunately for Vettel, it is not quite as simple as that, as in the ‘Sky exclusive’ championship, Hamilton waltzes away with an 80-point lead, Vettel finishing the season in a four-way scrap for second, also involving Valtteri Bottas, Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen, separated by just six points!

It does, however, highlight the absurdness of the 2012 to 2018 deal. Imagine choosing to only watching the races that aired on free-to-air television live, you would be bemused as to how Hamilton won the 2018 championship relatively comfortably in the end.

Although Vettel did not have it all his own way in 2018, the balance of wins for him between free-to-air and pay-TV is similar at 15 and 16 wins respectively over the course of the seven year period. Both Hamilton, and ex-Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg’s win ratios skew towards pay-TV, whilst Daniel Ricciardo skews in the opposite direction.

Of course, races such as Austria, China and Italy have traditionally been pay-TV strangleholds, as well as Mercedes’ playground, explaining some of the skews in play here.

UK F1 - 2018 points

Australia left out in the cold
Since 2012, there have been 31 early morning races, 77 afternoon races and 30 prime time races for UK fans.

If you liked your early morning doses of Formula 1, the 2012 to 2018 contract did not live up to expectation, with only 12 of the 31 races (or 39 percent) of them airing live on free-to-air television.

Despite being the season opener on all seven occasions, the Australian Grand Prix had a raw deal from the BBC and Channel 4, the race has now not aired live on free-to-air since 2011.

More recently, the Chinese round did not receive good treatment, only airing live in 2012 and 2013. Despite a similar timeslot to China, the Japanese Grand Prix received a much better bite of the cherry, airing live in four out of the 7 seasons.

13 of the 30 prime time races aired live on either the BBC or Channel 4, whilst 55 percent of all afternoon races between 2012 and 2018 (42 out of 77 races) aired live on free-to-air television.

Airing the early morning races as highlights made little difference to the fan at home, but airing the prime-time evening races in highlights form several hours later meant a very late night for UK fans without Sky.

Aside from Britain (a compulsory pick), the Belgian Grand Prix aired live on all seven occasions, possibly a result of following directly after the Summer break. Abu Dhabi aired live on six occasions thanks to its season ending time slot, but there was no obvious trend for the other races, this depending on their exact placement on the calendar.

During their time covering Formula 1, the BBC avoided picking either the USA or Mexican rounds live, Sky picking these races as part of their opening set of picks. The pendulum swung their way in the Channel 4 years, but at the expense of both the Canadian and Brazilian rounds, neither of which aired live on Channel 4.

The joys of the system meant that Sky had two or three prime time races locked in from the outset, making it difficult for the free-to-air broadcaster to get a look in.

If you believe statistics can predict the future, then expect Hamilton to dominate the 2019 Formula One season, with around 14 victories to his name. Joking aside, it is fascinating how your interpretation of a given season can differ depending on where, or rather who in the case of F1’s broadcasters, you watched the show with.