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…


News round-up: Perry goes full season for BT; BBC commissions Monger/Zanardi special

As the first half of 2018 concludes following a frantic period on and off the track, here are some of the broadcasting stories you may have missed over the past few weeks…

Perry expands BT Sport’s MotoGP commitments for 2019
Suzi Perry will present every round of BT Sport’s MotoGP in 2019, she has confirmed. In response to a fan question on Twitter, Perry confirmed that she will be in the hot-seat for all of the expected 19 rounds next season.

Perry has shared presenting duties with Craig Doyle since 2016, although Doyle has been part of BT’s MotoGP coverage since its inception in 2014. However, as first reported by Motorcycle News, Doyle is ending his commitments at the end of this season to focus on his ever-expanding rugby commitments with BT.

At the half way stage of 2018, BT Sport’s MotoGP coverage has averaged 117k (1.45%) for its race day programme from 09:30 to 14:15, or equivalent according to overnight viewing figures, identical to last year’s audience figure of 117k (1.29%).

In comparison, an average audience of 403k (2.2%) have watched Channel 5’s highlights programme, a decrease on last year’s equivalent figure of 446k (2.5%). The World Cup has hit Channel 5’s MotoGP overnight viewing figures. Their audience for the Catalan round dropped by 38 percent year-on-year, thanks to a clash with England’s opening World Cup fixture against Tunisia.

Meanwhile over in Italy, MotoGP will be remaining on Sky for the next three seasons.

Formula E’s destination hinges on Channel 4’s Formula 1 future
As of writing, there is no official confirmation or additional information as to whether Channel 4 will continue to air Formula 1 in 2019, beyond what was reported during the British Grand Prix weekend last month.

If you are Formula E, the sooner Channel 4’s Formula 1 deal is finalised the better. I understand that, whilst Channel 4 has shown interest in Formula E, the series may well remain on Channel 5 should Channel 4 retain F1.

A separate obstacle between Channel 4 and Formula E concerns the finances of the contract. During season four, Channel 5 and Formula E agreed to split the production cost, something that is proving trickier to negotiate with Channel 4.

Formula E’s fifth season starts in Saudi Arabia in December, so there is no immediate rush to confirm the UK contract. In 2016, when Formula E moved to Channel 5, the announcement was made just one month before the season began.

BBC commissions motor sport special
The BBC’s World Service has commissioned a motor sport documentary to air across their networks later this year. The one-off special sees Billy Monger meet Alex Zanardi, both of whom had their lives changed following high-speed motor racing accidents.

Following his crash in 2001, Zanardi has gone on to win gold medals at the Paralympics, whilst Monger returned to racing this year after his own accident last year. Jennie Gow went with Monger to visit Zanardi in Italy, and will present the special programme.

The special will air across BBC Radio 5 Live, online and television later this year. Normally BBC World television documentaries also air on the BBC News Channel, so expect the documentary to turn up there, as opposed to one of their general entertainment outlets.

Elsewhere in the BBC spectrum, the broadcaster aired a special technology feature filmed during the Austrian Grand Prix weekend. Their weekly Click programme went behind the scenes, with presenter Spencer Kelly interviewing people from Mercedes and Formula One Management, focusing on the latest developments in F1. If you have 15 minutes spare time, this is worth a watch.

Where next for live free-to-air coverage of Formula E in the UK?

Generation 1 of the electric Formula E series ended last weekend in New York, with Jean-Eric Vergne picking up the season four crown. In December, the next iteration blasts off the starting grid in Saudi Arabia.

For fans in the UK, whilst coverage will remain on Eurosport, the free-to-air home of the championship is again up in the air. I look at where the series may end up…

The UK’s largest commercial free-to-air broadcaster, ITV aired the championship during its first two seasons. Live coverage aired on ITV4, with Jennie Gow fronting the extensive coverage from ITV’s London Studios. ITV4 typically dedicated an hour of build-up to the race, followed by half an hour of reaction following the podium celebrations.

In Formula E’s first season, ITV aired the season ending London E-Prix live on their main channel, to a peak audience of 1.18 million viewers, which remains Formula E’s biggest audience to date. Unfortunately, audience figures slipped for season two, and both sides parted company. This was not all Formula E’s fault, and ITV should take some blame for the drop in audience figures.

Is a return to ITV4 likely? On the basis that audience figures have not improved significantly since ITV left the party, one would think not. However, North One Television have created a well-oiled product on Channel 5 with Vernon Kay at the helm, and persuading ITV4 to get back in on the act might be easier if North One remain involved. After all, North One and ITV have history on four-wheels…

Channel 5
Channel 5 took on the Formula E baton from ITV, in a two-season deal covering the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons. Unfortunately, it quickly became apparent that Channel 5 were unprepared, having had little experience in broadcasting live motor sport.

Eventually, studio coverage did appear, but technically was far behind what ITV had been producing beforehand. With problems from the outset, North One Television coming into the Formula E fold came at an opportune time, as they also grappled control of Channel 5’s live coverage ready for Channel 5’s second season covering the sport.

It was clear though that Channel 5’s executives were not in the game for their second year, with live coverage regularly demoted to 5Spike in favour of repeats on their main channel. In their defence, and regrettably for the series, repeats would regularly out-rate Formula E. I would be surprised if Channel 5 continue to cover Formula E moving forward.

After ditching Formula 1 at the end of 2015, are the BBC likely to get back involved in top-level motor sport? Bear in mind that the reason F1 left the BBC was purely financial, which does not apply to Formula E given that its contract value is currently very small.

Back in March, highlights of the Mexico City E-Prix surfaced on the BBC Sport website as part of efforts from Formula E to try to boost its mainstream media profile in the UK. The BBC described the agreement at the time as a one-off, which remains the case today. Formula E averaged around 300,000 viewers when it aired on Channel 5, so it is feasible that its audience would double if races aired live on BBC Two.

At this stage, I do not see BBC getting involved, at least in the television space. One possibility is that an online-only offering could appear, with television rights heading elsewhere. A presence on the BBC’s online platforms would help Formula E significantly, in turn helping their audience figures wherever Formula E turns up.

The decision here could hinge on whether the metrics for the short-form Mexico highlights were any good. If they were, who knows, maybe an online offering could become a regular thing from season five onwards.

Channel 4
Having filled 170 hours with Formula 1 action in 2017, Channel 4 have a gaping hole in their schedules from next year. Even if the broadcaster airs highlights from 2019, they still have ten empty daytime weekends that need original content and repeats of Come Dine with Me and The Simpsons only go so far.

2018 Santiago EPrix - Vernon Kay and Felix Rosenqvist
Channel 5’s Formula E presenter Vernon Kay interviews Mahindra driver Felix Rosenqvist.

Formula E is a perfect fit for the network and would help fill some of the Formula 1 hole. There are a lot of questions around what Formula E would look like for Channel 4, and arguably until we know the answer with F1, we are unlikely to find out the Formula E answer.

For Channel 4, retaining Formula 1 in some form is their number one priority. The terms of that deal dictate the way forward. Is Channel 4’s F1 programming a Whisper Films production or a Sky Sports one? How long will their highlights shows be? Will Channel 4 take Sky Sports F1’s commentary? Would Liberty Media have a problem with Formula 1 and Formula E on the same network?

Until we know those answers, only then can we start to wonder whether Whisper or North One will produce Formula E for Channel 4 if they are interested in the electric championship. David Coulthard is certainly interested, he has been around the Formula E paddock lately, and did commentate on the Berlin E-Prix back in May alongside Jack Nicholls.

If all else fails, as it appeared to with live coverage of the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June, the fall-back option could be Discovery-owned Quest. Eurosport currently airs Formula E live, so a deal where a specific number of races air live on Quest could be an option.

But for Formula E, this option will send the series into oblivion in the UK and should be avoided. In its fifth season, Formula E still needs free-to-air television more than a free-to-air station needs Formula E. Like in the first four seasons, any new television deal is unlikely to come with a significant financial cost to whichever network chooses to air the championship.

Only once viewing figures and prestige increases can Formula E start to ask for cash. Until then, they are unlikely to get much, if any. Free coverage on Formula E’s social media channels such as YouTube is unlikely as this could be in violation of Eurosport’s current agreement with the series.

Whoever does air Formula E next season, do not throw the series into a graveyard time slot, or onto a sister network because it under performs initially. Give it a hug, wrap your arms around it. Perseverance does pay off and viewers do not come overnight. It takes time, and future Formula E broadcasters in the UK must be prepared to give it that time and not expect big numbers on day one.

Where do you think Formula E is heading next? Have your say in the comments below.

A further piece analysing Formula E’s season four viewing figures will be posted in August.

Scheduling: The 2018 New York City E-Prix

It might not be England in the World Cup final on Sunday, but there is action to interest the Brits over the weekend, as over in America, Sam Bird could become Britain’s first Formula E champion!

Season four of the electric series ends with a double-header in New York as DS Virgin’s Bird battles Techeetah’s Jean-Eric Verge for the crown. In some ways it is the end of an era for the championship, this weekend the last featuring mandatory in-race car swaps.

On the broadcasting front, the action airs live on 5Spike and Eurosport. There are question marks around Channel 5’s Formula E future, with its two-year contract ending after this weekend, and no free-to-air home announced yet for season five onwards.

Formula E – New York (online via YouTube)
14/07 – 12:25 to 13:25 – Race 1, Practice 1
14/07 – 14:55 to 15:40 – Race 1, Practice 2
15/07 – 13:25 to 14:25 – Race 2, Practice

Formula E – New York (race 1)
14/07 – Qualifying
=> 16:15 to 17:40 (5Spike)
=> 18:30 to 19:00 [tape delay] (Eurosport)
14/07 – Race
=> 20:00 to 21:55 (5Spike)
=> 20:15 to 21:45 (Eurosport 2)
15/07 – 10:35 to 11:20 – Highlights (Channel 5)

Formula E – New York (race 2)
15/07 – Qualifying
=> 15:45 to 17:10 (5Spike)
=> 16:00 to 17:00 (Eurosport)
15/07 – Race
=> 19:30 to 21:20 (5Spike)
=> 20:00 to 21:15 (Eurosport 2)
16/07 – 12:15 to 13:10 – Highlights (Channel 5)

The schedule will be updated if broadcasters make any adjustments.

Toyota’s Le Mans victory peaks with 343,000 viewers

Toyota’s first Le Mans victory, with Sebastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and debutant Fernando Alonso at the helm, peaked with 343,000 viewers on Sunday afternoon in the UK, overnight viewing figures show.

Le Mans down on 2017, but solid against World Cup competition
2018 was always going to be a tough year for Le Mans thanks to reduced competition in the flagship LMP1 class, as well as the football World Cup competition getting underway, but the famous race fared solidly.

Live coverage of the race aired in its entirety on Eurosport, with three portions airing on free-to-air channel Quest TV. ITV4’s coverage, which was present last year, did not return for 2018 which should be factored into year-on-year comparisons. However, the level of coverage was like that provided in 2015 and 2016.

The audience figures in this piece exclude those who watched via the Eurosport Player, FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) App or via other online means.

Across all UK television outlets, the whole race averaged 84k (1.3%) from 13:45 on Saturday through to 14:15 on Sunday, which is in the same ballpark as previous years. The audience is lower than 2015 and 2017, when the race averaged 98k (1.5%) and 98k (1.7%) respectively. In both years there was no major football tournament to contend with.

Le Mans was up on the 2016 race average of 73k (0.9%), which should be considered a success, considering 2016 clashed with the Euro 2016 tournament (the weekend also clashed with Formula 1’s European Grand Prix).

Eurosport’s coverage averaged 53k (0.9%) from 13:45 on Saturday, a slight decrease on last year’s audience of 59k (1.0%). It is Eurosport’s worst average audience for the race since 2012, although the margins are tight between the different years. Their coverage peaked with 146k (2.4%) at 10:50 on Sunday, down around 20,000 viewers on the 2017 peak audience of 166k (2.5%).

Unlike in previous years, Eurosport’s coverage did not build its audience in the final few hours, slipping back under 100k at 12:05, and only jumping back above that mark at 13:20. At 13:50, 135k (1.5%) were watching Eurosport’s coverage.

Three separate shows aired on Quest TV. The start of the race averaged 62k (0.7%) from 13:30 to 15:00, down on last year’s audience of 89k (1.6%). Saturday’s evening update at 22:00 averaged 102k (0.8%), an increase of 4,000 viewers on last year’s figure of 98k (0.7%).

The highlight for Quest was Sunday’s live coverage, which averaged 130k (1.8%), peaking with 209k (2.3%) at 13:50, their highest Le Mans peak since 2015.

The combined peak audience of 343k (3.8%) came at 13:55 on Sunday, with the audience split 134k vs 202k in Quest’s favour. The peak audience is down 176,000 viewers year-on-year, some of that a result of ITV4 no longer airing coverage, some of it due to the World Cup.

Even-stevens between BTCC and Formula E
The weekend prior to Le Mans, as well as Formula 1’s excursion to Canada, there was British Touring Car Championship action from Oulton Park and Formula E racing from Zurich, both airing live on free-to-air television on Sunday 10th June.

The touring car action aired on ITV4 from 11:15 to 18:10, to an average audience of 219k (3.0%). Race 1 started at 12:20, averaging 221k (3.7%), with race 2 following on with an audience of 285k (4.0%) at 14:50.

An opening lap accident halted race 3, resulting in a 25-minute delay. 329k (3.2%) watched the delayed race from 17:30 to 17:55, with the peak audience of the day coming at 17:45 as 347k (3.4%) watched the closing laps.

Further up the channel order, Channel 5’s coverage of the Zurich E-Prix averaged 290k (3.0%) from 16:30 to 18:15. The race itself from 17:00 to 17:55 averaged 331k (3.4%), peaking with 396k (4.0%) at 17:25. Eurosport 2’s coverage of Formula E is unlikely to make a substantial difference to audience figures.

It is interesting to note that 70,000 viewers switched from Formula E to the BTCC as race 3 restarted, with ITV4 overtaking Channel 5 at this point. Channel 5 dropped from 396k (4.0%) to 304k (3.0%) between 17:25 and 17:40, whilst ITV4 increased from 275k (2.8%) to 338k (3.3%) in the same period.