Can BTCC capitalise on F1’s reduced free-to-air presence from 2019?

As the curtain draws on the 2018 British Touring Car Championship this weekend at Brands Hatch, attention will quickly turn to the 2019 season.

Next year is significant from a broadcasting perspective, as BTCC stands with Formula E as being the last two motor racing series with a major live free-to-air presence on UK television. From 2019, only one F1 race will air live on free-to-air television. But, can BTCC take advantage of the opportunity that lies in front of them, and grasp it with both arms?

On-track, the championship is in an excellent position, and has been for many years. “The BTCC has been in a dominant position in this country since the early 90’s. We’re going through a real boom period currently, with a full grid of 31 cars,” series director Alan Gow tells me.

“We’ve struck a terrific combination of the way our technical and sporting regulations all work, we’re delivering what people want to see. The series is absolutely in rude health.”

The BTCC headlines a packed weekend of action, with a variety of support races on action to whet the appetite. Whether it is the Renault Clio Cup, the Porsche Carrera Cup, or the single-seater British Formula 4 series, there is plenty on offer for everyone.

“There’s a lot of entertainment, and it is great value for money,” Gow says. “A family can come along and be thrilled and entertained all day from 9 till 6!”

Although BTCC is the main attraction for fans, ITV4 covers all the action, including support races, as it has done for the past decade. On Sunday’s, the broadcaster airs the three touring car races live, with support races covered either live or on tape-delay, helping the profile of the underclass events immensely.

> 60 years of British Touring Cars: the broadcasting story

Inevitably audience figures ebb and flow throughout the season, with rounds dented by the presence of Formula 1. In yesteryear, the championship did try to avoid the Grand Prix, but this is no longer a consideration.

“In the old days, I used to wait until the F1 calendar was out and then try to avoid the races, but I don’t bother any more. There’s too many of them! We put our calendar out in May, well before the F1 does. The only thing we do avoid is the British Grand Prix,” explains Gow.

Analysis of overnight audience figures supplied by Overnights.tv shows the impact that Formula 1 has on BTCC’s viewership. This site analysed audience figures for eight rounds so far this season, Croft the exception as it clashed with England’s World Cup game versus Panama.

Two of those eight rounds, Oulton Park and Snetterton clashed with F1 races that aired exclusively on Sky Sports. The full ITV4 programmes averaged 219k (3.0%) and 305k (3.1%) respectively. A further four rounds clashed with races that aired live on Channel 4, averaging 173k (1.6%).

In other words, live F1 on free-to-air television can wipe around 30 percent off ITV4’s programme audience for BTCC.

Regardless of whether there is a clash between touring cars and Formula 1 or not, the former regularly peaks with over 350,000 viewers each race day.

The peak metric does not fluctuate as much as the programme average, as the final BTCC race of the day takes place long after the F1 has concluded meaning that the audience level by that stage is similar across the season.

The highest peak of the season so far came with the second Snetterton race in July, which peaked with 529k (5.6%) moments before the Hungarian Grand Prix started.

The audience figures suggest that live F1 predominantly moving to pay-TV will boost ITV4’s touring car numbers somewhat. “Every time we come up against a Grand Prix in our time zone, our numbers in the afternoon will take a bit of a dent for that two-hour period while the race is on, and then increase afterwards,” Gow tells me.

“I think the F1 change will drive more people to the BTCC. We’ll be the only live major motor sport on mainstream TV. The audience that Sky gets for Formula 1 is so much less than what Channel 4 gets, so it will have less of an impact on our audience.”

2018 Silverstone BTCC
Bumper-to-bumper racing always the order of the day for British Touring Cars, here during the second race at Silverstone.

Gow, who himself had interest from Sky in the mid-1990s, takes viewers over the potential financial incentive. “I’m old schools, I want the eye balls, I want people to watch our motor racing, it’s what makes it attractive for teams, for sponsors, manufacturers,” Gow says.

“Taking the money and putting it behind a pay wall just doesn’t sit well with my old school way of thinking. I’m sure our attendances would drop behind a pay wall. That’s what sets us apart from others, the accessibility of it, you don’t have to pay to watch it on-screen.”

Whilst the championship is in the right place within the ITV family due to the presence it provides, is there an argument to suggest that, some touring car action should air on ITV’s main channel?

From the outset, shifting all the action to ITV’s main channel is a non-starter, given that ITV is a general entertainment channel. However, in addition to the current ITV4 programme, airing race three live on ITV’s main channel in a two-hour programme from 16:30 to 18:30 on a Sunday evening could appeal to a wider family audience.

It is not like ITV (1) has forgotten about sport. This year alone, the main channel has aired live horse racing, cycling, and coverage of the Goodwood Revival. Notably, ITV placed a lot of effort behind the resurrection of the popular World of Sport Wrestling brand, which was a household name in yesteryear.

However, audiences reacted negatively to the wrestling show. The first episode aired in a Saturday evening time slot at 17:00, attracting around one million viewers. Audience figures quickly slumped by half, with ITV slowly moving the show further into a daytime slot.

Prior to its launch, WOS Wrestling benefited from cross-promotion on ITV’s daytime shows, such as Good Morning Britain and This Morning, as do many of their other sports brands that air live on ITV’s main channel. Why does BTCC not get the same level of attention?

With live Formula 1 primarily on pay television from 2019, now is a good a time as any to experiment more with touring cars and to give it a bit more love and attention across the ITV network. To the contrary, one might argue that, ITV’s BTCC coverage is fine as-is, so what is there to fix?

Whether ITV’s higher-ups beyond the sports division have fallen out with motor sport, giving motor racing a wide berth from their main channel where live coverage is concerned (see also: Formula E), is unclear. For the moment, Gow is clear that BTCC will remain on ITV4.

“We take a lot of air time on ITV4, and you can’t take seven or eight hours out of ITV,” Gow continued. “We want to make ITV4 the destination for touring car fans. ITV shows our highlights programme, and that gets good numbers. Of course, if ITV said to me ‘we’d like to do this,’ I wouldn’t say no, but there’s absolutely no plans at all to do it.”


Gow is happy with BTCC’s current partnership with ITV. “We have such a great relationship with ITV, and I’m very proud of that relationship. At the time they’d signed it, they had never signed a five-year sports deal, so it was a ground-breaking thing for them. They had the faith in us, and were confident in dealing with us.”

“We never relax, but importantly it means the teams know what the championship looks like for the next five years. They have the comfort of knowing what the broadcast arrangements are so they can build their teams and build their business, and that’s really important.”

It is an impossible question as to how many people, if any, new or old, are likely to seek out BTCC again because of Formula 1 moving to pay-TV. ITV commentator David Addison says that touring cars cannot fill the gap ‘like for like’, but for very good reason.

“You are comparing two very different categories, a race that can be up to two hours against one that is 20 minutes. BTCC is elbows out, crash and bash, push and spin, nudge and overtake, drama, tyres, reverse grids, heroes and villains, it’s a bit like apples and pears comparing F1 with touring cars, that’s perhaps why we can’t fill that gap like for like,” Addison comments.

“But if you want to watch motor racing on a Sunday afternoon, I think more people these days come away buzzing about a touring car race than an average Grand Prix.”

Can BTCC capitalise on Formula 1’s live free-to-air demise? They, and ITV, would be foolish not to…

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“No plans” for live BTCC to air on ITV’s main channel in 2019

Live coverage of the British Touring Car Championship is set to remain on ITV4 in 2019, with no plans currently for live programming to move to ITV’s main channel, according to the man who heads up the series.

All the action currently airs live on ITV4, as it has done since 2007, with up to eight hours of programming on race day hosted by Steve Rider. A cut down 90-minute highlights show airs in a mid-week time slot late at night on ITV’s main channel.

With a gap in the market as a result of live Formula 1 predominately airing on pay television from 2019, it raises the question of whether the domestic touring car series can capitalise in any way on the television front.

Speaking exclusively to this site ahead of this weekend’s season finale at Brands Hatch, series director Alan Gow says that he is happy with the current television situation. “We have such a great relationship with ITV, and I’m very proud of that relationship.”

“We take a lot of air time on ITV4, and you can’t take seven or eight hours out of ITV,” Gow continued. “We want to make ITV4 the destination for touring car fans. ITV shows our highlights programme, and that gets good numbers. Of course, if ITV said to me ‘we’d like to do this,’ I wouldn’t say no, but there’s absolutely no plans at all to do it.”

The championship has a deal with ITV taking the series through to 2022, which offers all involved long-term security. “At the time they’d signed it, they had never signed a five-year sports deal, so it was a really ground-breaking thing for them,” Gow tells me. “They had faith in us, and were confident in dealing with us.”

“We never relax, but importantly it means the teams know what the championship looks like for the next five years. They have the comfort of knowing what the broadcast arrangements are so they can build their teams and build their business, and that’s really important.”

On the racing front, organisers may extend the third and final race at some meetings next year, following in the footsteps of Snetterton this season. “We have a meeting with the teams in October and that’s when we will discuss potential options. It’s certainly on the cards,” says Gow.

Keep an eye on this site in the next few days for further analysis on what lies in store for British Touring Cars next season.

Scheduling: The 2018 Russian Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton aims to leave this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix with one hand on the 2018 Formula One championship, as the paddock heads to the Sochi Autodrom for round 16 of the season.

The race airs exclusively live on Sky Sports, and with it there are some changes to usual proceedings. Martin Brundle steps aside for Russia, as well as the Japanese round next weekend. His replacement is unconfirmed as of writing, but expect Paul di Resta to step up again to commentate alongside David Croft for qualifying and the race.

On the scheduling front, Sky have again demoted the first Formula Two race of the weekend, as they did in Hungary, in favour of The F1 Show. The action airs on a tape-delay instead, which when you consider that two British drivers are battling for the championship shows how little some elements of Sky F1 care about the series.

There is no sign yet of Formula Two appearing live behind the Red Button, but I will update this article if the situation changes. A feature with di Resta and Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo from Singapore gets an extended cut on Sky Sports F1 over the Russian weekend, first airing on Thursday evening.

Tom Clarkson joins Channel 4’s team for the weekend, substituting for Lee McKenzize, who is winding down her F1 commitments. Over on 5 Live, coverage is primarily on Sports Extra throughout the weekend due to the Ryder Cup. Also, a reminder for anyone watching the F1 race live, it starts earlier than usual at 12:10 UK time.

Outside of the Formula 1 circles, the British Touring Car Championship ends its season at Brands Hatch, whilst the British Superbike season continues its Showdown phase over in the Netherlands for its annual Assen pilgrimage.

Channel 4 F1
Sessions
29/09 – 16:30 to 18:30 – Qualifying Highlights
30/09 – 18:45 to 21:00 – Race Highlights

Sky Sports F1
Sessions
28/09 – 08:45 to 10:55 – Practice 1
28/09 – 12:45 to 14:50 – Practice 2
29/09 – 09:45 to 11:15 – Practice 3
29/09 – 12:00 to 14:35 – Qualifying
=> 12:00 – Pre-Show
=> 12:55 – Qualifying
30/09 – 10:30 to 15:10 – Race
=> 10:30 – Pit Lane Live
=> 11:30 – On the Grid
=> 12:05 – Race
=> 14:30 – Paddock Live

Supplementary Programming
27/09 – 11:00 to 11:30 – Driver Press Conference
27/09 – 16:00 to 16:30 – Welcome to the Weekend
27/09 – 18:30 to 19:00 – When Daniel Met Paul
29/09 – 14:35 to 15:05 – The F1 Show

BBC Radio F1
27/09 – 20:30 to 21:00 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
28/09 – 08:55 to 10:35 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
28/09 – 12:55 to 14:35 – Practice 2 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
29/09 – 09:55 to 11:05 – Practice 3 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
29/09 – 12:55 to 14:55 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
30/09 – 12:00 to 13:55 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)

British Superbikes – Assen
29/09 – 14:00 to 16:00 – Qualifying (Eurosport 2)
30/09 – 10:30 to 14:15 – Race 1 (Eurosport 2)
30/09 – 15:15 to 17:30 – Race 2 (Eurosport 2)
03/10 – 20:00 to 21:00 – Highlights (ITV4)

British Touring Car Championship – Brands Hatch (ITV4)
30/09 – 10:30 to 18:30 – Races

Formula Two – Russia (Sky Sports F1)
28/09 – 10:55 to 11:45 – Practice
28/09 – 14:50 to 15:30 – Qualifying
29/09 – 15:05 to 16:20 – Race 1 (tape delay)
30/09 – 09:15 to 10:20 – Race 2

GP3 Series – Russia (Sky Sports F1)
28/09 – 15:45 to 16:25 – Qualifying
29/09 – 08:10 to 09:05 – Race 1
30/09 – 08:00 to 08:45 – Race 2

World Superbikes – Magny Cours
28/09 – 08:40 onwards (Eurosport 2)
=> 08:40 to 09:30 – SBK: Practice 1
=> 10:45 to 12:15 – SBK: Practice
29/09 – 09:00 to 14:00 – Qualifying and Race 1 (Eurosport 2)
30/09 – 14:15 to 15:15 – Support and Race 2 (Eurosport 2)
04/10 – 20:00 to 21:00 – Highlights (ITV4)

World Touring Car Cup – China (Eurosport 2)
30/09 – 03:00 to 04:00 – Qualifying
30/09 – 07:00 to 09:00 – Races
=> 07:00 – Race 2
=> 08:00 – Race 3

The schedule above will be updated if anything changes.

Singapore Grand Prix loses over 250,000 viewers year-on-year

Lewis Hamilton’s victory in the Singapore Grand Prix struggled compared with his victory in 2017, overnight viewing figures in the UK show, in what was a poor weekend for Formula 1 overall.

Race
Like last year, both Sky Sports F1 and Channel 4 aired the Grand Prix live over the weekend. However, Sky opted not to simulcast their coverage on Sky Sports Mix, whereas last year the race also aired on Mix.

Channel 4’s coverage, encompassing both the build-up and the race itself, averaged 2.04m (22.1%) from 12:00 to 15:35, their lowest live audience since the Austrian Grand Prix in July. Last year’s programme averaged 2.29m (22.1%) across a slightly shorter time slot.

Meanwhile, live coverage of the race on Sky Sports F1 averaged 661k (7.0%) from 12:00 to 15:30, down on last year’s average across F1 and Mix of 723k (7.0%) across a longer time slot to account for heavy rain during the race. It is Sky’s lowest number for Singapore since 2012, which averaged 566k (4.2%) when the race also aired live on BBC One.

The viewing shares year-on-year are solid, but the raw total audience dipped, showing that there were fewer viewers yesterday compared with 2017. However, analysis of audience figures conducted by this site suggests that some viewers were unaware that the race started earlier than expected, which might explain the total audience differential.

In previous years, Singapore started at the same time as all European races, at 13:00 UK time. Before the 2018 season started, Liberty Media opted to move all races by 10 minutes (so they start at ten past the hour), and move most European rounds one-hour later. There are several exceptions, and one of them is Singapore.

If you live in the UK and want to watch a European-based race live (which Singapore for all intents and purposes is), you assume the race starts at 14:10 UK time. Bad news: Singapore’s formation lap started at 13:10…

Yesterday’s race started with 3.39m (36.9%) at 14:15, a decrease of 527,000 viewers on last year’s opening act of 3.91m (38.5%) at 13:05. Year-on-year, the first 45 minutes of the Grand Prix averaged 3.46m (36.3%), compared with 3.78m (36.7%) last year.

At 14:15, which is when European races have started this season, the audience climbed to 3.66m (37.2%), reaching 3.73m (38.0%) ten minutes later before dipping back off to 3.5 million viewers.

An audience of 3.75m (35.8%) watched Hamilton claim victory at 15:00, with a split of 75:25 between Channel 4 and Sky. At that time, Channel 4’s coverage attracted 2.81m (26.8%), with 944k (9.0%) watching on Sky, although Sky’s own coverage peaked with 991k (10.4%) at 13:25. For both broadcasters, it is their lowest peak audience since Austria.

The combined average audience of 2.70 million viewers is down 10.2 percent on last year’s average of 3.01 million viewers, going against the grain of the past few races. The average however is up on the 2016 figure of 2.38 million viewers.

Compared with 2017, the trajectory looks even worse when accounting for the Premier League opposition on Sky. This year’s race clashed with Wolves versus Burnley, neither big audience draws, whereas last year’s encounter faced Chelsea versus Arsenal.

The peak audience dropped 5 percent year-on-year: 3.75 million last Sunday compared with 3.97 million viewers last year. Again, all metrics are the lowest since Austria. Time will tell if this is the beginning of viewer fatigue for F1 this season as Hamilton stretches his legs at the head of the field.

It is possible that some viewers were unaware that the race started one-hour earlier than other European rounds, hence the low audience at the start of the race. Arguably, the viewing figures for Singapore are the first concrete evidence all season of the new start times negatively impacting audience figures, somewhat ironic given that Singapore’s start time has changed very little year-on-year.

Qualifying and BTCC
Live coverage of qualifying suffered on Saturday, drawing a combined average audience of 1.29 million viewers, down on last year’s audience of 1.45 million viewers.

Channel 4’s programme averaged 1.00m (13.3%) from 12:55 to 15:45, a decrease of 158,000 viewers on last year’s audience of 1.16m (13.8%). An audience of 292k (3.8%) watched Sky’s show from 13:00 to 15:40, in-line with last year’s figure of 294k (3.5%).

The session peaked with 2.06m (25.8%) at 14:55, compared with 2.20m (24.8%) last year. At its peak, 1.54m (19.3%) were watching Channel 4’s show at 14:50, a drop of 195,000 viewers year-on-year. Sky’s programme fared better, peaking with 542k (6.8%), an increase of 73,000 viewers and 1.5 percentage share points year-on-year.

Elsewhere on Sunday, live coverage of the penultimate British Touring Car Championship race day of 2018 on ITV4 averaged 144k (1.5%) from 11:15 to 18:30. The audience ebbed and flowed throughout the day before and after the F1 race.

The first race from Silverstone, won by Sam Tordoff, peaked with 234k (3.2%) at 12:35. During the F1, BTCC’s audience dropped to a low of 40k (0.4%), but rebounded to 144k (1.5%) as the second BTCC race started.

Aiden Moffat’s victory in the third and final race was comfortably the most watched BTCC race of the day, averaging 313k (2.5%) from 17:25 to 17:55, peaking with 344k (2.8%) as the race started.

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

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Belgian Grand Prix records highest peak audience in five years

Formula 1 benefited from poor weather across the United Kingdom last Sunday, with excellent audience figures for the Belgian Grand Prix, overnight viewing figures show.

Race
Live coverage of the race aired on Channel 4 from 13:00 to 16:30, with 2.15m (18.4%) watching, an increase of around half a million viewers on last year’s audience of 1.65m (19.6%) across a shorter 190-minute time slot. It is the highest Belgium figure for the free-to-air component of the audience since 2015, when BBC One’s broadcast averaged 2.44m (22.3%).

Sky simulcast their programming across their F1 channel and Sky 1 to a weighted total audience of 657k (5.6%). Sky Sports F1’s broadcast averaged 582k (5.0%) from 13:00 to 16:30, with Sky 1’s shorter show from 14:00 averaging 104k (0.9%). It is Sky’s highest audience for Spa on record, beating their previous highest of 617k (6.3%) in 2016.

For both broadcasters, the audience shares are slightly down on previous years, the dip representative of a higher viewing audience due to the poor weather conditions experienced across the United Kingdom. However, the dips are marginal rather than anything profound, showing that F1 grew almost in-line with the total audience increase.

The race started with 4.26m (36.1%) at 14:15 across Channel 4 and Sky. Apart from a ten-minute period from 14:40 to 14:50 where the audience level dropped below four million viewers due to British Touring Car Championship action on ITV4, viewing figures remained north of four million viewers. There was a brief surge to 4.23m (34.8%) as the top of the hour hit, before dipping back towards four million viewers.

An audience of 4.04m (33.0%) watched Sebastian Vettel take victory at 15:30. In a parallel universe, the peak could have been closer to 4.5 million viewers if the action on-track was closer, but it was not to be: the peak occurred at the start of the race.

At the time of the peak, an audience of 3.22m (27.2%) were watching Channel 4’s coverage, with a further 1.04m (8.8%) watching across Sky’s two channels, a split of 76:24. Sky’s peak came later in the afternoon, as 1.06m (8.8%) watched in the five-minute segment from 15:25. The F1 channel peaked with 921k (7.8%) at 14:15, with Sky 1 peaking with 180k (1.5%) at 15:30.

It is easily Sky’s highest peak for Belgium ever, beating their previous best of 969k (9.3%) in 2016. For Channel 4, the same fact is true: their peak audience was only 164,000 viewers lower than the BBC’s peak in 2015 of 3.38m (27.5%).

The combined average audience of 2.80 million viewers is comfortably the best for Belgium since 2015, when 2.91 million viewers watched across BBC One and Sky Sports. Last Sunday’s audience increased by 27.8 percent compared with last year’s average audience figure of 2.19 million viewers.

The peak audience of 4.26 million viewers is the highest for the Belgian Grand Prix since the 2013 running of the event when a peak audience of 4.52m (41.9%) watched, a fantastic number. The peak audience increased year-on-year by 22.2 percent, and compared with 2016 was up by 8.2 percent.

To have a peak audience higher than two BBC years (4.04 million in 2014 and 4.15 million in 2015) is highly unusual, and shows just how good Belgium’s audience figures are in the grand scheme of things. Of course, some of that is down to the weather conditions last Sunday, but increases compared to the past two years are now becoming par for the course for F1 in 2018.

Qualifying
Both Channel 4 and Sky Sports recorded slightly higher numbers for qualifying than twelve months ago.

Channel 4’s live broadcast of qualifying aired from 12:55 to 15:45, to an audience of 940k (12.3%), an increase – just – on last year’s figure of 937k (12.5%). The audience for Sky’s qualifying show followed the same trajectory, averaging 269k (2.5%) compared with 262k (2.5%) last year.

The combined audience of 1.21 million viewers is as a result up marginally on last year’s number of 1.20 million viewers.

The bigger difference comes with the peak figure. The qualifying session peaked with 2.09m (25.5%) at 14:55 across Channel 4 and Sky, an increase compared with last year’s figure of 2.01m (25.1%), and the highest for Belgium since 2015.

A peak of 1.62m (19.8%) watched Channel 4’s programme, an increase of 108,000 viewers compared with last year, but Sky’s peak figure of 468k (5.7%) is down 26,000 viewers.

BTCC performs well, but average for Speed with Guy Martin
Elsewhere, live coverage of the British Touring Car Championship from a rainy Knockhill averaged 216k (2.0%) from 11:00 to 18:15 on ITV4 on Sunday, a good number considering the competition. Race 1 averaged 277k (3.5%) from 11:50, peaking with 320k (3.9%).

The second race of the day clashed with the F1, but still fared well, averaging 220k (1.8%) from 14:25, peaking with 271k (2.2%) as the race was red flagged due to the poor weather conditions. Later, 392k (2.9%) watched Tom Chilton win the third and final race from 17:20, his victory peaking with 405k (2.8%) at 17:50.

Impressively, not once during the F1 did the touring car support programme drop below 100,000 viewers, showing how well the extended show works for ITV4 overall.

On Monday evening, a new episode of Speed with Guy Martin, averaged 1.54m (7.9%) on Channel 4 from 21:00 to 22:30, the lowest number so far for Martin’s F1 themed specials.

The show faced tough competition from BBC One’s new drama Bodyguard, as well as Monday Night Football action on Sky Sports between Tottenham and Manchester United.

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

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