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.


F1 slumps to lowest UK audience of modern era

After a promising start to the 2018 season, Formula 1’s UK audience figures crashed through the floor during the Canadian Grand Prix weekend, overnight viewing figures show.

Live coverage of the race aired across Sky’s dedicated F1 channel, and their Main Event channel. Main Event were meant to join Sky F1 at 17:30, however this was pushed back to 19:05 as England’s cricket ODI with Scotland overran.

Sky Sports F1’s broadcast from 18:00 to 21:30 averaged 704k (4.2%), an identical figure to 2017, and an increase on 2016’s figure of 620k (2.9%).

What hurts Sky is that their Main Event simulcast performed poorly. An audience of 120k (0.7%) watched the simulcast, compared with 234k (1.1%) in 2016 and 259k (1.4%).

The combined average audience for the live broadcast was 787k (4.7%), down 18.3 percent on 2017’s average of 962k (5.2%), and a slightly smaller drop compared with 2016’s figure of 853k (4.0%).

It is likely that ITV’s Soccer Aid took away some of the floating casual audience that would have tuned into Sky’s F1 broadcast. The charity match averaged 3.86m (21.2%) across a three and three-quarter hour slot for the free-to-air broadcaster.

The race broadcast on Sky peaked with 1.30m (6.8%) at 20:40 as Sebastian Vettel won the Grand Prix, a dip compared to their 2016 and 2017 peaks of 1.41m (6.3%) and 1.47m (7.0%) respectively.

It should be noted that the total television audience dropped compared with previous years, but I would have expected Formula 1 to hold up better and to increase its share in this situation, as live sport tends to do.

Channel 4’s highlights programme struggled, averaging just 856k (12.2%) from 22:40 to 00:40, a decrease on both 2016 and 2017’s average audiences of 1.30m (15.3%) and 970k (11.6%) respectively.

The time slot for all three years was broadly the same, so the scale of the drop is somewhat shocking. Channel 4’s show peaked with 1.26m (14.7%) at 23:10 as the highlights edit started.

The combined average audience of 1.64 million viewers is the lowest average audience in the modern era for a Formula 1 race in the UK dating back to at least 2005.

Realistically, you probably need to go back to the days when the BBC did not air some races live in the mid-1990s, which makes Canada’s number a near 25 year low for the sport in the UK.

Compared with 2017, the combined average audience is down 15.0 percent (1.93m), and down 23.7 percent on 2016 (2.15m).

To show the scale of the problem for Canada, the combined peak audience of 2.56 million viewers is 300,000 viewers lower than the average audience from the Monaco Grand Prix two weeks ago.

Qualifying and Analysis
Live coverage of qualifying aired on Sky Sports F1 from 18:00 to 20:35, averaging 345k (2.7%), a slight bump on last year’s figure of 342k (2.2%).

Channel 4’s highlights suffered in a late-night time slot, averaging 614k (7.9%) from 22:55 to 00:25. Sky’s live coverage peaked with 684k (4.8%), compared with Channel 4’s peak audience later in the evening of 780k (9.5%).

The combined average audience of 960,000 viewers is the lowest for a Saturday qualifying session since the late 2000’s, and the lowest for Canada since 2006.

The above set of numbers do not include Sky Go, Now TV or All 4, which will increase total volumes slightly. However, even including them is not changing the fact that all the numbers are frankly abysmal and a new low for the sport in this country, an especially poor number coming off what has been a positive start to 2018 for Formula 1.

Canada has had a few problems, the main one being that the free-to-air highlights have aired in a graveyard time slot when not aired live since 2012. The problem was exacerbated this past weekend, with Channel 4 prioritising live rugby coverage over highlights of F1 weekend.

However, the fact also that Sky’s television audience is not improving with 2019 fast approaching should be a clear message to Liberty Media that viewers are unwilling to tune into Sky’s pay-TV broadcasts of Formula 1 in large volumes.

It is a problem that needs to be addressed and tackled, one way or the other. Time is ticking…

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

Channel 4’s F1 highlights coverage draws record audience

Formula 1 continued its ratings resurgence in the UK during the Spanish Grand Prix weekend, overnight viewing figures show.

As with last year’s coverage, live action aired on Sky Sports F1, with Channel 4 airing highlights later in the evening.

Channel 4’s highlights programme aired from 18:00 to 20:00 to an excellent average audience of 2.33m (15.6%). Astonishingly, it is the highest audience for an F1 highlights programme on free-to-air television since the BBC’s coverage of the 2015 Singapore Grand Prix, which averaged 2.77m (16.5%) across a shorter 90-minute time slot.

A peak audience of 3.00m (18.0%) watched the highlights show, comfortably the most watched commercial channel in the time slot, only behind BBC One. Again, this is the highest for an F1 highlights programme since Singapore 2015.

Earlier in the day, Sky’s race broadcast, which aired from 13:00 to 16:30, averaged 653k (8.4%), their highest average for Spain since 2015. It is Sky Sports F1’s highest average audience since last year’s Brazilian Grand Prix.

The Grand Prix peaked with 1.01m (13.8%) at 14:25, the first five-minute segment following the opening Safety Car period, Sky’s highest for Spain again since 2015. Had the race been more exciting, there is a good chance that the peak might have been around 1.2 million viewers.

As it turned out, the audience settled just under one million viewers for most of the race, which is a solid number considering that the Premier League final day fixtures kicked off half way through the race.

The combined average audience of 2.99 million viewers is the highest average audience of 2018 so far, and an increase of 12.6 percent year-on-year. It is the highest average since last year’s US Grand Prix, and the highest for a free-to-air highlights race since the 2016 German Grand Prix.

The peak audience of 4.01 million viewers is an increase of 6.1 percent on last year’s peak audience of 3.78 million viewers, although not quite the highest of 2018, that honour remains with Azerbaijan.

Qualifying and Analysis
Live coverage of qualifying on Sky Sports F1 from 13:00 to 15:35 averaged 322k (4.6%). Channel 4’s highlights programming averaged 1.33m (10.9%) from 17:00 to 18:30, both figures comfortably up year-on-year.

The combined average for qualifying of 1.65 million viewers is the highest for Spain since 2015, with the combined peak audience of 2.46 million viewers following in the same footsteps.

It has been many, many years since Formula 1 recorded consistent year-on-year increases over a sustained period. For the first time, in possibly five or six years, F1 has momentum, and viewers are starting to view the sport, as opposed to deserting it. Whether these are genuine new viewers, or lapsed viewers from yesteryear, we do not know apart from looking at anecdotal evidence.

The concern for Liberty Media however is that it was Channel 4 that saw a record audience on Sunday, and not Sky. Channel 4’s contract concludes at the end of this season, with Formula 1 moving exclusively to Sky, although the free-to-air element of Sky’s contract, and where that will turn up is unclear.

Why the sustained increase? We have been lucky so far in 2018 in that three of the five races have been excellent. Australia did not quite deliver, and nor did Spain, but not everything can be a thriller.

In the last two or three years, we have had great battles, but momentum disappeared in the intervening races. Three great races on the run may have resulting in Spain’s numbers bouncing higher than expected. There is also the increased promotion from Liberty Media across a variety of platforms: are their efforts reaping the rewards?

Next up is the Monaco Grand Prix, which begins a critical phase of the F1 season as the sport begins to battle with the football World Cup and other events for column inches. If Ferrari and Red Bull turn up in Monaco and Canada, the momentum should continue through the early Summer, even if it is at a reduced rate of knots.

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

Formula 1 continues to spark in Baku

The 2018 Formula One season continued to perform well over the weekend in the UK, overnight viewing figures show.

As a prelude to the analysis below, bear in mind that last year’s race was red-flagged and restarted a short while later, skewing the average audience figures slightly as a result.

Channel 4’s live coverage, covering both the build-up and the race itself, averaged 2.38m (22.7%) from 12:00 to 15:40, an increase on last year’s average audience of 2.26m (21.6%).

Unlike last year, where coverage aired across both Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports 1, Sky’s coverage aired only on their F1 channel, and their audience reflects this fact. Sky’s programme from 12:00 to 15:30 averaged 499k (4.7%), a steep decrease on last year’s combined figure of 730k (7.0%), but a slight increase on 2016’s audience of 465k (4.4%).

The combined average audience of 2.87 million viewers is slightly down on last year’s audience of 2.99 million viewers. Last year’s red flag period meant that the race from start to chequered flag took up a larger proportion of the overall programme (two and a quarter hours), inflating the average. The average is up on 2016’s number of 2.64 million viewers.

Arguably, a race in April should be able to attract a larger audience than in June, but there are other factors to account for, such as the weather and sporting opposition, including football and beyond.

The race started at 13:15 with 3.74m (36.0%), the same starting point as last year’s race. Following the start, the audience hovered around 3.9 million viewers for most of the race. As the two Red Bull’s hit each other, the audience in the UK hit four million, 4.17m (36.9%) to be exact, at 14:30.

A small dip followed during the Safety Car period, but once racing resumed, the race peaked with 4.47m (37.7%) at 14:50 as Lewis Hamilton claimed a surprise victory. At the time of the peak, 3.66m (30.8%) were watching on free-to-air with Channel 4, with a further 812k (6.8%) watching via Sky’s F1 channel, a split of 82:18.

The combined peak audience of 4.47 million viewers is an increase of 159,000 viewers on last year’s 5-minute peak audience of 4.31m (35.4%), and an increase of over half a million viewers compared with 2016’s peak of 3.85m (32.2%).

The peak is higher than all but one peak from last year (USA) and higher than all but three peak figures from 2016 (Britain, Mexico, and Abu Dhabi). Channel 4 can take most of the credit for that given Sky’s year-on-year decreases.

Live coverage of qualifying aired on Channel 4 to an audience of 1.20m (13.1%), with a further 268k (2.8%) watching via Sky Sports F1.

The combined average audience of 1.47 million viewers is down slightly on last year’s audience of 1.59 million. However, the combined peak audience increased by over 200,000 viewers, from 2.21m (25.9%) in 2017 to 2.43m (24.4%) this year.

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

Chinese Grand Prix continues F1’s upward trajectory

The Chinese Grand Prix continued Formula 1’s positive start to 2018, overnight UK viewing figures show.

It was a clean sweep on race day, with both Sky and Channel 4 recording year-on-year increases, across both the average audience and peak audience metrics.

Live coverage of the race, which Sky aired across its F1 and Main Event outlets, averaged 494k (12.1%) from 06:00 to 09:30, a slight increase on last year’s audience of 484k (13.2%). It is Sky’s highest audience figure for China since 2015, when the race averaged 589k (15.2%).

The slight drop in share for Sky’s coverage of the race maybe a result of the BBC’s coverage of the Commonwealth Games, resulting in a higher number of viewers watching television at breakfast time.

Sky’s coverage on the F1 channel averaged 335k (8.3%), with Main Event adding a further 159k (3.8%). I should note that last year’s coverage aired exclusively on the F1 channel, but the impact of a simulcast in the breakfast slot is small regardless.

Daniel Ricciardo’s victory peaked with a healthy 847k (13.4%) at 08:45, a 4.1 percent increase on last year’s peak audience of 813k. At the time of the peak, 541k (8.5%) were watching via the F1 channel, with 305k (4.8%) watching via Main Event, a split of 64:36.

Later in the day, Channel 4’s highlights programme averaged 1.88m (17.6%), a massive 23.8 percent up on last year’s average of 1.52m (18.5%). The audience share is lower as total television audience during Formula 1’s time slot was up by 2.4 million viewers year-on-year.

There are various reasons why the total audience can fluctuate massively year-on-year: the weather, Bank Holiday weekends, football matches, other sporting competition not just on free-to-air but elsewhere, and so on. There is an argument as a result to say that their audience should have been even higher than what it actually was.

However, Channel 4’s audience is the highest for China in the three years that they have been covering Formula 1, so it is a very solid number. A peak audience of 2.48m (20.6%) watched Ricciardo’s victory on Channel 4, also a substantial increase on last year’s peak audience of 2.05m (22.3%).

The combined average audience of 2.37 million viewers is an increase of 18.6 percent on last year’s average of 2.00 million viewers. Compared with 2016, the average audience is up by 12.1 percent, making it the highest rated Chinese Grand Prix since 2015, when the race averaged 3.56 million viewers. Similarly, the combined peak audience of 3.32 million viewers is the highest since 2015, up 15.9 percent year-on-year.

Qualifying and Analysis
For the third race in a row, viewing figures for qualifying dropped compared to 2017.

Live coverage of qualifying aired across Sky Sports F1 and Main Event to an audience of 188k (5.1%) from 06:00 to 08:45. 140k (3.9%) watched via the F1 channel, with the remaining 48k (1.2%) watching via Main Event. This was the earliest time slot for qualifying in China since 2014. Back then, Sky’s exclusive coverage of qualifying averaged 236k (7.1%).

Channel 4’s highlights programme aired from 13:00 to 14:30, with 840k (11.0%) tuning in, a decrease on last year’s audience of 861k (13.9%). The combined average audience of 1.03 million viewers is likely to be the lowest for a Saturday qualifying session since the mid 2000’s.

The audience trends so far in 2018 are very interesting. The great news for Formula 1 is that all three races have increased their audience year-on-year, with Bahrain and China recording three-year highs. Given the events of Baku last year, I think we should expect a small year-on-year decrease for Azerbaijan, but nothing dramatic.

You would expect qualifying to follow the trend, except the numbers for qualifying show that viewing figures are dropping for the third consecutive season, even in the face of increases for the race programming. The format of qualifying has been the same for 2006, and you do wonder if the time for change is coming, as mooted in some quarters.

As always, the UK is just a very small snippet of the overall F1 picture, but it would be fascinating to see if the same viewing trends are happening worldwide.

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