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.
Sebastian Vettel’s victory in the Bahrain Grand Prix peaked with nearly 4.5 million viewers, the highest peak figure for the Bahrain round of the championship in three years, overnight viewing figures show.
Live coverage the weekend’s action aired across Channel 4 and Sky Sports. Channel 4’s broadcast, encompassing the build-up and the race itself from 15:00 to 18:10, averaged 2.37m (18.9%), a slight increase on last year’s figure of 2.23m (15.2%). For the purposes of the combined average below, the Channel 4 figure used will be the figure above, the same methodology as last year.
Channel 4’s average audience has changed very little over the past three years for Bahrain. Using the 15:00 to 18:30 time slot as the metric, we can see that the 210-minute slot averaged 2.30m (16.2%) in 2016, compared with 2.21m (15.0%) in 2017, and now 2.25m (16.0%) in 2018, a remarkably stable trajectory with very little to separate the three years.
Meanwhile, Sky Sports F1’s coverage from 15:00 to 18:30 averaged 524k (3.7%), a decrease on last year’s audience figure of 597k (4.1%). The average audience is Sky’s lowest for Bahrain since they started covering the sport in 2012.
The combined average audience of 2.89 million viewers is marginally up on both 2016 and 2017, by 50,000 viewers and 70,000 viewers respectively. The margins here are incredibly tight, although the gap may widen once you consider other methods of viewing, such as All 4, Sky Go and Now TV.
It is important to note that the Premier League opposition for the F1 was tougher last year (Chelsea versus Manchester United) compared with this year (Chelsea versus West Ham United), which will have affected audience figures.
An audience of 3.79m (28.2%) watched lights out at 16:15, slightly lower than 2016 and 2017, settling around the 3.9 million mark, once the Premier League game started from 16:30 onwards. As Chelsea gained the lead in the football, viewing figures jumped for the Grand Prix on both channels to a combined figure of 4.23m (28.4%) at 17:10.
The audience jump coincided with the pit lane incident involving Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, which, combined with the on-track battle between Vettel and Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas, helped figures remain above four million until the chequered flag.
A peak audience of 4.45m (27.2%) watched Sebastian Vettel win the Grand Prix at 17:40. At the time of the peak, 3.62m (22.1%) were watching Channel 4’s output, with a further 830k (5.1%) watching Sky’s coverage, a split of 81:19 in Channel 4’s favour.
Sky’s programme peaked earlier in the race at 16:25 with 884k (6.4%), this being the last five-minute segment before the second Premier League game of the day began on Sky Sports Main Event and their dedicated Premier League channel. Compared with 2017, Channel 4’s peak audience increased by 6.1 percent, whilst Sky’s peak dropped by 8.0 percent.
The combined peak audience of 4.45 million viewers is an increase of 111,000 viewers on last year’s peak figure of 4.34m (25.9%), and an increase of nearly half a million viewers on the 2016 peak of 4.01m (30.2%). However, audience figures remain a far cry from 2015 and before when F1 aired in some form on the BBC: 2015’s race peaked with 6.26m (36.3%).
Qualifying and Analysis
Live coverage of qualifying did not fare as well as the race, with viewing figures decreasing compared with 2016 and 2017. Live coverage of qualifying on Channel 4 from 15:00 to 17:45 averaged 1.08m (9.8%), down on last year’s average of 1.23m (12.7%).
Unusually, Channel 4 was third in its slot during qualifying, behind both BBC and ITV. At the same time, BBC were screening highlights of the Commonwealth Games along with Final Score, whilst ITV aired repeats of Tipping Point and The Chase.
Sky’s programming, simulcast across F1 and Mix, suffered the same fate as Channel 4, with an average of 273k (2.5%) comparing unfavourably with last year’s number of 349k (3.5%). Across the two channels, 246k (2.2%) watched via the F1 channel, and a further 27k (0.2%) watched via Mix.
The combined average of 1.36 million viewers is down 14 percent on last year’s average audience of 1.58 million viewers, the lowest average for Bahrain since 2007. The peak audience of 2.30m (18.5%) came at 17:05, a decrease of 9 percent compared with last year’s peak of 2.54m (22.6%)
Two races into the 2018 season, and overall, minus a few dips for qualifying, it is fair to say that Formula 1’s viewing figures year-on-year so far, are steady. It may be too early to state this as fact, but certainly the indications are that the Halo cockpit protection system has not had any significant bearing on the UK audience figures.
I am happy to hold my hands up and say ‘I was wrong’ where this was concerned given some of the predictions I made at the back-end of last year. Whilst the Halo is not the prettiest thing ever, I have become used to it quicker than I imagined, and it appears I am not alone in that regard.
The 2017 Bahrain Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.
The 2018 Australian Grand Prix, which featured the same one-two finish as the year before, also remarkably had near identical audience figures in the United Kingdom across the weekend, overnight viewing figures show.
As noted prior to the start of this season, this site will continue to use the three-and-a-half-hour time slot, or equivalent, for Sky’s race day broadcasts. For 2018, this encompasses the final half of Pit Lane Live, On the Grid and the race show itself. All audience figures are Live + VOSDAL (Video on Same Day as Live), they include simulcast (+1) channels as well as commercial breaks.
Live coverage of the race, which aired on both Sky’s Formula 1 channel and their Main Event channel, averaged 344k (18.4%) from 05:00 to 08:30. During this period, an audience of 256k (13.8%) watched via the dedicated F1 channel, with 88k (4.6%) watching via Main Event.
Sky’s race coverage across both channels peaked with 562k (20.4%) at 07:30 as Sebastian Vettel won the Grand Prix. This figure includes viewers who recorded the live airing to watch later in the day. At the time of the peak, 418k (15.2%) were watching Sky Sports F1, and a further 144k (5.2%) via Main Event.
Compared with 2017, Sky’s average audience is down by 12.9 percent, and their peak audience down by 11.6 percent. Last year’s programme averaged 395k (22.2%), peaking with 636k (38.7%). The figures are more favourable with 2016, only a slight dip in average (344k versus 360k), but an increase in the peak audience (562k versus 559k).
Seven hours after the race finished, Channel 4’s highlights broadcast averaged 1.71m (16.8%) from 14:30 to 17:15, an increase of 3.7 percent on last year’s figure of 1.65m (20.6%). Whilst an audience increase is always nice, the total television audience year-on-year was up by 2.2 million viewers in the slot, yet Channel 4’s F1 coverage only gained by 61,000 viewers, hence why the percentage share has dropped drastically.
Similarly, Channel 4’s show peaked with 2.15m (18.2%) at 16:40, compared with a peak of 2.07m (26.0%) twelve months ago. Both the average and peak metrics for 2018 are down by around 19 percent on Channel 4’s 2016 Australia audience figures.
The combined average audience of 2.05 million viewers is a very marginal increase on last year’s average of 2.04 million viewers, or to be exact an increase of 10,000 viewers, which is within the margin of error. The same applies for the combined peak audience of 2.71 million, which itself was up 13,000 viewers on last year’s figure of 2.70 million viewers.
Considering the relative heat wave the UK experienced this time last year, to start off on the same level as that is not a great way to start the season. The low audience shares are cause for concern, as the viewers were around on Sunday, they just chose to watch something other than the F1. Australia’s numbers only serve to continue the general downward trajectory for Formula 1 – on linear television at least.
Sky’s qualifying coverage aired from 05:00 to 07:45 across Sky Sports F1 and Main Event to an audience of 252k (13.2%). 181k (9.4%) watched via Sky’s F1 channel, with 71k (3.8%) choosing to watch via Main Event.
Coverage of qualifying peaked with 477k (14.6%) at 07:05 as Lewis Hamilton partied to pole position, in-line with last year’s peak figure of 481k (14.6%). Again, the average for 2018 of 252k was in-line with last year’s average of 254k (12.6%). Both metrics were up around 10 percent on 2016.
Later in the day, a further 1.18m (15.1%) watched Channel 4’s highlights show from 13:00 to 14:50, down 45,000 viewers on last year’s number of 1.22m (18.2%). The broadcast peaked with 1.62m (20.2%), marginally down year-on-year.
The combined average audience of 1.42 million viewers is slightly down on last year’s audience figure of 1.48 million viewers.
The 2017 Australian Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.
The short-form content appeared on the BBC Sport website, as well as their social media channels, prompting speculation that the two sides had agreed some sort of deal. However, this site can confirm that there is no formal agreement yet between the BBC and Formula E, yet.
Speaking to this site, a BBC spokesperson said “The video was used as a one-off, rather than as part of a longer-term rights deal.”
The one-off video appearance was likely brokered by marketing firm CSM, whose partnership with Formula E has resulted in Formula E content appearing on a variety of UK-based news websites, including The Independent, The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mirror.
Mexico City E-Prix shows why Formula E needs free-to-air
The E-Prix itself, won by Daniel Abt, peaked with just under 150,000 viewers on Saturday evening according to overnight viewing figures.
Live coverage of the race aired on 5Spike from 21:30 to 23:20, averaging 63k (0.4%). Eurosport 2’s coverage added a further 26k (0.16%), bringing the combined audience for the live race showing to 89,000 viewers.
At its peak, 103k (0.7%) watched the race on 5Spike, with 45k (0.3%) on Eurosport 2. Both 5Spike and Eurosport 2’s viewing shares were in the same ballpark to 1.d.p. between Santiago and Mexico City, even though the latter E-Prix was aired in highlights form on Channel 5 the following morning.
The numbers suggest that the highlights programme attracted ‘new’ viewers, who were unaware that the race aired live on 5Spike the previous evening, showing why Formula E needs prominence on free-to-air television, otherwise races fly under the radar. Three races have aired on 5Spike, and all have peaked with fewer than 200,000 viewers.
If Formula E wants to become mainstream in the UK, it needs to look closely at turning deals with the likes of the BBC permanent, even if it is not necessarily a television deal with the broadcaster. By giving Formula E a ‘shop window’, the exposure of the series increases, hopefully boosting television viewing figures in the medium to long term.
After an underwhelming first season covering the sport, Channel 5’s Formula E coverage has started its second year off on a fine note, with a little help from the electric series’ new production partners.
For the first four seasons, Aurora Media Worldwide produced Formula E’s World Feed, with UK broadcasters ITV and Channel 5 left to their own devices. As regular readers are aware, both broadcasters opted for studio-based coverage, although Formula E filmed features on-site on their behalf. All of that changed for this season.
Strong UK production…
Whilst Aurora remain involved, the addition of North One Television has bolstered Formula E’s UK presentation. Alongside their World Feed responsibilities, North One are also producing Channel 5’s programming, meaning that for the first time ever UK viewers get tailored, on-site coverage at every round.
North One have experience in this field: historically they produced ITV’s Formula 1 coverage until 2008, and have produced BT Sport’s MotoGP coverage since 2013. The production company relied on their two-wheeled personnel, led by British Superbikes director Richard Coventry, to produce Channel 5’s Formula E output.
In front of the camera, Vernon Kay replaced Andy Jaye as lead presenter. Kay’s appointment generated unnecessary criticism across social media, even though he has presented sporting events before on Channel 4. As I remarked at the time of his appointment, Kay is “enough of a veteran for me to feel that he will be just fine in the role.” Four races in, and I stand by this viewpoint.
Kay has interviewed drivers and team personnel, alongside his own miniature grid walk, something he looks like he has been doing for years. It helps that the Formula E grid is sparser than Formula 1, nevertheless you cannot help but be impressed by his work so far. Importantly, Kay has done his research, and is clearly passionate for Formula E on-screen, and has done his research, a vital asset for a series in its infancy.
Because of the changes behind the scenes, Channel 5’s programming has felt significantly more polished than last season’s output. The build-up has contained a mixture of pre-recorded segments, such as the track guide, and a grid walk. The pre-recorded segments add to the programme, with Kay interviewing drivers prior to qualifying.
There is a tendency to focus on the British contingent of racers, but considering the stage Formula E is at within its life cycle, this is an understandable directive. The commentary team, consisting of Jack Nicholls, Dario Franchitti and Bob Varsha also have their own segment with Kay, helping viewers put a face to the voices.
Commercials have generally been well-timed, a vast improvement on the early offerings in their first season. Impressively, despite airing the race on a tape-delay, Channel 5 covered the whole of the red-flag period during the Hong Kong E-Prix broadcast.
…but poor scheduling lets down Channel 5’s coverage
If I gave the production standards a first-class rating, then the scheduling fits into the lower second-class category. Short-term pain, long-term gain should be Channel 5’s motto here, but I worry if Channel 5 are in this for the long-term.
On-site coverage is fantastic for Formula E. But, was that a decision by Formula E, or did Channel 5 influence the decision? Who is paying for the extra expenses in producing on-site coverage? If the answer to that question is Channel 5, then surely that would have served as an incentive to broadcast races live on their main channel…
And there is the crux of the problem. Both Hong Kong races aired on tape-delay, so whilst the production was excellent (by Formula E’s UK TV standards to-date), the races were not live. Arguably, it did not matter as much in Hong Kong, a tape-delay meant that the races aired at a more sociable hour.
Marrakesh was live on Channel 5, but Santiago less than a month later aired on sister channel 5Spike, as the time difference meant that the race flowed into prime time. According to overnight viewing figures supplied by Overnights.tv, Channel 5 averaged 604k (3.1%) from 18:30 to 20:30 on Saturday 3rd February, not a great number considering a quarter of that covers the relaunched Blind Date.
The Buenos Aires E-Prix from February 2017 averaged 426k (2.2%) on Channel 5 in a similar time slot. Last weekend, the Santiago E-Prix struggled on 5Spike (even compared to 5Spike’s own numbers), averaging just 86k (0.4%), with Eurosport 2 adding a further 32k (0.17%), down on the combined Marrakesh number of 245,000 viewers.
In other words, viewing figures dropped by half the moment Formula E lost any sort of coverage on Channel 5’s main channel. Furthermore, Channel 5 failed to air a repeat of the Santiago round on their main channel, a strange decision. Mexico City is also airing on 5Spike, and Punta del Este is likely to follow suit.
How can Formula E gain momentum with inconsistent scheduling? If you are going to produce coverage on site, at least give the series a chance and air Santiago on the main channel. Airing the European phase of the season on Channel 5 is not enough, by that point the attention of the motor racing world is on the traditional season.
New broadcast package for season four
A new season, a new graphics suite. In their fourth season, Formula E are already on their third graphics set, a ‘throwing the kitchen sink at the wall and seeing what sticks’ approach.
The first set lasted for two seasons, however the broadcast package introduced at the start of season three only lasted for one season, despite being a vast improvement on their opening effort. I can forgive this change with North One coming on-board, but Formula E needs to build an on-screen identity, and you cannot do that by constantly changing the graphics.
The third graphics set is an evolution of the second set, moving away from a sky-blue suite and more towards a blue and purple style (claret and blue might be the right phrase here). The major change for fans is that the timing tower now updates frequently at every sector, as opposed to once a lap.
Formula E has taken inspiration from MotoGP with their timing tower. MotoGP ‘groups’ the riders together based on who they’re battling with, however Formula E has gone a step further, grouping drivers but spreading them down the tower based on the size of the gap, a nice innovation. The tower also displays when a competitor has jumped ahead of their rival by switching colour, and shows progression (or lack of) for a driver.
For the opening races, an “activate start” VT sequence aired immediately prior to the start of the race, however did not appear in the Santiago show. Frustratingly, the World Feed direction remains troublesome. With Formula E in its infancy, it needs to knuckle down to hook new viewers.
Switching between battles constantly, yet failing to capture this information on-screen only serves to confuse the audience. On a new street circuit with no history, the viewer is unfamiliar with the layout so will be unaware if the director has jumped ahead or behind on the circuit. A simple caption ‘Battle for 8th’ for example, listing the drivers involved would solve the problem.
A second problem with the direction is the length it takes to react to incidents. In Santiago, the graphics indicated that reigning champion Lucas di Grassi was dropping out of contention, but the production team was far too slow to pick this up. You get the impression that no one in gallery is monitoring the timing graphics, otherwise the director would be faster in reacting to such developments. As social media demonstrated days later, further on-track incidents were unnoticed by gallery.
There are other smaller problems on the production side: too many reaction shots, arguably worse than F1 in this respect (use picture-in-picture where possible); and the pit lane car swap still disturbs the flow (but is no longer a problem from season five onwards).
Overall, Formula E’s coverage of season four in the UK has started promisingly with major strides compared to previous seasons. Elsewhere, the World Feed is not terrible by any stretch, but I feel tweaks are necessary moving forward.