F1 2016 hits three-month low

The drop in numbers that Formula 1 has experienced this season in the UK continued at the Singapore Grand Prix, deteriorating further as the championship hit a three-month low, overnight viewing figures show.

Live coverage of the race, broadcast on Sky Sports F1 from 12:00 to 15:30, averaged 683k (7.9%), a number almost identical to last year’s average of 681k (6.7%). The race peaked with 976k (10.7%) at 14:50 as Daniel Ricciardo tried to hunt down Nico Rosberg for the race victory. The peak itself is down on last year’s peak audience of 1.08m and is the lowest for Sky’s Singapore coverage since 2012, that particular race was shared with BBC.

Channel 4’s highlights aired slightly later than usual due to their Paralympics coverage, airing from 18:30 to 21:00. Their programme averaged just 1.70m (8.4%), one of their lowest numbers of 2016, only in front of China and Canada. The peak audience of 2.26m (12.4%) came at 19:00 as their race edit started, again only ahead of China and Canada.

We normally talk about Channel 4’s F1 programming smashing slot averages. No such thing happened over the weekend, as both qualifying and the race were below Channel 4’s slot average whilst their key demographics struggled as well. I thought the Paralympics would have boosted Channel 4’s F1 coverage but instead the inverse appears to have happened.

The combined audience of 2.38 million viewers is the lowest since the Canadian Grand Prix back in June and continues the slippery slope which started following the Summer break. The combined peak audience of 3.24 million is also the lowest since Canada. Even taking into account the primetime competition, the highlight numbers are shockingly low by a good half a million viewers. Both metrics are the lowest recorded for Singapore since the race was added to the calendar in 2008.

Qualifying and Analysis
Live coverage of qualifying averaged 368k (4.7%) from 13:00 to 15:45 on Sky Sports F1, a good number and up on last year’s average of 293k (3.5%). Channel 4’s highlights programme averaged 1.24m (8.6%), peaking with 1.64m (10.7%) at 18:35. Unsurprisingly, the combined audience of 1.61 million viewers is the lowest for Singapore on record but, in the context of the season so far for qualifying, it is a solid number.

Formula 1 now heads to the fly-away races which tends to fluctuate a lot depending on circumstances. Malaysia tends to rate well; however, calendar placement could dent it this year. Japan always has one of the lowest numbers of the season, and then we’re into USA, Mexico and Brazil before heading to Abu Dhabi. After seeing Singapore’s highlight number in the middle of primetime for Channel 4, I’m concerned that their live Mexico number could deliver a lower than expected number. I hope not, but the recent further downturn in viewing figures doesn’t bode well as we head into the final third of 2016.

The 2015 Singapore Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.


Italian Grand Prix peaks with 4 million viewers

A peak audience of four million viewers watched a tepid Italian Grand Prix across Channel 4 and Sky Sports F1 yesterday, overnight viewing figures show.

Live coverage of the race, which aired on Channel 4 from 12:00 to 15:25, averaged 1.99m (20.4%). An audience of 3.09m (28.3%) were watching their coverage when it peaked at 14:15. Both measures were marginally up compared with the Belgian Grand Prix last weekend.

Over on Sky Sports, their live coverage averaged 576k (5.7%) from 12:00 to 15:30, which is Sky’s lowest since the Spanish Grand Prix. This number includes the unusual Sky Sports Mix arrangement, whereby the Mix channel only showed the build-up, but not the race itself. Sky’s coverage peaked with 1.01m (9.6%) at 13:05, which is higher than in both 2013 and 2014 (which they shared with BBC).

The combined audience of 2.57 million viewers is the lowest since Canada in June and down 33.8 percent on last year’s audience of 3.88 million viewers. A low average audience and solid peak is a sign that viewers did not stick around for the post-race segment, which shouldn’t be a surprise given the predictable nature of the race itself. The build-up to the British MotoGP on BT Sport might have inflicted some damage.

The combined peak of 4.o2m (37.9%) came at the unusual time of 13:30. It is good to see the peak back above 4 million and down less with a 19.3 percent drop year-on-year. Nevertheless, it is the lowest average for Italy since 2006, and the lowest peak audience since 2007.

Live coverage of qualifying, broadcast on Channel 4 from 11:55 to 14:30, averaged 1.27m (14.1%). Their coverage peaked with 1.83m (19.1%) in the five-minute period from 13:55 as Lewis Hamilton claimed pole position. It was Channel 4’s highest numbers for qualifying since the British Grand Prix in July.

Sky’s live coverage, which aired across their dedicated F1 channel and Mix, averaged 433k (4.8%) from 12:00 to 14:35. It is Sky’s second highest number of the season, only behind the German Grand Prix qualifying programme. Sky’s coverage peaked with a strong 801k (8.3%) at 13:55, again one of their highest of the year so far.

Despite the high numbers relatively speaking for 2016, the combined audience of 1.70 million viewers is the lowest for the Italian Grand Prix qualifying session since 2008. The combined peak audience of 2.63m (27.4%) at 13:55 is the lowest for Italy since 2008. Despite this, the peak audience is only 13.3 percent down on 2015 and 10 percent down on 2014, which is not as bad as we have seen with previous races.

The 2015 Italian Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.


Belgian Grand Prix performs solidly year-on-year

The dramatic Belgian Grand Prix performed solidly despite a slight drop year-on-year, overnight viewing figures show.

Live coverage of the race, broadcast on Channel 4 from 12:00 to 15:55, averaged 1.98m (21.2%), in-line with their other live race day broadcasts this season. Channel 4’s coverage peaked with 3.01m (29.4%) at 14:45 as Nico Rosberg won the race.

Compared with the BBC from last year, Channel 4’s figures stand up very well. BBC One’s Belgian Grand Prix coverage in 2015 averaged 2.44m (22.3%), peaking with 3.38m (27.4%). 2016’s figures represent a drop of 18.8 percent (average) and 11.1 percent (peak) year-on-year, by far the smallest decreases of the season so far for the channel. Channel 4 should be pleased with their own numbers.

Sky’s coverage, broadcast across Sky Sports F1 and their new Mix channel, averaged 617k (6.3%) from 12:00 to 15:30. 411k watched on the F1 channel, with a further 205k watching via Mix, a split of 66:34 in Sky Sports F1’s favour. Sky’s peak audience came at 13:50, as 969k (9.3%) watched the on track battle between Max Verstappen and Kimi Raikkonen intensify.

Looking at Sky Sports F1 in isolation, the dedicated channel’s audience dropped by around 60k year-on-year, but when you include Sky Sports Mix, Sky’s total audience increases by 146k (or 31.1 percent). As mentioned during the Summer break, Sky does seem to be performing better in recent races compared with 2015.

The combined audience of 2.60 million viewers is the lowest for Belgium on record. However, Belgium has always rated due to the Bank Holiday effect: the only three years which averaged more than 3.5 million viewers were 2008, 2010 and 2011. The 2016 audience is down 10.7 percent on 2015’s audience of 2.91 million viewers. The combined peak of 3.94m (38.5%), recorded at 14:45, is down 5.1 percent on 2015’s peak audience of 4.15m (33.7%) and only 98k away from 2014’s peak audience of 4.04m (42.7%).

Channel 4’s live coverage of qualifying, which aired from 11:55 to 14:25, averaged 1.08m (13.4%), peaking with 1.41m (16.4%) at 13:55. The average number is a little lower than Britain and Hungary, but nothing out of the ordinary. The peak, however, is the lowest of the season for a live qualifying session on Channel 4.

Over on Sky Sports, their coverage which was simulcast across their dedicated F1 channel and Mix, averaged just 263k (3.3%) from 12:00 to 14:35, peaking with 430k (4.9%) at 13:05. Both metrics are the lowest ever for Sky at Spa. It is unusual to see a qualifying session peak at the start rather than the end, this shows that Lewis Hamilton’s grid drop (and non-participation in qualifying) had a detrimental effect on numbers. The effect is more obvious with Sky as their audience is more dedicated than Channel 4’s.

The combined qualifying audience of 1.34 million viewers is the lowest since the Spanish Grand Prix and the second lowest of 2016 so far. It is also the lowest for Belgium on record. The combined peak audience of 1.82m (20.9%), recorded at 13:10 across Channel 4, Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Mix, is the lowest of the season so far.

The 2015 Belgian Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.


UK F1 TV viewing figures drop significantly with switch to Channel 4

The change of free-to-air broadcasting rights from the BBC to Channel 4 have had a detrimental effect on Formula 1’s television viewing figures in the United Kingdom, overnight viewing figures suggest. Audiences have shown signs of increasing though as we head into the Summer break.

> Channel 4’s audience down 1.5 million compared with BBC in first half of 2015
> Sky slides to record low for second year running
> Demographic analysis shows younger audience has held up strongly

As always, it should be noted up front what this site uses to compare the viewing figures with past data. All the numbers in this article are ‘overnight’ viewing figures supplied by Overnights.tv, which brings together the live viewing figure with recordings made before 02:00 the following morning, typically this is called Live + VOSDAL (viewing on same day as live).

For Sky Sports, the three-and-a-half-hour broadcast slot is used, for example, from 12:00 to 15:30. Currently, this encompasses ‘Pit Lane Live’ and ‘Race’ programmes. The three-and-a-half-hour slot has been used consistently for comparisons since Sky started broadcasting Formula 1 in 2012. This ensures that the number reported can be used to analyse cross-year data accurately. It also broadly uses the same slot length as the BBC and ITV have used in the past. There are exceptions: if a race overruns, the three-and-a-half-hour slot is extended, as necessary.

The data for Sky’s Formula 1 coverage includes Sky Sports 1 where applicable, ensuring that a complete picture is reported. In this piece, I will not break down the Sky figure into Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports 1, simply because the number of races that were simulcast on Sky Sports 1 in the first half of 2015 compared with the first half of 2016 is largely unchanged.

Over on Channel 4, their full programme slots have been used, irrespective of length. This provides a fair comparison with the BBC data. However, caution should be exercised: Channel 4’s programmes contain advertising, the BBC’s did not which inevitably puts the commercial broadcaster at a disadvantage. But, this piece will analyse the data further, looking at how much impact that element has had on numbers.

Lastly, this piece only looks at the viewing figures for the first half of each individual season, given that this is a half way review. So for 2016, the period from the Australian Grand Prix to the Hungarian Grand Prix is in scope.

The 2016 story
Starting with Sky’s Formula 1 programming. Their show, from 12:00 to 15:30 or equivalent, averaged 617k, their lowest mid-season number in the five years that they have been covering Formula 1. As mentioned, the viewing figures include any simulcasting on Sky Sports 1. For the first half of 2015, the average was 657k, which at the time was a record low in itself. So, year-on-year, average audiences for Sky have dropped 6 percent. Compared with 2012, which was the high point at 772k, average audiences have dropped 20 percent.

The peak audience metric for Sky though has increased by 0.9 percent, from 980k in 2015 to 989k in 2016. I appreciate those two numbers are within the margin for error (in terms of my own calculations), but the average programme audience decreasing, yet the peak audience holding up would imply that Sky’s pre and post-race programming has dropped disproportionately to the race itself. Year-on-year, three races have seen their average audience increase: Canada (up 15.8 percent as a result of no live free-to-air coverage), Austria (up 15.1 percent) and Britain (up 13.9 percent). In Sky’s defence, the substantial drops occurred in the early phase of the season. Australia (down 30.4 percent) and China (down 26.4 percent) are two examples of this.

If Sky were hoping to capitalise on the BBC’s exit by hooking ex-BBC F1 viewers onto their product then unfortunately for Sky, that has not happened so far. The way the championship battle shaped up in the early races hurt both them and Channel 4. Only recently have both broadcasters started to improve their audiences. Had Lewis Hamilton’s championship defence not got off to a poor start (relatively speaking) then the first quarter of 2016 may well have performed better for Sky.

Normally at this stage in the article I would analyse the free-to-air broadcaster and look at year-on-year trends. This year, the situation is different. Channel 4 have taken over from the BBC. Channel 4 reaches less viewers than BBC One, so of course Formula 1’s viewing figures have dropped. To some degree, it is comparing apples and oranges, but this site aims to report Formula 1 viewing figures accurately and to do that, the comparison needs to be made. The key is, how much have audiences declined. The answer? At the half way stage of 2016, Formula 1’s terrestrial television viewing figures have dropped 40 percent.

On race day, Channel 4’s programming has averaged 2.01 million viewers, down 1.5 million on the 3.51 million viewers for the same period last year on the BBC.  In my opinion, seeing a 1.5 million drop year-on-year is on the more extreme side of what I expected. Channel 4’s viewing figures are around half a million lower than I anticipated. Unsurprisingly, every race has dropped year-on-year, from the very extreme of Canada (down 71.9 percent due to no live free-to-air presence) to Britain (down 26.7 percent).

The peak audiences that Channel 4 have recorded do not clock up much better, with an ‘average peak’ audience of 2.78 million, down 36.4 percent or 1.59 million on the ‘average peak’ audience of 4.37 million that the BBC hit in the first half of 2015. The commercial impact does hit the average audience metric slightly, but not big enough that it would wildly affect the overall year-on-year trend. Looking at the breakdown across the season, viewing figures have improved in recent races, hitting a peak audience of three million viewers for both Britain and Hungary.

The demographic gap
Channel 4 aims the content that it produces at a younger audience. That is the DNA of the corporation, hence channels such as E4. Whilst the overall audience drop is disappointing, this is largely concentrated amongst the older viewers, who simply have not transitioned across from the BBC. The younger audience has dropped, but at a far less rate than older viewers. Whilst the overall drop is major, there is a headline within the headline, and the numbers are not all bad news.

Speaking exclusively to this site, Channel 4’s Head of F1 Stephen Lyle is keen to emphasise this: “Viewing to both live races and highlights on Channel 4 has been strong with our live race coverage regularly making Channel 4 the most watched terrestrial channel over the time slot with the largest share of young viewers, which is important to the legacy of the sport.”

It should be noted that this piece does not include on demand viewing, such as Sky Go or All 4. With Sky Go slowly on the rise along with Now TV, this may account for the drop in Sky’s Formula 1 television viewing figures. However, All 4’s Formula 1 programming is unlikely to receive as many requests as BBC’s programming did on iPlayer, due to the respective size of both platforms. So, it is swings and roundabouts really.

Elsewhere, BBC 5 Live’s Formula 1 coverage is not included. The radio station benefited from Formula 1’s switch to Sky in 2012, so they may have benefited again as a result of the move from BBC to Channel 4. The methodology for measuring radio listening figures is different to television viewing figures, so numbers are difficult to compare. However, in the latest RAJAR figures released for Q2 in 2016, 5 Live was up year-on-year whilst 5 Live Sports Extra was down.

Combined audience and final thoughts
The combined television average audience in the UK at the half way stage of 2016 is 2.63 million, a decrease of 36.8 percent on 2015’s average audience of 4.16 million. Currently, it stands as the lowest number on record, dating back to 2006. I expect the second half of the season to do better than the first; the last race which rated lower than 2.63 million was Canada. In fact, both Canada and China drag the average audience down.

In a perfect world, the numbers would be higher. Audiences are slightly lower than what I expected on Channel 4. Can that be reversed? Absolutely. If the championship race goes down to the wire, there is no reason why audiences cannot increase. Channel 4 and Sky have been unlucky this season. The on-track battle between Mercedes and Ferrari which I thought and hoped would occur simply has not materialised. You can only talk about what you see on-track, and the Mercedes duel for the third season running, irrespective of channel, pay walls or anything else, is not the most appealing to the casual viewer even if there is British interest.

We saw at the back of last season that Hamilton wrapping the championship up early will not be good for viewing figures. Seeing as Hamilton vs Sebastian Vettel has, for the moment, turned to star-dust, we look towards Max Verstappen. Verstappen vs Hamilton is something that has yet to happen but should happen on-track either in the latter half of this season or next. That battle should spice up interest up front and potentially bring new fans.

As of writing, I have received no comment from either the BBC or Sky, but if I do, I will amend this article.

Update on August 13th: The BBC have supplied this site with the following statistics. Over one million audio requests have been made for BBC’s Formula 1 coverage online, with their Formula 1 website receiving five million unique browser hits during its highest week. Furthermore, 1.37 million hits were received for their British Grand Prix live page, their largest number so far this season.


Sky’s F1 coverage increases to 2016 high

The 2016 German Grand Prix may not have been the most spectacular race of the year so far, but it did help Sky Sports hit a 2016 high where its Formula 1 coverage was concerned, overnight viewing figures show.

Live coverage of the race, broadcast across Sky Sports 1 and F1 from 12:00 to 15:30, averaged 932k (11.8%). Even taking into account the simulcast on Sky Sports 1, that is a really strong number, the highest for a European based round for Sky since the 2014 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, which averaged 963k (7.1%). The audience was split 75:25 across Sky’s channels: 700k (8.9%) on the F1 channel compared with 232k (2.9%) on Sky Sports 1.

Sky’s audience peaked with 1.47m (17.4%) at 14:30, the highest for a European based round since the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix. Considering the race was a largely dull, the numbers are higher than what I expected for Sky by some margin. A 17 percent share for an event on pay-TV is impressive. Okay, this includes Sky Sports 1, but I would argue that simulcasting Sky Sports 1 makes no difference to the overall number, although it will be interesting to see if Sky’s number drops further than expected come Spa.

Channel 4’s highlights, broadcast from 18:00 to 20:00, averaged 2.27m (14.1%). This is their second highest highlights audience of the season; a meagre 12,000 viewers lower than their Austria highlights show! Their coverage peaked with 2.86m (16.2%) at 19:30, also slightly down on their Austria figure.

The combined average audience of 3.20 million viewers is the highest of 2016 so far, surpassing the previous highest of Austria. The combined peak of 4.33 million is the second highest of 2016, only behind Britain. However, we do not escape the fact that the combined average and peak is still the lowest since 2006 for Germany (albeit 2012 is not a million miles away).

Live coverage of qualifying, broadcast across Sky Sports 1 and F1 from 12:00 to 14:35, averaged 447k (6.7%). Channel 4’s coverage averaged 1.24m (9.8%) from 17:45 to 19:30, resulting in a combined audience of 1.69 million viewers.

After a slight dip in Hungary, the trajectory is upwards… slowly. The past four races have all recorded peak audiences of above 4 million viewers. That is a good sign, it appears having four races in five weekends has helped maintain momentum. Whilst Lewis Hamilton leading the championship is a good, a comfortable lead for him will send viewing figures decreasing again. So, there is a balancing act to be had.

Spa is next on the calendar. Belgium tends to be low, more often than not below three million viewers. There is a slight chance that the audience could hold up more over on Channel 4, and that Spa could pose the first chance for 2016 to realistically beat 2015 in the TV audience figures, maybe.

The 2014 German Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.