Alonso effect helps IndyCar’s UK audience soar to six-year high

The Indianapolis 500 started in fine fashion last weekend, with the IndyCar Series recording its highest UK audiences in nearly six years, overnight viewing figures show.

Indy qualifying impresses
Live coverage of the first day of qualifying, broadcast on Saturday evening from 21:00 to 00:00 on BT Sport/ESPN, averaged 44k (0.31%). The scheduled slot from 21:00 to 23:00 averaged 45k (0.27%), meaning that the audience stayed very stable during the overrun.

Coverage started relatively low, with an audience of 14k (0.06%) watching at 21:10. This quickly built up though, hitting 30k at 21:25, 40k at 21:50 and then peaking with an excellent 68k (0.41%) at 22:05. Audiences stayed above 50k until 22:55, partly attributed to Sebastian Bourdais’ horrific crash, which stopped the session for around 40 minutes.

The audience for day one is the highest ever for the IndyCar series on BT Sport, and the highest since Sky Sports’ broadcast of the 2011 Indianapolis 500. Viewing figures dropped for day two of qualifying. An average audience of 29k (0.17%) watched qualifying on BT Sport/ESPN from 21:00 to 23:00 on Sunday evening, peaking with 43k (0.26%), again during the segment when Fernando Alonso was on circuit.

Although there is a larger audience around on Sunday evenings, coverage of on-track action was sporadic: Saturday had action without commercials from 21:00 until Bourdais’ crash at around 22:30, giving a chance for the audience to build. On the other hand, Sunday’s qualifying programme had twenty minutes with no on-track action from 21:40 to 22:00, which would have depleted viewing figures.

Next Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 is likely to be the biggest figure for an American domestic motor race in a generation in the UK, with more than 100,000 viewers expected. It is difficult to be more specific than that at this stage as warm weather is likely to knock audiences.

Formula E jumps to second highest figure of season
It was a good weekend as well for the electric Formula E championship. Round six of the season took place last Saturday in Paris. The race, which aired live on Channel 5 from 14:30 to 16:20, averaged 381k (4.4%), peaking with 468k. Last year’s action from Paris, which aired on ITV4, peaked with 187k (2.1%) in a similar time slot.

It is the highest share of the season for Formula E and the second highest audience of the season, behind Buenos Aires. It is also comfortably the highest non-London race ever for the championship (also beating part one of last year’s London ePrix which aired on ITV).

Whilst it is too early to say whether the championship is drawing in new viewers as this is just one race in isolation, the audience figure for Paris is an encouraging sign for the series. Formula E should be able to maintain some momentum going forward, with no elongated gaps between now and the end of the season.


Spanish Grand Prix continues upward trajectory

The Spanish Grand Prix continued Formula 1’s recent upward trajectory in the ratings following on from positive numbers in Bahrain and Russia, overnight viewing figures show.

Year-on-year comparisons are difficult for this race for the individual broadcasters, as both channels aired the race live last year, whereas Sky Sports had exclusive live coverage this season. However, the numbers do show an interesting pattern. As always, figures exclude on-demand methods such as Now TV, Sky Go and All 4.

Live coverage of the race, broadcast on Sky Sports F1 from 12:00 to 15:30, averaged 530k (6.7%), peaking with 888k at 14:35 as Lewis Hamilton claimed victory. In comparison, Sky’s coverage last year, despite sharing with Channel 4, averaged 559k (6.4%), with a peak figure of 883k. So, despite having exclusivity, Sky’s figures failed to increase.

A peak figure below one million viewers for a Sky exclusive European round is disappointing, especially considering that two Premier League games on Sky Sports 1 brought in audiences over the magic million mark (West Ham vs Liverpool and Tottenham vs Man United).

Channel 4’s highlights programme, which aired from 18:45 to 21:00, averaged 2.12m (11.5%), peaking with 2.89 million viewers. Their highlights number marks an increase on the number for their Spanish Grand Prix live programme last year. Overall, Channel 4 should be pleased, with a number that is higher than a lot of their highlights programming from 2016, only behind Austria and Germany.

The combined audience of 2.65 million viewers is up 6.4 percent on last year’s average audience of 2.49 million viewers. The combined peak audience of 3.78 million viewers is up 5.6 percent on last year’s peak audience of 3.58 million viewers. Whilst both metrics represent a sizeable drop compared to 2015, the viewing figures mark a positive step in the right direction as the championship battle continues to heat up.

Live coverage of qualifying, broadcast on Sky Sports F1 from 12:00 to 14:40, averaged 289k (4.0%), peaking with 476k. Channel 4’s highlights programme from 17:30 to 19:00 added a further 1.14m (8.1%), with 1.56m watching at its peak.

The qualifying highlights followed an identical pattern to that of the race a day later: Channel 4 up slightly, Sky Sports down slightly despite the latter having exclusivity.

The combined average audience of 1.43 million viewers is up 9.3 percent on last year’s average audience of 1.31 million viewers. However, and failing to complete a ‘clean sweep’ as a result, the peak audience was down slightly year-on-year, with a combined peak audience of 2.04 million viewers recorded compared with a peak of 2.16 million viewers in 2016.

The 2016 Spanish Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.

Bottas win peaks with 3.4 million viewers

A peak audience of 3.4 million viewers watched Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas clinch his first Formula 1 victory at the Russian Grand Prix, overnight viewing figures show.

Last year, Channel 4 aired highlights of the race with Sky broadcasting the race exclusively live, meaning that year-on-year comparisons are difficult to make.

Live coverage of the race, which aired on Channel 4 from 12:00 to 15:10, averaged 1.92m (19.7%). Channel 4 split their programming into three sections in television guides and on the EPG.

The pre-race build-up averaged 865k (11.8%) from 12:00, with the race itself bringing in 2.16m (21.5%) from 12:35 to 15:10. An audience of 656k (6.0%) stuck around for Channel 4’s analysis from 15:10 to 16:30.

Channel 4’s coverage peaked with 2.73m (27.6%) at 13:15 as the race restarted following the Safety Car period. Compared with last year, the peak is on the lower end of the scale for live races.

Sky Sports F1’s live coverage averaged 447k (4.5%) from 12:00 to 15:30, peaking with 752k (7.3%) at 13:55. The timing of Sky’s peak coincides with the gap between BT Sport’s Premier League game yesterday (Man Utd vs Swansea) and Sky’s first Premier League match (Everton vs Chelsea).

The combined average audience of 2.37 million viewers is marginally down on last year’s average audience of 2.40 million viewers. The peak audience is unusual, in that the peak audience did not occur at the same point as Sky’s and Channel 4’s own unique peak audiences.

In fact, the combined peak audience of 3.44 million viewers (31.3% share) occurred at 14:30. At the time of the peak, 2.72m (24.8%) were watching on Channel 4 (down 4,000 viewers on their own peak at 13:15) and 713k (6.5%) were watching on Sky Sports F1 (down 39,000 viewers on their own peak at 13:55).

There was a core audience of 3.2 million viewers watching with very little movement throughout the first 75 minutes, the race never once dropping below 3.16 million viewers. The audience breakdown for the respective broadcasters shows off the different audience profiles, Sky driven by other programming in their portfolio, with Channel 4 more general channel hopping. The numbers for the race are solid, but like the event itself, not spectacular.

Live coverage of qualifying across Sky Sports and Channel 4 fared poorly on Saturday afternoon.

Channel 4’s programme, which aired from 11:55 to 14:30, averaged 937k (12.4%). Their broadcast peaked with 1.60m (19.3%) at 13:55 as Sebastian Vettel claimed pole position. It is Channel 4’s second lowest audience ever for a live Formula 1 qualifying broadcast, only ahead of last year’s Malaysian Grand Prix (811k/11.4%).

Sky Sports F1’s broadcast averaged 197k (2.6%) from 12:00 to 14:40, which is one of their lowest qualifying audiences on record. Vettel’s pole position peaked with 371k (4.5%) at 13:55.

The qualifying session was up against other live sporting competition on free-to-air television: snooker on BBC One and horse racing on ITV, however both programmes started at 13:30, so are unlikely to have had a major impact.

The combined audience of 1.13 million viewers is the lowest for a qualifying session since the 2008 European Grand Prix, which was up against the Olympic Games closing ceremony. The combined peak audience of 1.97 million viewers (23.7% share) is marginally up on last year’s peak audience of 1.9 million viewers, last year shown in highlights form on Channel 4.

A larger proportion of Formula 1’s viewership is skipping the pre and post-session festivities, instead choosing to just watch the on-track action. Earlier in the day, an audience of 370k watched the third practice session across Channel 4 and Sky Sports F1 (291k and 79k respectively), peaking with 446k (7.3%) at 10:40.

The 2016 Russian Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.

Vettel’s Bahrain victory peaks with 4.3 million viewers

Sebastian Vettel’s victory in the 2017 Bahrain Grand Prix peaked with 4.3 million viewers, overnight viewing figures show. In comparison to recent times, it was a stronger than usual afternoon for Formula 1.

A special note about Channel 4’s live races this season. Channel 4 have decided this season to split their programming into three sections: pre-race, the race itself and then post-race analysis. As with Sky Sports F1’s viewing figures, this site will take Channel 4’s build up and race numbers for the season average. This will help provide a valid year on year comparison given that Channel 4’s live programming is expected to run longer this season.

With that in mind, Channel 4’s programme from 14:50 to 18:15 averaged 2.23m (15.2%). The build-up averaged 991k (8.2%) from 14:50 to 15:35, with the race itself averaging 2.57m (17.2%) until 18:15. Around 950,000 viewers continued to watch Channel 4’s analysis from 18:15 to 18:45. Channel 4’s average audience is in-line with last year’s average audience of 2.30m (16.2%), which considering the tough football competition on Sky is a strong number.

Sky Sports F1’s live coverage from 15:00 to 18:30 averaged 597k (4.1%), an increase of 51,000 viewers on the 2016 average audience of 546k (3.9%). Nevertheless, the average audience is down slightly on 2015’s average of 640k (4.3%).

Looking at Channel 4’s breakdown, one of the fascinating aspects is that its pre-race segment rated significantly lower year-on-year, by around 400,000 viewers which deflated the overall average. Channel 4’s programme clawed back the year-on-year difference throughout the build-up, drawing level at race start time.

Across Channel 4 and Sky Sports, the race started at 16:00 with 4.03 million viewers. The race followed the same trajectory as last year with a small dip to around 3.8 million viewers, but unlike last year the viewership climbed back up, hitting 4.04m (26.1%) at 17:00.

The audience dipped again slightly, but quickly picked back up, with 4.34m (25.9%) watching at 17:30, an increase of 433,000 viewers compared with the equivalent point last year, despite both races starting off with the same base. Last year’s race peaked as the lights went green, whereas this year built to its conclusion, showing the difference between a close fought contest and a relatively one-sided fight.

The combined average audience of 2.82 million viewers is in-line with last year’s average audience of 2.84 million viewers, the marginal drop a result of Channel 4’s pre-race build-up bringing in less viewers’ year-on-year. The combined peak audience of 4.34 million viewers is up 8.4 percent on last year’s peak audience of 4.01 million viewers. As with last year, both numbers are significantly down on the live BBC days from 2009 to 2011. Nevertheless, the increase compared with 2016 is promising.

Channel 4’s live coverage of qualifying, which aired on Saturday afternoon from 14:55 to 17:30 averaged 1.23m (12.7%), a drop of around 190,00 viewers on last year’s average audience of 1.44m (13.2%). An audience of 349k (3.5%) watched Sky Sports F1’s qualifying programme from 15:00 to 17:45, a marginal drop on their audience last year of 360k (3.3%).

A peak audience of 2.54m (22.6%) were watching qualifying across Channel 4 and Sky at 16:55, which compares with a peak of 2.60m (20.3%) last year. The reason the peak audience is much closer to last year was because 2016 saw the elimination qualifying farce, meaning that the session did not build to a crescendo like it did this time around.

The combined audience of 1.58 million viewers is down on last year’s average of 1.80 million viewers, the lowest for Bahrain since 2008.

The overnight viewing figures that were released for the opening two rounds of 2017 were disappointing for all concerned. Does the Bahrain Grand Prix mark the start of a turnaround?

It is always fascinating that the first race live on free to air television in the first one that shows a stabilised, or increased in the case of the peak, picture year-on-year. A peak audience of 4.3 million viewers against two of the biggest football teams in the country is a good result and something that Channel 4 and Sky can further build on as we head towards the Russian Grand Prix.

The 2016 Bahrain Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.

Chinese Grand Prix continues F1’s UK ratings turmoil

The Chinese Grand Prix continued what is turning into a difficult start to the year for Formula 1 in the United Kingdom, overnight viewing figures show.

Live coverage of the race, broadcast on Sky Sports F1 from 06:00 to 09:30, averaged 484k (13.5%). This is a relatively strong number, an increase of around 50,000 viewers on last year’s average of 433k (11.1%). However, it is still a drop on 2015’s average audience of 589k (15.2%), which aired in the same time slot.

Sky’s coverage peaked with 813k, compared with 687k last year, an increase of 18.5 percent year-on-year. Certainly, Sky’s numbers appear to have been boosted by a competitive start to the championship between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, which they will be looking to maintain going forward.

Channel 4’s coverage was not boosted to the same effect, dropping slightly year-on-year. Their highlights programme, which aired from 14:30 to 16:45, averaged 1.52m (18.5%), a drop on last year’s average audience of 1.68m (17.0%), although the percentage share did rise. Coverage of Lewis Hamilton’s win peaked with 2.06m (22.3%) at 16:05, compared with a peak audience of 2.25m (21.6%) in 2016.

The combined audience of 2.00 million viewers is for the second year running the lowest for the Chinese round of the championship on record, a drop of 5.4 percent year-on-year. The combined peak audience of 2.87 million viewers is down slightly on last year’s peak audience of 2.94 million viewers.

In response to a Twitter user who wondered how this compared with 2011: yesterday’s average audience was down 57.8 percent on the 2011 average audience of 4.74 million viewers. That is a lot of lapsed viewers… a small portion will have moved onto other forms of viewing (such as Now TV and online streaming), but the harsh reality is that Formula 1 has lost a significant chunk of viewers in the past five years. Some of that can be blamed on the change of television deals, but some of it can also be blamed the haphazard direction of the sport in recent years.

Channel 4’s highlights of qualifying, which aired from 13:00 to 14:30, averaged 861k (13.6%). The raw audience is down 27.8 percent, but the percentage share was down only 3.3 percent on last year’s average of 1.19m (14.1%). Whilst Formula 1 was on air (including VOSDAL), the total television audience was 6.3 million viewers, compared with 8.5 million viewers from 2016. Clearly, the number is also a sizeable drop on historical BBC and ITV numbers for the Chinese Grand Prix qualifying sessions.

Sky Sports F1’s live coverage of qualifying averaged 255k (5.3%) from 07:00 to 10:00, the programme being extended due to the red flag caused by Antonio Giovinazzi. In any event, Sky’s average audience is down slightly on 2015 and 2016’s averages of 324k (6.2%) and 308k (5.9%) respectively. The average is, however, up on the 2014 fiugure of 236k (7.1%), although it should be noted that the 2014 qualifying session occurred an hour earlier than later years.

The combined average of 1.12 million viewers is down 27 percent on the 2016 combined average of 1.50 million viewers, and half of that recorded in 2015.

As with the Australian Grand Prix two weeks ago, the Chinese Grand Prix saw some hefty drops across the board. You could argue that this is the start of a trend, showing that viewers are not interested in the new style Formula 1, and that the lack of overtaking is turning viewers off. It is an easy conclusion to come to, with multiple data points across two rounds supporting that argument.

However, such an argument at this stage is narrow-minded. Let us take a look at the total television audience for the slots that Formula 1 highlights programming has aired in for both Australia and China historically. This takes into account any VOSDAL activity within these slots as well, making up the overnight audience.

2015 2016 2017
Australia – Qualifying 9.3 million 9.0 million (-0.3 million) 6.7 million (-2.3 million)
Australia – Race 10.9 million 11.1 million (+0.2 million) 8.0 million (-3.1 million)
China – Qualifying 8.7 million 8.5 million (-0.2 million) 6.3 million (-2.3 million)
China – Race 12.1 million 9.9 million (-2.3 million) 8.2 million (-1.7 million)

What does this tell us? That, beyond Formula 1, television viewing figures on these particular Saturday and Sunday afternoons are down significantly compared with 2015 and 2016. Clearly with less of an audience around (whether it is sunshine related or not), audiences are bound to drop to some degree year-on-year, although this does not change the long-term problem for the sport.

For those hoping that Formula 1 was going to receive some ratings boost in the off-season, that has not happened – yet. With Hamilton and Vettel tied in the championship standings heading into this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix, live across Channel 4 and Sky Sports, broadcasters and paddock people alike will be hoping for a reverse in ratings fortunes, starting with Bahrain.

The 2016 Chinese Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.