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, 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.

Hungarian Grand Prix peaks with 4.2 million viewers

The Hungarian Grand Prix peaked with nearly 4.2 million viewers on Sunday afternoon in the United Kingdom, overnight viewing figures show.

Live coverage of the race, broadcast on Channel 4 from 12:00 to 15:40, averaged 2.06m (21.0%). Their coverage peaked with 3.01m (26.8%) in the five-minute segment from 14:40 as Lewis Hamilton was victorious.

Channel 4’s audience is down 46.6 percent on BBC One’s audience from 2015 of 3.87m (32.5%), it should be noted that the BBC’s programme was broadcast over a shorter three-hour time slot. Nevertheless, Channel 4’s peak figure is down 39.5 percent on BBC’s peak audience of 4.98m (36.8%) from last year.

Sky’s live coverage, broadcast across Sky Sports 1 and F1, averaged 733k (7.3%) from 12:00 to 15:30. Their coverage peaked with around 1.1m (11%) towards the end of the race. Sky’s combined audience is down marginally on 2015’s audience of 745k (6.3%), although the peak audience is up by 100k.

What is noticeable is how the split across the Sky channels has changed year-on-year. In 2015, the split was 84:16 in Sky Sports F1’s favour. The dedicated channel is still ahead, but the split is closer at 70:30.

The combined audience of 2.80 million viewers is the lowest UK audience for the Hungarian round since 2006. Furthermore, the combined audience is down 39.4 percent on 2015’s audience of 4.61 million viewers. The combined peak of 4.16 million viewers is down 30.4 percent year-on-year.

The extended qualifying session meant Channel 4’s schedule was revised slightly, with Channel 4 Racing pushed back half an hour. Their Formula 1 programme, which aired from 11:55 to 15:00, averaged 1.17m (16.0%), peaking with 1.66m (20.4%) at 14:30.

The horse racing coverage from 15:00 onwards averaged just 451k (5.8%). Clearly the right decision was made to stay with the Formula 1 on Channel 4, briefly demoting the horse racing to More4.

Sky Sports F1’s qualifying programme averaged a further 284k (3.9%) from 12:00 to 15:25, peaking with 492k. Sky Sports 1’s simulcast added 83k (1.1%), that programme peaking with 170k.

Both the combined average of 1.54 million viewers and the combined peak of 2.32 million viewers are the lowest for Hungary since 2008.

A disappointing set of numbers
After a few encouraging race where viewing figures were showing signs of recovery, has the Hungarian Grand Prix set us back into ‘reset mode’? The race traditionally rates well, despite its Summer slot it has the benefits of no sporting competition and the race lasting longer than the usual 90 minutes. So the numbers from Sunday have to be considered disappointing.

Excluding Canada (which had a change of slot), the percentage drops year-on-year had been getting smaller. Slowly but surely there were signs of progress. The percentage drops year-on-year of 30%+ were the largest we have seen this season since China, although last year did rate abnormally high for Hungary. It is not all bad news; the peak audience was above 4 million viewers for the third successive race.

Hungary marked the half way stage of the 2016 season, in the next few weeks there will be full analysis of the ratings picture so far in 2016 and where Formula 1 looks to be heading as 2016 heads towards its conclusion.

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

Hamilton’s British Grand Prix victory peaks with 5 million viewers

The British Grand Prix performed solidly on Sunday afternoon for Channel 4 and Sky Sports against a difficult backdrop of both the Wimbledon finals and the final of Euro 2016, overnight viewing figures show.

Live coverage of the race, broadcast on Channel 4 from 12:00 to 15:55, averaged 2.36m (17.9%). Across their usual three-and-a-half-hour slot from 12:00 to 15:30, the coverage averaged 2.54m, so not a major gulf between the two numbers.

Channel 4’s coverage hit a 5-minute peak audience of 3.89m (24.5%) at 14:30 as Lewis Hamilton claimed victory. What is noticeable is that Channel 4’s coverage lost 1.2 million viewers as soon as they went to their first post-race commercial break. Their audience dropped from 3.3 million viewers to 2.1 million. Some of that is natural decline, some of it is self-inflicted, with the break ‘inviting’ the audience to turn over to other channels.

Both Channel 4’s average and peak audiences are season high numbers for them, by a wide margin too. It is good news for the broadcaster, and their strategy of airing more live races in the middle to latter stages of the season may well be paying off, based on the trajectory the season is currently heading in.

Sky’s live coverage from 12:00 to 15:30 averaged 736k (5.8%), this being split 552k vs 184k in the dedicated channel’s favour. Interestingly, their coverage peaked with 1.12m (9.3%) at 13:15, which I believe is their highest peak number for shared coverage in a while. Year-on-year, Sky’s average is up 14 percent, with the peak metric up 21 percent.

Overall, the combined audience of 3.10 million is the second highest of 2016 (slightly behind Austria, thanks to Channel 4’s extended broadcast) but down 27 percent on 2015’s average audience of 4.28 million. This is the lowest audience for the British Grand Prix since 2006, but that should not be any surprise to anyone reading this considering the Wimbledon clash. Compared with 2014, which also clashed with an Andy Murray Wimbledon final, the average audience is down only 6.9 percent.

The Wimbledon build-up on BBC One from 13:00 to 13:55 averaged 2.28m (18.6%), enough to put a dent into the British Grand Prix numbers. The combined peak audience of 4.99m (31.5%) is down 14.6 percent on last year’s peak audience of 5.85m (50.4%), but up 2.4 percent on 2014’s peak audience of 4.88m (32.7%).

Live coverage of qualifying on Channel 4 from 12:00 to 14:30 averaged 1.43m (16.2%), peaking with 2.07m (21.1%) at 13:55. Sky’s coverage of qualifying across Sky Sports 1 and F1 added a further 421k (4.7%). The combined audience of 1.85m is the lowest since 2007 for Silverstone.

For the second weekend running, there are a lot of positives to take from the viewing figures. The average audience was severely weakened by the post-race segment dropping like a stone (as referenced above). The other metrics performed well, which suggests that the Formula 1 could have performed better than what it actually did had the Wimbledon final not been on.

I said at the start of the season that the viewing figures would live or die on the competitiveness of the championship. A runaway four races at the start of the year saw some very low numbers for Sky and Channel 4. The story has since swung around, and ratings have started to improve, both sides are reaping the rewards. Hungary will be an acid test as to whether viewers are going to stay around, or whether we will drop back to pre-Austria levels.

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

Dramatic Austrian Grand Prix helps F1 hit 2016 high

A dramatic Austrian Grand Prix lifted Formula 1 to its highest audience of the season in the UK, overnight viewing figures show.

Live coverage of the race, won by Lewis Hamilton after a last lap collision with Nico Rosberg, averaged 866k (9.9%) across Sky Sports 1 and F1 from 12:00 to 15:30. The audience was split 617k (7.1%) on the dedicated channel compared with 248k (2.8%) on Sky Sports 1. Combined, this is the highest audience of the season for Sky, surpassing Canada which averaged 853k across an equivalent slot. For a round that takes place in early afternoon, it is Sky’s highest number since the 2014 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Channel 4’s highlights programme averaged a further 2.28m (13.6%) from 18:00 to 20:00. It is Channel 4’s highest highlights number of the season, and their second highest average figure overall, only behind their live programme from Bahrain. As expected, their number is down on BBC One’s highlights number from last season of 3.11m (23.1%), but they could take encouragement that numbers are positive in comparison with the season so far.

The combined audience of 3.11 million is the highest for Formula 1 since the 2015 Brazilian Grand Prix. Shockingly, it is the highest for a European round since the 2015 Russian Grand Prix. It is sometimes forgotten that the ratings turmoil actually started at the back end of last season, thanks to the championship being wrapped up a few races early. To a degree, Channel 4 have inherited that and are trying to reclaim those viewers.

It was a good weekend all round for Formula 1 as qualifying also posted a solid number. An average audience of 1.32m (9.2%) watched Channel 4’s highlights programme from 17:30 to 19:00. Around an extra 350k watched on Sky Sports 1 and F1, bringing the combined audience to the region of 1.65 million viewers. Considering Baku was nothing to shout about, these numbers are a surprising but welcome bump.

Double headers will help to maintain an audience off the back of a big story, and the British Grand Prix should do better than expected, comparatively speaking, with the season so far.

Formula E numbers will be on the blog on Tuesday or Wednesday. The 2015 Austrian Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.