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Bahrain Grand Prix sinks to seven year low

We’ve seen in the past how the scheduling of the North American highlights races on the BBC can dictate how badly a race does. And this was repeated last night, as the Bahrain Grand Prix dropped to its lowest rating since 2007.

Race
Live coverage of the race on Sky Sports F1, won by Lewis Hamilton, averaged 1.00m (6.3%) from 15:00 to 18:30, peaking with 1.55m (8.3%) at 17:40. Perhaps unsurprisingly due to later timeslot, the average for Sky was higher than previous years, 2012 averaged 963k (8.0%) and 2013 averaged 824k (7.6%). Sky’s peak is up on 2013, but down on 2012, which peaked with 1.61m (13.3%). Interestingly, because of Sky’s split programme strategy, this is the first time a programme has averaged over a million viewers on the channel (1.0017m).

With the later start time, it meant that BBC’s coverage began later, as the contract says. Last year’s highlights show averaged 3.58m on BBC One, at the more favourable early evening timeslot. This year, at 22:00 on BBC Two, the highlights averaged 2.38m (15.3%), bringing a combined audience of 3.38m, down about a million on every year from 2009 through to 2013. 2008′s race, broadcast live on ITV, averaged 3.55m (30.4%). Races moving nearer to primetime, in the case of Bahrain, is only a good thing if broadcasters exploit it. On this occasion, the BBC didn’t exploit it. For some reason, the race weekend clashed with both the Grand National on Saturday and then the Boat Race on Sunday, which meant that the chances of BBC picking Bahrain live was zero.

Qualifying
Saturday’s Qualifying session didn’t fare much better, again thanks to the scheduling issues noted above. Live coverage averaged 373k (2.8%) from 15:00 to 17:45 on Sky Sports F1, down on 2012 and 2013. A direct clash with the Grand National, which peaked with over 8 million on Channel 4, didn’t help. BBC Two’s highlights averaged 1.96m (9.8%) from 21:00 to 22:15. The combined audience of 2.33m is the lowest for the Bahrain qualifying session since the pre-BBC days. The ratings beg the question of whose idea it was to have the highlights for the North American races at that time when the contract was drawn up – was not having the race highlights at 21:00 possible?

I’m not sure whether the contract specifically says that the race cannot be screened until 22:00, but it appears to be one rule for qualifying and another for the race. This year, BBC are screening highlights of USA and Brazil, which means we will get more late night highlights. How is Formula 1 meant to build an audience as the season heads to a climax? Because screening highlights at 22:00 does not benefit anyone, and limits the audience potential. I’m expecting some to point the finger at the poor racing (in the view of many, myself not included) for Australia and Malaysia, but it is much more complex than that: poor scheduling, no ‘multi 21′ drama, good weather amongst other things, some of which have been noted in your comments in the survey that I am currently doing. If we get into the European season and viewing figures are still dropping, then I think there is real cause for concern, but not until.

GP2 Series
Last weekend, GP2′s coverage began on Sky Sports F1 for 2014 with pleasing ratings. The feature race on Saturday averaged 46k (0.7%), with the sprint race on Sunday bringing 70k (0.8%). The feature race was slightly above last year’s ratings, but the surprising rating is for the sprint race – its the highest rating for a sprint race ever on the channel. Hopefully the figures continue to improve as the season progresses.

The 2013 Bahrain Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.

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Hamilton’s win not as big as “multi 21″ but remains solid

With no race drama in another “multi 21″ controversy up front to draw in viewers, nor plumes of snow in the United Kingdom, the Malaysian Grand Prix dropped off year-on-year, but didn’t disgrace itself.

Race
Yesterday’s live coverage on BBC One from 08:00 to 11:15 averaged 2.45m (32.7%) with Sky Sports F1′s race show, also from 08:00 bringing 574k (7.7%) to the channel. Highlights on BBC One added 1.07m (12.5%), according to unofficial overnight viewing figures, bringing the combined average to 4.09m viewers. In 2013, the race averaged 4.01m (27.1%) for the highlights show on BBC One and 908k (13.0%) from 07:00 to 10:30 on Sky Sports F1. With a combined figure of 4.92m, it means a drop of over 20 percent. However, given the controversy that surrounded last years’ race, and the British weather doing what it does best, this shouldn’t be too surprising. Does that make it a bad rating? I don’t think so, as last year was clearly a set of freak circumstances all coming together.

In 2012, perhaps a better reflection, the race averaged 2.73m (27.9%) on BBC One from 14:45 to 16:40 and about 1.03m (14.0%) on Sky Sports F1. An exact slot comparison is difficult for 2012 as the race was red flagged and overran. This brings us to a combined average of 3.76m in 2012, so 2014 is up on that. It should be noted that yesterday’s figure is down on the BBC exclusive years: 2009, 2010 and 2011. So whilst, yes its a solid rating and not a disaster, it is definitely by no means great.

Elsewhere, live coverage of the opening round of the 2014 British Touring Car Championship averaged a disappointing 192k (2.1%) on ITV4 (including +1) from 10:30 to 18:00, peaking with 278k (3.4%) at 14:20. By the championship’s standards, that is an unusually low rating, and is the lowest season opener since at least 2010. I don’t know the reasoning behind it, but in the past, BTCC races have tended to peak upwards of half a million viewers so that strikes me as low. The F1 highlights could have knocked a few hundred thousand off it, however it is a seven and a half hour show where viewers traditionally dip ‘in’ for the main BTCC races, except that clearly didn’t happen yesterday. Over on ESPN, IndyCar averaged 5k (0.01%). BT Sport haven’t promoted IndyCar once this year, so this should come as no surprise. In their view, it is simply there to fill the hours.

Qualifying
Saturday’s Qualifying session brought in the second largest ever audience for a Malaysian Qualifying session, only behind 2013, unofficial overnight viewing figures show. Extended live coverage on BBC One from 07:00 to 10:10 averaged a respectable 1.41m (24.0%). I use the word ‘respectable’ as it is not that much better than BBC One’s usual Saturday morning line-up, but it is still good for what it is. Sky Sports F1′s coverage averaged approximately 282k (4.8%), with BBC One’s afternoon highlights from 13:15 to 15:30 adding a further 850k (11.0%).

This brings the combined figure to 2.55m viewers, a far cry from the 3.17m combined average in 2013 – split 336k for Sky and 2.83m for BBC, but above every other year. In the grand scheme of things, it has to be said that 2013 is an anomaly due to the weather: the preceding years from 2009 to 2012 were all in the ~2.2m region.

The 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.

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MotoGP viewership drops without FTA live coverage

A new era in the broadcasting scene began for MotoGP this past weekend on BT Sport and ITV4, with diminishing returns, as the sport found itself being watched by less people than the previous BBC and Eurosport deal, unofficial overnight viewing figures show. In 2013, the race was screened exclusively live on BBC Two from 19:30 to 21:00, the race starting an hour later in 2013 compared with this season. The programme averaged 1.67m (6.9%), peaking with 2.12m (8.4%) at 20:40.

Compare that to last weekend. BT Sport’s programme, from 15:00 to 20:30, averaged 126k (0.8%). When comparing with the equivalent BBC slot for the MotoGP race last year, from 18:30 to 20:00, that averaged 187k (0.8%), peaking with 230k (1.1%) at 19:05. ITV4′s hour long highlights show last night average 492k (2.2%), peaking with 603k (2.6%) according to unofficial overnight viewing figures, including +1. This brings us to a combined average of 679k, and a combined peak of 833k. For both years, viewing excludes anyone who viewed via the internet, so all viewing via the BT Sport app or their website is excluded, whilst the same also applies for anyone who viewed MotoGP in 2013 through BBC iPlayer. I would hazard a bet that the latter figures would be higher than the former, meaning that the overall effect is negligible.

So, are the figures any good? I said previously that if BT’s average, for the MotoGP part, was around 200k to 250k, then that would be acceptable (250k being their rumoured expectation), with ITV4′s highlights adding a further 400k. That would bring a combined figure in the 600k region, with a peak realistically near to 1 million. I’d say the figures are positive, but also a tale of two halves. Given the amount of promotion that they have done, BT’s figures are lower than I expected. On the other hand, ITV’s highlights deal came with little fan-fare and no promotion in comparison to BT. Yet, despite being on 24 hours after the original race, it brought nearly half a million viewers. BT Sport will claim to increase the sports popularity, except the viewing figures show completely the opposite. In many ways, the ITV4 viewership number has ‘saved face’. It is one of ITV4′s highest ratings of the year, only behind football and numerous repeats of Storage Wars.

I think you could run around this subject a lot, but the fact is that, thanks to Dorna taking the money and not the viewers, the viewership has halved. Julian Ryder said on Twitter last month that without BT Sport’s money, some teams would not have been on the MotoGP grid this year. I have no reason not to believe Ryder, and trust what he is saying. But instead of going to pay TV, surely MotoGP should have had a look at itself and say how do we make ourselves marketable to the wider public in the UK? If it wasn’t for the ITV4 deal (which Dorna themselves did not promote on the MotoGP website, with a press release, like they did twice for BT Sport), then MotoGP would have been turned into a niche sport.

So, will the declines continue? I think they will, be not to the extent we seen in Qatar. If ITV4′s highlights stays around half a million viewers, with BT Sport adding say 150k for the European races, then it won’t be a million miles away from BBC’s ratings. I think Dorna would have perhaps been hoping for a higher BT figure and a lower ITV4 figure. The gap, and how the viewing changes over the season will definitely be one to watch. If I’m a betting man, I’d say MotoGP will lose viewers this year, but thanks to the ITV4 deal, this has definitely been a better deal for Dorna than many people may have expected…

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Sky’s fortunes increase as BBC’s Australian Grand Prix ratings drop

The Australian Grand Prix weekend saw a change in fortunes for both BBC and Sky Sports. In a stark contrast to last year’s viewing figures, Sky Sports F1 recorded an increase for both Qualifying and the Race, but BBC dropped year-on-year.

Race
A quick note to start with. I’ll be using the Sky ‘race show’ slot to compare with previous years for the entire season, but will use the exact timeslot in the previous years data to do comparisons. Do not expect me to compare a full programme average (in 2012 or 2013) with a ‘race show’ average for 2014, because such a comparison would be invalid.

BBC’s highlights programme on BBC One on Sunday afternoon averaged 2.88m (25.4%), unofficial overnight viewing figures show. This figure is up on 2012 which averaged 2.73m, however, is down on the 3.05m that the programme averaged last season. Its not a major drop, but a drop nonetheless. I think the F1 has been lost in the shuffle this weekend on the BBC, due to the Six Nations taking up the majority of BBC One on Saturday. It meant that less people watched Qualifying with the broadcaster than normal, thus potentially affecting Sunday’s rating too.

Interestingly, and the first time I have said this in a long time, Sky’s coverage was up year-on-year. From 05:00 to 08:30, Sky Sports F1 averaged 594k (21.1%), peaking with 945k (21.5%) at 07:35. This compares with 517k (20.9%) in 2013 and 621k (26.8%) in 2012. The ‘split show’ appears to have worked if the intention was to bring in more viewers, although I think it will only have a bigger influence for the early morning rounds, where more people are bound to record the action.

This brings us to a combined average of 3.47m, down on 3.57m. The issue here is that, yes, a Sky gain of 73k is great for them, but if BBC loses nearly 200k, it eradicates whatever gain Sky is made. Due to the audience levels, if BBC lose or gain, it will flip flop massively either way, which is unlikely to happen with Sky. An issue with the BBC overnight ratings for the past few years is that the Scottish Cup final has meant that the F1 has been displaced to BBC Two. The BBC One overnights in this piece include Scotland viewers, so if the Scottish Cup final was lower profile than last year, that may have had an affect too. Also, whilst a combined average of 3.47m is ‘okay’ versus 2012 (which averaged 3.35m), it is a far cry from the BBC exclusive figures from 2009 to 2011, which I feel is important to remember.

Qualifying
Note that there are no comparisons with last year, given that the session was red flagged on the Saturday, which depleted the averages all around. As for 2014, Sky Sports F1′s coverage of Qualifying performed well in the early hours of Saturday night. The live programme, from 05:00 to 07:45 averaged 307k (15.5%), peaking with 549k towards the end of the session. The average looks healthy because it is, in fact higher than their 2012 viewing figure which was below 300k. So, they have good reason to be happy with that.

On the flip side, Sky1′s simulcast added only 32k (1.6%) during the timeslot, which shows how poorly the simulcast was promoted. It begs the question of what the purpose of the simulcast is if no promotion is going to be given. Had there have been ample promotion for the Sky1 simulcast, I’d bet that 32k being at least three or four times higher.

Later on, BBC F1′s highlights coverage on BBC Two from 14:55 to 16:25 averaged 1.35m (12.1%), peaking with 1.62m (14.1%). The combined average is therefore marginally down on 2012, but also the lowest since 2007. Whilst very disappointing, the reasoning for that in my opinion is due to mitigating circumstances, specifically the Six Nations which took a big slice out of the Formula 1 audience.

The 2013 Australian Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.

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Testing ratings for final test level year-on-year

Ratings for the final pre-season test from the Bahrain International Circuit were level year-on-year with Sky Sports F1′s live coverage from last year, unofficial overnight viewing figures show. If you are to do a best like-for-like comparison, live airings of testing versus the first round-up/Notebook airings from this week then it is a dead heat. The repeats I don’t think would make much difference, although if you were to do a peak figure comparison, then there would be a significant difference, as the live testing coverage from last year was longer than this year’s round-ups.

Coverage began on Thursday with 44k (0.2%) watching Sky’s coverage, this dipping to 29k (0.1%) for Friday’s round-up, both ratings up on live testing in 2013. 40k (0.2%) tuned in on Saturday, whilst 30k (0.1%) watched on Sunday, figures for the weekend down in both raw numbers and share on 2013. I really do think Sky should have made every effort possible to screen testing live on Saturday and Sunday. I would have agreed with ditching Thursday and Friday’s live coverage given that they are weekdays, but I personally would not have been opposed to something like this for the weekend:

12:00 – Live Testing
15:00 – Testing round-up/Notebook repeats
18:00 – Testing (repeat of earlier)
21:00 – Ted’s Notebook

I wouldn’t be surprised if the location played a hand in the decision to not pursue testing live. Of course, we mustn’t forget that, according to Sky Sports F1′s channel scheduler, “live testing is pointless”. One thing I want to mention, I have seen some people saying that allegedly ‘nobody cares’ about testing, yet the testing figures (as I have said before) beat the GP2 and GP3 figures from previous years and multiple episodes of The F1 Show. Using the same logic, the aforementioned items are pointless, too.

- 27/02 – 44k (0.2%), peak: 50k (0.2%) – 21:00 to 21:45
- 28/02 – 29k (0.1%), peak: 36k (0.2%) – 21:00 to 21:45
- 01/03 – 40k (0.2%), peak: 73k (0.4%) – 21:00 to 21:45
- 02/03 – 30k (0.1%), peak: 41k (0.2%) – 21:00 to 21:45

Note that I believe that Ted’s Notebook overran on the Saturday and Sunday, however I do not know the exact times that it finished so, for the purposes of this blog post I have kept the original timings.

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