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UK F1 TV ratings paint mixed picture at halfway stage

Despite a British driver currently in the championship race, at the halfway stage of the 2014 Formula One season, viewing figures do not paint a rosy picture. Currently, according to unofficial overnight viewing figures, television audiences have dropped to their lowest level since 2008 – the year Lewis Hamilton won his first Formula One championship.

> BBC bears brunt of drop as Sky’s figures show increase
> Combined figures follow same trajectory as between 2011 and 2012
> BBC “very pleased with how the season is going”
> Does online growth muddy the water?

Before going into detail, it is best re-iterating what exactly the numbers are. All terrestrial television numbers are programme averages. Sky Sports F1′s numbers for 2014 are for their race show from 12:00 to 15:30 (or equivalent), and I have used the equivalent timeslots for their 2012 and 2013 shows where possible in order to give the fairest comparison. BBC’s programme average number will either be for the live airing or highlights airing irrespective of channel for European or the American-based races; for Asian-based races, the re-run is included where applicable. All comparisons are for the first half of the respective seasons only, in the event of an odd-rounded season, the number is rounded up (i.e. in a 19 race season, the halfway stage is after round ten). The viewing figures are for TV viewing only, hence, they exclude BBC iPlayer and Sky Go.

The 2014 story
Starting off with Sky Sports F1, their race day programme has averaged 746k across three and a half hours from 12:00 to 15:30, or equivalent. The number is up 3.0 percent on 2013′s mid-season number of 724k. It is, however, down on the first half of 2012, which across the respective three and a half hour slots averaged 779k. The main reason for the drop is because, in 2012, Sky Sports offered their channels across the German Grand Prix weekend as free, something that has not happened since. Removing this would bring their 2012 average into line with the 2014 number.

Any increase is good, but it needs to be remembered that we are talking tens of thousands rather than hundreds of thousands where Sky are concerned. Is that a good thing? Well, not really. It definitely does not help Formula 1, that’s for sure. A 3 percent increase for Sky is a meagre 22k. In the grand scheme of things, that is not a lot, when you consider that an average of over 4 million viewers watch Formula 1 in a typical season. Sky may argue that they are bringing in new viewers. I’d argue that they’re not bringing enough new viewers. Unless Sky market F1 as a completely separate channel, with a separate price structure instead of bundling it in with the Sky Sports pack, for those not interested in football, cricket and the like, that will not change.

Over on the BBC, their figures have dropped. Average audiences for Formula 1, in comparison to the first half of 2013 have dropped by 18 percent, and are now back in line to what they were in 2012. An average of 3.12m tuned in to the first ten races on the BBC, compared to 3.81m in 2013 and 3.16m in 2012. Even removing last year’s inflated German Grand Prix highlights programme, 2014 is down half a million currently on 2013. The figures do not look good, and as a Formula 1 fan, seeing declining figures is not a good sign, at all. The problem for BBC this year is that the scheduling has not been favourable. Let’s look at the races which have been shown on BBC Two so far this year.

- Bahrain > highlights – clash with Grand National and The Boat Race
- Austria > highlights – would have meant not picking Canada, so Austria lesser of two evils
- Britain > live – clash with Wimbledon final
- Germany > highlights – clash with final round of The Open Golf

As I mentioned in my British Grand Prix scheduling piece, some of the scheduling this year has been terrible by FOM and the FIA. The BBC say that the amount of people who have watched 15 consecutive minutes of Formula 1 in 2014 (the reach figure) has dropped 4.3 percent.

Reach vs Average
The combined average at the halfway stage of the year is 3.87m, the lowest since 2008. It is down on 4.53m last year, marginally down on 3.94m from 2012 and considerably below any average recorded between 2009 and 2011. In 2011, when Formula 1 was exclusively on the BBC, race programmes used to average 4.6m and peak in excess of six million viewers, which was fantastic to see. It’s worth noting that the programme lengths were just as long, if not longer then compared with what BBC offer now for live races, I remember a British Grand Prix programme back then lasting until 15:40 before another hour on the forum! The sizeable six million peaks does not happen as much nowadays. The drop between 2011 and 2012 was 16 percent, compared with 15 percent between 2013 and 2014 at the halfway stage, so a very similar drop.

A drop of only 4.3 percent for the reach (BBC only) versus a more extreme percentage drop in average is of potential interest, when also looking at the similar drop mentioned above. Because some race highlights are scheduled on BBC Two, therefore to a lower audience, it means that the overall audiences are lower, hence a bigger drop in average audience. However, those people are still tuning in to the live races on BBC One, for example Canada which was level year-on-year, which is why the reach figure has not dropped as much in comparison. Whilst I can understand why this deal started in the first place, I really do not like seeing programming moved to BBC Two. All it does is hurt Formula 1 in the long run. If the alternative was really pay-TV only, then maybe this was the best option.

Online and final thoughts
As always, BBC iPlayer, Sky Go and the such like are not included in the figures. Whilst they will make some difference to the overall totals, I do not believe that they will change the overall year-on-year trend, although it may well bring 2014 above 2012. I think it should be pointed out though that people tend to watch live sport via television. When you remove that ‘live’ element, you either choose to seek out highlights elsewhere, or just don’t watch at all. This isn’t Sherlock or Doctor Who, where people will watch at their own leisure. Live sport is not consumed like that. Sport has a second screen experience by all means, but it’s first port of call is the television. Live sport is what draws people together. Moving Formula 1, partially, behind a pay wall does not achieve that (irrespective of who did what, why, when etc), which of course brings us around to the ‘next generation’ argument again.

I find this year’s figures actually worser than 2012, because we have a British driver in the title race. Viewing figures should be higher. Logically, viewing figures should start to improve year-on-year if Hamilton remains in the title race. I think some of the figures already this year have been alarming, but we should see some improvements soon, especially when you consider that 2013 fell off a cliff in the latter stages. Also, at a time like this, with Hamilton in contention, you cannot in any way, shape or form gain momentum ratings wise when you are chopping and changing between live, highlights, BBC One and BBC Two. If every race in 2014 was live on BBC One, you could pretty much guarantee that ratings would build to a crescendo towards the end of the season. The current rights structure, in my opinion, does not allow for that. But, given the BBC’s current predicament, is the current rights deal better than having every race live and free on ITV? I’d argue it is, but from a Formula 1 marketing perspective, there is not much in it compared to three years ago.

A BBC spokesperson said: “The BBC has seen great audiences for F1 this year, with the highest peak for live being 5.2m for Canada with a 4.6m average, and the highest for highlights being 4m for Monaco with a 3.3m average. We’re very pleased with how the season is going, especially with such a busy sporting year. Overall reach is slightly down at this point compared to 2013 (down 4.3%) which is a very small margin and it is completely expected for there to be fluctuations in audiences through the year – some races are up, some are down which we see every season as the story unfolds. Fluctuations are also expected around other major events such as the World Cup and Commonwealth Games. Note that the BBC shows a different arrangement of live and highlights each year so figures are not directly comparable – the only comparable figure is the end of year reach.”

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German Grand Prix performs solidly

The German Grand Prix viewing figures in the UK were higher than those recorded for 2012, unofficial overnight figures show.

Race
Live coverage of the race, from 12:00 to 15:30 on Sky Sports F1, averaged 820k (9.2%). Whilst the share is up year-on-year, the raw number is down on 2013, which averaged 882k (8.8%) for the equivalent timeslot. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is also down on the 1.12m (11.6%) number from 2012. On that occasion, Sky offered its portfolio of channels as free for the entire weekend. As always, all the numbers exclude those who watched online or at pubs and clubs.

BBC Two’s highlights show from 19:00 averaged 2.92m (14.9%), peaking with 3.57m (17.1%) at 20:05. Given that the 2013 race highlights programme followed on directly from Andy Murray’s Wimbledon victory on BBC One, comparisons are really invalid, but for completeness purposes, that averaged 5.15m (31.2%). Yesterday’s rating however is up on 2012, which averaged 2.13m, also on BBC Two.

Given the above, it is no surprise that the combined 2014 average for the race sits at 3.74m, much lower than the inflated 2013 number of 6.03m. It is higher than the 2012 average of 3.25m. If you want to compare yesterday to the averages between 2009 and 2011, then the number is down between 360k and 560k. 2011, the last year that Formula 1 was exclusively on the BBC, averaged 4.30m (40.4%) for the German round.

Qualifying
Live coverage of qualifying on Sky Sports F1 from 12:00 to 14:35 averaged 416k (4.5%). Some of you will correctly point out that the programme went slightly longer than billed due to the red-flag period. The programme average therefore is probably in the region of 380k to 400k, however, it does not make a substantial difference in the grand scheme of things. BBC One’s highlights programme averaged 2.34m (17.8%) at 17:25. The combined figure, in the region of 2.7m is slightly down on last year, but in-line with the figures recorded between 2009 and 2011.

For a highlights round, with coverage of the race on BBC Two, it’s a better rating than what I was expecting in the context of the season’s ratings so far. Later this week, or next, I’ll be publishing a halfway review of the season’s numbers so far, and examine how well, or not, F1 is performing in comparison to previous years.

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

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MotoGP’s UK viewing figures halve year on year

Halfway through the 2014 MotoGP season, and the move to pay TV for live coverage is having a profound effect on the UK ratings, unofficial overnight viewing figures show.

> Half a million viewers across BT and ITV
> BT Sport “expect numbers to grow with time”
> ITV decline to comment

For the best part of fifteen years, BBC had screened every race live, with further more extensive coverage on British Eurosport. With an average of one million viewers every race, BBC’s coverage was motorcycling’s gateway to a new generation of fans, should a British rider rise to the top. In May 2013, it was announced that BT Sport would be taking over exclusive coverage of the championship from 2014 onwards, unsurprisingly provoking a backlash from fans. The exclusivity aspect failed to make it to the first race, just two weeks before the start of the 2014 season, it was announced that ITV4 would be screening highlights of the championship, a move aimed at appeasing a larger portion of the MotoGP fan base. And the viewing figures, in my opinion, back that up.

All the viewing figures below exclude BBC iPlayer for 2013, and similarly BT Sport’s app and ITV Player for this season. So far in 2014, BT Sport’s live race day coverage for the MotoGP portion of proceedings – from 12:30 to approximately 14:00 – have averaged 155k, peaking at just over 200k the majority of the time. ITV4′s highlights programming on Monday evenings have averaged 366k, this number including their +1 timeshift channel. The combined audience of 521k is significantly down on figures in previous years, when MotoGP was live on terrestrial television.

In comparison, BBC Two’s MotoGP coverage for the first half of the 2013 season, excluding Austin and Assen, which were not covered live by the channel, averaged exactly 1.00m, regularly peaking around 1.3m. In addition to that, an additional audience in the region of 150k watched on British Eurosport an hour later, bringing the combined audience is 1.15m. Traditionally, UK’s audiences have remained around that level for many years, with slight fluctuations about 100k either way depending on that season’s circumstances and other sporting competition in that calendar year. As mentioned above, audiences this year have more than halved in comparison to last year.

Looking into the figures, I maintain that ITV were brought on board to save face. BT Sport exclusivity would have been a catastrophic disaster for all concerned. Yes, they may be providing more in-depth coverage than BBC (albeit, with the use of a studio at every race weekend), but that in my opinion is meaningless if audiences are 10 percent of what BBC were getting. BT Sport’s coverage is not going to bring in new fans. If it does, it’ll be tens of thousands rather than hundreds of thousands as BBC’s coverage could have done if the likes of Bradley Smith get to the front of the field in the years to come.

I would be surprised if Dorna are happy with BT’s viewing figures, however it was them that made the decision to go with BT Sport’s money rather than BBC’s viewers. Whether ITV4′s highlights programming was a nice compromise, the jury is out. In any case, I’m not at all surprised about the drop. There is a valid point about the dominance of Marc Marquez having a detrimental effect on viewing figures. From BT’s perspective, viewing figures have stayed consistent (in fact, their Qatar programme only peaked with 230k), whilst ITV4′s highlights have dropped to around the 350k mark. Because of the football in the past month, there is no direct yes or no answer where the Marquez theory is concerned.

A BT Sport spokesperson said: “BT Sport is a brand new channel and less than a year old and MotoGP launched on the channel in March of this year. BT Sport show some of the most extensive coverage of MotoGP seen in the UK across Friday, Saturday and Sunday on a race weekend. We are pleased with the number of people watching MotoGP as well as MotoGP Tonight so far and feedback on our coverage has also been extremely positive. We expect numbers to grow with time.” ITV declined to comment.

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British Grand Prix drops to eight year low

The British Grand Prix, won by Lewis Hamilton, peaked with 4.9 million viewers yesterday, unofficial overnight data shows. Tough opposition and a one hour red flag period meant that the race dropped to its lowest number since 2006.

Race
You may argue that year-on-year analysis is invalid due to the red flag period. To some degree, comparisons are invalid and I accept that the race yesterday was not your typical 90 minute event, however that does not mean that they should be completely dismissed especially when you also look at the relevant qualifying comparisons. The live coverage on BBC Two averaged 2.82m (22.6%) from 12:00 to 16:30, with the equivalent timeslot on Sky Sports F1 bringing 501k (4.1%). A combined average of 3.33m is the lowest for the race since 2006, a more depressing statistic perhaps when you consider that a Brit is in the title race – and won yesterday.

Over 4 million viewers were tuned in as the lights went to green, 4.50m (40.1%) were watching at 13:05. Even at this point, the numbers were lower than the equivalent point in 2013: 5.29m (49.6%) watched the beginning of 2013′s race, showing that lower interest, the race being on BBC Two and other sporting attractions played their part, meaning that the red flag that followed was not the only factor in the low numbers. The problem with the red flag is that it meant that the race would now be overlapping completely with the Wimbledon final. The audience dropped to as low as 3.59m (30.2%) during the red flag period, picking back up to a high of 4.77m (35.9%) at 14:10. Despite having a British driver in contention, audience levels dropped again to 4.06m (28.2%) at 14:55, rebounding to a peak of 4.88m (32.7%) at 15:25 as Lewis Hamilton won – the audience split being 4.19m (28.1%) on BBC and 688k (4.6%) on Sky.

The peak audience of 4.88m (32.7%) compares with a peak of 6.70m (52.8%) in 2011 and a peak of 5.98m (51.0%) in 2013. The latter stage of the 2012 race, which clashed with Andy Murray’s Wimbledon, peaked with 5.2m. It is the first time since 2007 that the British Grand Prix programme average has been below four million viewers. Depressingly, the 2011 programme average of 4.89m (43.1%) is actually higher than yesterday’s peak.

Qualifying
Like the race yesterday, coverage of qualifying struggled similarly against Wimbledon and the Tour de France on Saturday. Whilst the Formula 1 did win its slot from 11:55 to 14:30, no doubt the opposition knocked a few hundred thousand off its potential. BBC Two’s coverage averaged 1.62m (17.5%), peaking with 2.29m (22.0%) at the conclusion of the qualifying hour. Sky Sports F1 from 12:00 to 14:30 added 293k (3.2%). With a combined average of 1.91m, it is easily the lowest British Grand Prix qualifying number since 2007. Had qualifying done well, I would have probably put a disclaimer next to the race figures, but in my opinion it is telling that both qualifying and the race did poor.

I’m afraid from a scheduling point of view, the decision to have the British Grand Prix on the same weekend as the Wimbledon finals and the Tour de France departing from Yorkshire was a disaster by FOM and the FIA. The Tour de France starting from Yorkshire has been known since late 2012 and the Wimbledon finals are always on the first weekend of July (although this is changing from 2015). I know that there are many, many factors that come into consideration when finalising the calendar, however having the British Grand Prix on the same weekend as two other big sporting events, thus reducing its prominence in the British sporting calendar, is brain fade. I did similar in 2012, but having:

- June 8th – Canada (as present, avoids World Cup clash)
- June 15th – Le Mans (as present)
- June 22nd – Britain (critically as it is a BBC live race means no World Cup clash)
- June 29th – Austria (Wimbledon middle Sunday and World Cup down to two games a day, giving more flexibility)
- July 13th – Germany (avoids clash with The Open, giving more flexibility)
- August 15th – Hungary (avoids Commonwealth Games)
- August 29th – Belgium (avoids late Summer Bank Holiday)
- September 7th – Italy

I’ll stop there, however the timing of the self imposed Summer break means that BBC highlights races are reduced to BBC Two coverage, reducing the ratings potential. I’m not sure how much consideration is given to avoiding other sporting fixtures, however in the case of Silverstone yesterday, they clearly did not pay as much attention as they should have. At a time when Formula 1 desperately needs good viewing figures, high profile clashes, along with yesterday’s one hour delay only serves to aggravate matters. Germany and Hungary are up next, and both are highlights and will be on BBC Two thanks to live coverage of the Open and Commonwealth Games. Formula 1′s Summer of low ratings looks set to continue…

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

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Warm weather and World Cup hurts Austrian Grand Prix

A warm, settled spell of weather in the UK, along with the continuing World Cup coverage, hurt Formula 1′s return to Austria, unofficial overnight viewing figures show.

Race
The race coverage across BBC Two and Sky Sports F1 had the lowest combined average of the season. Live coverage on Sky Sports F1 averaged 721k (9.6%) from 12:00 to 15:30. Highlights on BBC Two at 19:30 brought a further 2.45m (12.2%). BBC’s highlights peaked with 2.90m (14.4%) at 20:15. The combined average of 3.17m is the lowest since the 2013 United States Grand Prix.

It should consolidate to about 3.3m or 3.4m which will put it in line with the ratings for Austria recorded between 1997 and 2003, although I admit that you probably shouldn’t be making a comparison like that considering the many changes in Formula 1 and television since then. Preceding the race on Sky Sports F1, the Track Parade from 11:30 averaged 144k (2.3%), whilst post-race interviews and analysis during Paddock Live averaged 173k (2.0%).

Qualifying
The Qualifying programme, screened live on Sky Sports F1 from 12:00 to 14:35, averaged 442k (6.9%), a solid figure all considering for the channel. It was the highlights on BBC One that struggled, albeit thanks to the very early airtime. On air from 16:45 to 18:00, the coverage mustered 1.53m (13.6%). The share is the telling point here, there were viewers around however, they were watching the live World Cup coverage on ITV instead of the Formula 1.

A combined audience of 1.97m means that this is the third lowest figure of the season, only ahead of Australia and China. I think the main thing to take out of here is that the decision (or however the picks went) to have Austria as a highlights race was always going to work against the BBC as it meant that the highlights would go opposite a World Cup game. Why they didn’t put the Qualifying and Race highlights both at 19:00 on BBC Two, I don’t know.

Practice, GP2 and GP3 Series
Practice coverage over the weekend on Sky Sports F1 struggled, Saturday’s practice session averaged 70k (1.2%) from 09:45. Friday’s practice sessions were both under 50k, practice two averaging 43k (0.8%). It shows really that those that watch practice on BBC Two during their live weekends are not Sky Sports F1 viewers, the latter does not see any boost whatsoever for practice when they have exclusive coverage. GP2 and GP3 did not fare any better. GP2′s feature race on Saturday afternoon was the highlight, averaging 41k (0.6%). GP3′s highest rating was on Sunday morning for their second race, averaging 21k (0.4%).

The headline figures are not great for the F1. I do wonder if this should have been a BBC live race, thus guaranteeing no World Cup clash and probably half a million more viewers for both Qualifying and the Race. However, given that Canada and Britain were either side of Austria, they were left with little choice than to take Austria as a highlights race.

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