Hamilton fails to prevent F1 ratings slide

The outlook may look rosy for Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes, but viewing figures in the UK continue to slide, overnight numbers show.

Heading into Russia, Formula 1 had recorded year-on-year declines for Singapore and Japan, both of which you can attribute to increased competition thanks to the Rugby World Cup. However, Argentina vs Namibia was never going to be tough opposition against the Russian Grand Prix, which turned out to be accurate as only 550k (5.6%) watched the game on ITV, only just above their own slot average.

BBC’s live coverage of the Grand Prix, which aired on BBC One from 11:00 to 14:15, averaged 2.79m (29.3%), down 13 percent on last year’s figure of 3.22m (30.7%). The drop in share is relatively small in comparison, a 5 percent drop year-on-year. Live coverage on Sky Sports F1 from 11:00 to 14:30 averaged 497k (5.1%), which compares with 665k (6.3%) last year. In other words, Sky’s coverage lost 25 percent of their viewership year-on-year, or 19 percent of their share. It does look like there were less viewers around, but in my opinion against minimal opposition, yesterday’s figure can only be considered as very poor.

Analysis – Does it matter who is dominating?
The morale of the story here is that domination is a bad thing for motor sport in general irrespective of whether it is Sebastian Vettel or Hamilton who is dominating. I’ve felt the need to explicitly state motor sport here. Dominance can be a good thing. See: Usain Bolt as one example. In some sports, dominance is good as it can raise the profile of said event, sometimes it can be bad (I think that’s a whole debate in itself, perhaps outside the remit of this site!). Back to Formula 1, home dominance is good – to a point. The problem with Hamilton dominating is not necessarily the fact that he is dominating, it is what is happening around that point that is the problem. The negativity surrounding the sport at the moment will only do more harm than good and drive down the ratings.

In 2011, Vettel dominated the season. Yet it was, and remains, the most watched season of Formula 1 in the past decade. Why? Of course TV coverage plays a part – I think we can agree that BBC F1 was at its pinnacle. But there was one thing that 2011 had that 2015 struggles with: sub-plots. Story lines. Something to draw casual viewers in. 2011 saw Jenson Button’s fantastic victory in Montreal, it also saw many fights between Hamilton and Felipe Massa, on and off the circuit. It was the latter that, in my opinion, was the main factor in driving up viewing figures that year. Both men were big stars in 2011 coming off the title battle three years earlier and viewers were waiting for the next big clash. What does 2015 have in comparison? Who is going to win the next instalment between Force India, Sauber and Toro Rosso. The decline of McLaren (sadly). My point is that at the moment, Formula 1 on the circuit does not have a draw to the casual viewer in comparison to what viewers witnessed a few years ago.

The issue of sliding ratings is not something isolated to Formula 1. Viewing figures are generally dropping across the board as viewers ‘pick and choose’, ‘mix and match’ what they want to consume, although sport does tend to hold up a lot better because of the nature of the beast. Sport is still a big television event, and will remain that way for many years to come. The combined average across BBC and Sky shows a year-on-year drop from 3.89 million to 3.29 million, around a 15 percent decrease. The numbers do not look pretty. The frustrating, and sad, part about the television deal between BBC and Sky could play out in two weeks time in America. Lewis Hamilton is on the brink of winning his third championship. As the schedule current stands, the race be played out to terrestrial viewers on BBC Two at nearly midnight.

I blogged about this situation last year. Barring a miracle, Hamilton will clinch the championship in America or Mexico, both of which are Sky exclusive races. As a fan, it is frustrating to see this unfold (especially if you do not have access to Sky), but the BBC entered the deal knowing that this situation could unfold. If the title is clinched in America, I suspect the ratings trajectory will continue downwards as the 2015 season bows out with a whimper.

For those wondering, viewing figures for MotoGP and the British Touring Car Championship finale will follow later this week in a separate post.

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


Sky Sports F1 to broadcast Race of Champions 2015 live

Sky Sports F1 are to broadcast this year’s Race of Champions event live, it has been confirmed.

The event, which is being held at London’s Olympic Stadium, will be shown on the channel across the weekend of Friday 20th November, covering both the Nations Cup and the actual Race of Champions event itself. The website says that Friday’s coverage will begin at 19:30 with Saturday’s coverage beginning at 15:00.

I assume Motors TV will show the event as well, Sky’s coverage is probably a one-off simply because the event is being held in London, like in 2007 and 2008. 2007’s coverage was predominantly on Sky Sports 2, with 2008 being broadcast live on Sky Sports Xtra.

I’ll update this post in the coming weeks with more coverage details and the confirmed scheduling details.

Thanks to James Rowe for the tip.

Scheduling: The 2015 Russian Grand Prix

The motor sport calendar is a weird thing. You have weekends where there is not much occurring, and then you have other times when the timetable is full of motor sport. Next weekend is jam-packed: Formula 1, MotoGP, BTCC and a lot more filling the spotlight.

Formula 1 heads to Russia where it feels like the majority of action will take place off the track rather than on it, but we shall see what happens before next Sunday’s race begins. BBC’s schedule is back to usual with the Forum on the Red Button, whilst Sky have a split qualifying show for the second year running due to Russia’s unique schedule which sees the first GP3 race placed in the gap between practice three and qualifying.

While F1 is in Russia, both MotoGP and the World Endurance Championship are in Japan, at Motegi and Fuji respectively. British Eurosport will be covering the latter exclusively live as Motors TV are showing the Bathurst 1000 at the same time. A note on the MotoGP, because of the Rugby World Cup and the timezone difference, BT’s coverage will be mostly studio based for Japan, Australia and Malaysia. Elsewhere, the British Touring Car Championship and the Blancpain Sprint Series come to their conclusion next weekend.

All the scheduling details you need can be found below…

BBC TV – Sessions
09/10 – 07:55 to 09:45 – Practice 1 (BBC Two)
09/10 – 11:55 to 13:35 – Practice 2 (BBC Red Button)
10/10 – 09:55 to 11:05 – Practice 3 (BBC Two)
10/10 – 12:10 to 14:25 – Qualifying (BBC One)
11/10 – 11:00 to 14:15 – Race (BBC One)
11/10 – 14:15 to 15:15 – Forum (BBC Red Button)

BBC Radio – Sessions
09/10 – 07:55 to 09:35 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
09/10 – 11:55 to 13:35 – Practice 2 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
10/10 – 09:55 to 11:05 – Practice 3 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
10/10 – 12:55 to 14:05 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
11/10 – 11:00 to 14:00 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live)

Supplementary Programming
08/10 – 21:00 to 22:00 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
09/10 – 18:45 to 19:00 – Inside F1 (BBC News Channel)
10/10 – 14:30 to 15:30 – F1 Rewind (BBC Two)
10/10 – 19:45 to 20:00 – Inside F1 (BBC News Channel)

Sky Sports F1
09/10 – 07:45 to 10:00 – Practice 1
09/10 – 11:45 to 13:55 – Practice 2
10/10 – 09:45 to 11:25
=> 09:45 – Practice 3
=> 11:15 – Qualifying – Part 1
10/10 – 12:15 to 14:35 – Qualifying – Part 2
11/10 – 10:30 to 15:15 – Race
=> 10:30 – Track Parade
=> 11:00 – Pit Lane Live
=> 11:30 – Race
=> 14:30 – Paddock Live

Supplementary Programming
08/10 – 13:00 to 13:30 – Driver Press Conference
08/10 – 20:45 to 21:00 – Paddock Uncut: Russia
09/10 – 15:00 to 15:45 – Team Press Conference
09/10 – 16:00 to 17:00 – The F1 Show
14/10 – 20:30 to 21:00 – Midweek Report

GP2 Series – Russia (Sky Sports F1)
09/10 – 10:00 to 10:50 – Practice
09/10 – 13:55 to 14:35 – Qualifying
10/10 – 14:35 to 16:05 – Race 1
11/10 – 08:00 to 09:15 – Race 2

GP3 Series – Russia (Sky Sports F1)
10/10 – 07:30 to 08:05 – Qualifying
11/10 – 06:55 to 07:55 – Race 1
11/10 – 09:25 to 10:25 – Race 2

MotoGP – Japan (BT Sport 2)
09/10 – 01:00 to 03:45 – Practice 1
09/10 – 05:00 to 08:00 – Practice 2
10/10 – 01:00 to 08:15
=> 01:00 – Practice 3
=> 04:00 – Qualifying
11/10 – 00:30 to 02:15 – Warm Up
11/10 – 02:45 to 07:15 – Races

MotoGP – Japan (ITV4)
12/10 – 20:00 to 21:00 – Highlights

Blancpain Sprint Series – Zandvoort (BT Sport 2)
10/10 – 13:00 to 14:30 – Qualifying
11/10 – 12:30 to 14:30 – Race

British Touring Car Championship – Brands Hatch (ITV4)
11/10 – 10:30 to 18:15 – Races

V8 Supercars – Bathurst 1000
11/10 – 23:30 to 07:30 – Race (Motors TV)
11/10 – 00:00 to 07:45 – Race (BT Sport Europe)

World Endurance Championship – Fuji
11/10 – 03:00 to 09:15 – Race (British Eurosport)
13/10 – 19:00 to 20:00 – Highlights (Quest)

If anything changes, I will update the schedule above.

Update on October 10th at 14:30 – The heavy crash of Carlos Sainz in practice three meant that the first GP3 race has been pushed back to tomorrow. I’ve updated the schedule above to take that into account.

Sky to merge F1 production teams for 2016?

Just over a year ago, it was announced that BSkyB had acquired a stake in Sky Italia and Sky Deutschland, with the two alongside Sky’s UK arm forming “Sky Europe”. At the time, I noted that it was pretty clear that Sky were looking towards the possibility of having a centralised production facility for Formula 1.

Since then, we have not heard anything on the subject with relation to Formula 1… until now. On Wednesday’s Midweek Motorsport podcast (located here), it was reported that Sky will indeed be merging their three Formula 1 production teams (UK, Germany and Italy) into “a single production house” in time for the 2016 Formula One season. In response to a question about the BBC’s lack of money, John Hindhaugh said “Sky have got no money because they overspent on the English Premier League and now they don’t have the money for Formula 1 either. They are having to bring in Sky Italy, Sky UK and Sky Germany into a single production house and I think that’s going to be really interesting next year.” Nick Daman followed up by saying that there is “arm waving” going on.

One key element in any change process is that the customer watching Sky’s programming should not notice that change, irrespective of country, it should be a seamless transition. For that reason, I do not expect a sudden clear-out of anyone who is working in front of the cameras. To remind readers, Andrew Griffith, who is Sky’s Chief Financial Officer said the following in July 2014: “The enlarged group will be able to share programming, channel brands and creative across territories, as well as to be more effective in the production of live cross-border events. An example is Formula 1, where all three broadcasters each currently send their own separate production capability.”

In my opinion, we can expect a more unified Sky Sports F1 channel across UK, Germany and Italy from 2016. Readers may have noticed some linkage already this season, earlier in the season, Sky Italia’s pit lane reporter conducted an interview with Ferrari’s drivers which aired in the UK, whilst Sky Deutschland’s Tanja Bauer appeared on the UK version of The F1 Show. Reading into the comments made by Hindhaugh, combined with what Griffith said last July, it looks like there will be more shared elements to proceedings, covering things such as opening titles, break bumpers and idents.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see The F1 Show changed so that the same programme airs across the three countries. Fox Sports in Australia already pick up The F1 Show it is worth remembering. There’s little benefit to Sky airing three separate F1 Show’s to a minuscule audience as it currently stands, from a cost perspective it looks like an easy saving to me. Furthermore, I think that the majority of the features that are produced will air in all three territories. The only difference being that three distinctive teams will link in and out, as is the case now, but can one production team do three live broadcasts at once? There are a lot of questions, none of which necessarily have answers here and now (in the public domain, at least).

Sky have not yet commented on this subject, and a request for comment concerning the future of the F1 channel in the UK went unanswered back in July. I have put another request for comment in to Sky, and will post further if I hear anything on the subject.

Update on October 3rd – Thanks to mlt11 on Digital Spy for this tip. Sky’s results presentation from July claims that they are already making £8 million worth of savings as a result of this, noting that the new production model was “rapid implementation in time for 2015 season”, with a “single production team, sharing facilities, back-up feeds and logistics”. I would expect them to make further savings for 2016, which I suspect that was what Hindhaugh was referring to.

Japanese Grand Prix slumps to record low

For the second race running, Formula 1 found itself losing a ratings battle against the Rugby World Cup, as the Japanese Grand Prix slumped to its lowest rating since at least 2005, overnight viewing figures show.

Before analysing the figures, it needs to be stated that historical comparisons are difficult for Japan. In the UK in recent years, Japan has started at 05:30, 06:00, 06:30 and 07:00, probably more start times that I can count. From 2010 to 2014, the race started at 07:00 UK time. Prior to that, the race started at 06:00 UK time, although the two events from Fuji in 2007 and 2008 began at 05:30 UK time. You would hope the repeat airing balances things out, but it is worth noting. Due to the events of last year, which affected the viewing figures, no comparisons will be made with 2014 in this post.

Live coverage of the race, broadcast live on BBC One from 05:00 to 09:00 averaged 925k (35.2%). It was billed as an extended race day show with the forum from around 08:30 onwards. The coverage from 05:00 to 08:00 averaged 954k (41.9%), a big difference in share, but no major difference in the raw figure. Sky Sports F1’s coverage from 05:00 to 08:30 averaged 255k (10.2%), with Sky Sports 1 adding a further 21k (0.8%). All of the live numbers are down on 2013, however this is not a surprise given the earlier start time.

BBC One’s repeat struggled against the Rugby World Cup on ITV, averaging only 1.44m (17.0%). The Rugby World Cup match between Scotland vs USA, which kicked off at 14:00, averaged 2.13m (23.0%) on ITV, comfortably beating the Grand Prix highlights. The peak audience for the Formula 1 live airing came at 07:30, as 2.00m (48.2%) watched Lewis Hamilton take victory. The peak share was a massive 1.60m (70.3%) at 06:10, down to a lot of viewers no doubt timeshifting the action to watch later in the day.

Overall, the combined audience of 2.65 million is the lowest on record (since 2005) for the Japanese Grand Prix. The 2009 race from Suzuka averaged 3.61 million. The live airing did fine, it is the BBC repeat that has dragged the numbers down significantly. The drastic drops for Singapore and Japan have had a major effect on the season average, and the numbers need to pick back up, and fast, otherwise the final average at the end of the year will not look pretty. The Russian Grand Prix clashes with Argentina vs Namibia, but I don’t expect that to be troubling the F1.

Rugby World Cup hits BTCC too
Formula 1 was not the only sporting contest kicked into touch yesterday. Live coverage of the British Touring Car Championship from Silverstone, which aired on ITV4 from 10:00 to 18:30, averaged 112k (1.2%). The action peaked with 231k (3.4%) at 12:00. BTCC does not seem to have recovered much of the lost ground compared with 2014. I’m not sure what is happening, but the audience has shifted away from the series in the past year or two, or are consuming less of it compared to previously.

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



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