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Belgium draws identical audience year-on-year

The Belgian Grand Prix, won by Lewis Hamilton, drew an identical audience year-on-year, overnight viewing figures show.

Live coverage of the Grand Prix on BBC One, which aired from 12:10 to 15:30, averaged 2.44m (22.5%), peaking with 3.38m (27.5%) at 14:25 as Hamilton won. Last year’s race aired across the same timeslot to an identical audience, albeit a different share: 2.44m (26.4%), with a peak of 3.27m (31.8%) as Daniel Ricciardo won. The trend, the same audience but lower share is repeated over on Sky Sports F1. Their race day show, from 12:00 to 15:30, averaged 470k (4.3%), peaking with 768k (6.2%) at 14:05. Last year’s Sky coverage averaged 475k (5.1%), peaking with 784k (8.3%) at 13:05.

It is not often you get an identical audience year-on-year, let alone an identical channel breakdown. The combined average for 2015 of 2.91m is the same as 2014, and the combined peak of 4.15m is up on the peak of 4.04m. Unfortunately, because the 2015 average is lower than 2014 (2.9065m vs 2.9103m), it does mean that the 2015 Belgium Grand Prix now holds the unwanted statistic of being the lowest rated European round since the 2008 European Grand Prix. That race went up against the Olympic Games closing ceremony from Beijing.

There are multiple reasons though why I don’t think Belgium’s numbers are anything to worry about. Alongside the warm weather, Belgium was up against a lot of sporting opposition. Premier League football on Sky Sports would have taken away a chunk of the audience, and The Ashes cricket no doubt played a factor as well. The biggest opposition though came from Usain Bolt running in the 100m final at the World Athletics Championship in Beijing. Screened live on BBC Two, the athletics hit 3m (24.4%) at 14:15. During the same five minute period, the F1 dropped to 3.12m (25.7%), showing the effect that Bolt had, albeit a very short effect given the length of the 100m race!

Looking ahead, the Italian Grand Prix in two weeks time should bring in a good number. It is a highlights race, and as we saw with 2012, should draw a big number in comparison to previous years.

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

UK F1 TV viewing figures rise, but Sky hit the skids

It has been a promising start to the 2015 Formula One season in the UK, with TV viewing figures recording an increase of eight percent compared with the first half of 2014, unofficial overnight viewing figures show. The figures have been boosted by better scheduling decisions, along with closer racing heading into the Summer break.

> BBC viewing figures increase 12 percent
> Sky slides to record low
> Combined numbers up on 2012 and 2014, but down on 2013

For newer readers to the blog, it is worth mentioning what the figures cover. All the figures in this post are BARB overnight viewing figures. BBC’s viewing figures are for their entire programme, irrespective of whether it ran 160 minutes or 190 minutes. Sky’s viewing figures are for the three and a half hour slot from 12:00 to 15:30, or equivalent. The pay-TV broadcaster opted to split their race day programming into four blocks, the numbers for Sky Sports that I report on this site covers the Pit Lane Live and Race Show segments and are all weighted averages. Sky’s figures also include any simulcasts that have occurred. For the avoidance of doubt, the last four races have been simulcast on Sky Sports 1: Canada, Austria, Britain and Hungary.

To the contrary, online viewing is not included. Only Sky will know how many people are watching Formula 1 via Sky Go, similarly the same can be said for BBC iPlayer, although some figures are released into the public domain for the latter, which I’ve summarised below. All comparisons are for the first half of each season. 2015’s half way figure includes Hungary, as it was round 10 of 19. 2014’s half way analysis did not include Hungary, as it was round 11 of 19.

The 2015 story
Beginning with Sky Sports F1, their race day programming from 12:00 to 15:30 has averaged 657k. As mentioned, that number includes Sky Sports 1 simulcasts. It is the lowest number since the channel has launched. The previous lowest was for the first half of the 2013 season, which averaged 724k. The 2015 number is down 15.3 percent on the first half of 2012, down 9.3 percent on 2013, and down 11.9 percent on 2014. You don’t need to know a lot about viewing figures to realise that the numbers are grim for Sky. Only three races have increased year-on-year for the broadcaster – Spain (up 5.0 percent due to exclusivity), Austria (up 4.3 percent) and Britain (up 27.0 percent due to no Wimbledon clash). All the other races have dropped, in some cases by fairly sizeable proportions.

The substantial drop for Sky is surprising given that at the end of 2014, I was reporting the highest figures since channel launch for the broadcaster. Quoting from that post, I said: “It will be intriguing to see if Sky can continue the upwards swing heading into 2015, or whether BBC can claw back a few viewers off Sky that they have lost during 2014.” It is difficult to say exactly why the audiences have dropped, although I think the negative publicity that Formula 1 faced at the beginning of 2015 could be attributed to it. Sky’s numbers are also affected by the earlier start times for Australia, Malaysia and China, all three of which dropped year-on-year, although you would expect same day timeshift to make up the drop in figures.

Where Sky have dropped, BBC have gained. Their average audience has increased by 12 percent, up from 3.12m to 3.51m. 2015’s number is down though on 2013’s first half average number of 3.81m, which was influenced by the “multi 21” controversy, alongside the German Grand Prix highlights show directly following the final of Wimbledon. BBC’s figures so far this season are good. Luck has come their way compared with previous years: the removal of the German Grand Prix meant that BBC have three live races in a row, whilst the crew have also covered both of the surprise Ferrari victories live this season.

Only one race has recorded a lower audience on the BBC compared with last year, that being the Spanish Grand Prix which the broadcaster screened as a highlights programme versus live in 2014. Every other race has increased, which shows that, even in Sky’s fourth season, free-to-air is still king. Sky should be attempting to make in-roads into BBC’s audiences, but that is not happening, meaning that they are in turn failing to entice new people on-board.

Online and other viewing
As I have said before, tracking online viewing is incredibly difficult due to the nature of the beast. However, that is set to change soon. It was announced by BARB last month that they would be releasing the TV Player Report from September in beta. The report will provide “official figures on the level of viewing to on-demand and live-streamed content through online TV Player apps.” The report should give us a better indication of the broader picture regarding online viewing. I would expect some mentions of sporting events, depending on the size and shape of the weekly reports.

In terms of Sky Go, Sky say that it is now available in six million households.As I alluded to earlier, that figure means nothing without further detail. Just because it is available in six million households, it doesn’t mean that those six million households are using it regularly, let alone watching sports content. Over on the BBC TV, the Malaysian Grand Prix attracted 553k requests, Bahrain had 466k requests. As the BBC files show, the numbers include those that watched the live streams as well as On Demand afterwards. The highest number of requests that an F1 show has ever received on BBC iPlayer is 662k for the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix (although that is down to the circumstances involved). Aside from that, F1 has settled into the half a million requests region for iPlayer requests. If F1 is getting around that number on iPlayer, it is fair to assume that Sky Go’s numbers for Formula 1 struggle to hit 100k.

Combined audience and final thoughts
The combined TV average at the halfway stage of 2015 is 4.16m, an increase of 12 percent on 2014’s halfway figure of 3.87m. The viewing figures so far for 2015 are also up on 2012, but are down on 2013’s halfway average audience of 4.53m. Overall, the viewing figures so far have been really good, although admittedly as I have mentioned above, the BBC gets the majority of the credit for the increase. The TV viewing figures will be slightly below those recorded from between 2009 and 2011 when BBC covered the coverage exclusively, but when you include the online audience on BBC iPlayer, 2015 will not be that far behind 2011’s numbers. Working out the exact amount is impossible for a variety of reasons, but F1 2015 stands up well in comparison.

It is a very significant turnaround compared to this time last year, when I was reporting the lowest viewing figures for TV since 2008. The climb can be attributed to better scheduling, a lack of opposition this Summer, as well as a British driver being on top. However, the figures may be a surprise considering all but the last two races before the Summer break were mediocre in nature. Either way, anyone hoping that Formula 1’s viewing figures were going to drop will probably be left disappointed by the latest set of numbers. The only viewing figures that are dropping are Sky’s, a fact that they will be looking to turn around significantly in the latter half of 2015.

With reference to the 15 minute reach figures, a BBC spokesperson said “We’re delighted that our Formula 1 TV coverage continues to go from strength to strength with 1m more people watching our coverage compared to at this stage in 2014. It’s been a fantastic season so far and we look forward to bringing audiences the thrilling action of F1 for the remainder of 2015.” Sky did not respond within the timeframe to a request for comment concerning the viewing figures. If Sky do comment on the figures in the forthcoming days, I will amend this article.

Hungarian Grand Prix soars to best number since 2011

An adrenaline filled Hungarian Grand Prix, won by Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, helped the race hit its highest number since 2011, unofficial overnight viewing figures show.

Live coverage of the race, broadcast live on BBC One from 12:15 to 15:15, averaged a strong 3.87m (32.5%), peaking with 4.97m (36.8%) at 14:45. It is BBC’s highest number for Hungary since 2011, perhaps unsurprising given the fact that they have only covered Hungary in highlights form in recent years. Nevertheless, it is another reminder that live action does draw viewers, and that viewers do prefer watching something live – if they have the choice. Over on Sky Sports F1, their live coverage from 12:00 to 15:30 averaged 625k (5.3%), peaking with 830k (6.1%). Including the simulcast on Sky Sports 1, those numbers rise to 745k (6.3%), with a peak of 1.00m (7.4%), again at 14:45.

The combined average of 4.61m is the third highest on record, since at least the late 1990s. In recent times, 2009 averaged 4.81m (42.5%), whilst 2011 averaged 4.65m (42.2%), both slightly higher than 2015. The combined peak of 5.98m (44.2%) as Vettel won the race yesterday compares extremely well, only behind 2011’s peak audience of 6.10m (50.0%). It is no surprise that all of the highest peaks this year have been recorded when BBC are covering the race live, and all of those peaks have been in the six million viewer ballpark. I think I should underline that the Hungarian round has traditionally rated well with viewers, the last time the race rated under 4 million viewers was 2008.

The great number from Hungary, combined with some recent solid audiences, means that the 2015 Formula One season is currently 8 percent up year on year. I’ll have more analysis in a few weeks time, but the numbers bode well heading into the latter half of the season.

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

British Grand Prix peaks with 5.9 million

Lewis Hamilton’s victory in the rain-affected British Grand Prix peaked with 5.9 million viewers yesterday, overnight viewing figures show.

The first disclaimer before outlining the figures is that there are no comparisons to 2012 and 2014, because both of those years clashed with Wimbledon and rated significantly lower than yesterday. The only valid comparison of recent years under the current contract is with the 2013 race.

BBC One’s live coverage of the race, which aired from 12:15 to 15:30, averaged 3.63m (34.2%), peaking with 4.93m (42.4%) at 14:30 as Hamilton sealed victory. Both of those numbers are down on 2013’s race, which featured Pirelli’s punctures and Nico Rosberg’s victory. 2013’s programme on BBC One from 12:10 to 15:30 averaged 3.72m (35.3%), peaking with 5.12m (43.7%), also at 14:30. Neither of the drops are significant, around 3 to 4 percent, but noticeable nevertheless for BBC’s coverage.

On both average and peak, BBC was down between 100k and 200k versus 2013, with Sky benefiting as a result. Live coverage on Sky Sports F1 averaged 530k (5.0%) from 12:00 to 15:30, with a further 114k (1.0%) watching on Sky Sports 1. The combined average of 646k (6.1%) and combined peak of 920k (7.9%) are both up on Sky’s 2013 average of 567k (5.4%) and peak of 860k (7.3%) – although the raw Sky Sports F1 channel numbers are down if you choose not to include Sky Sports 1’s numbers in the calculations.

Overall, the combined audience across BBC and Sky’s output of 4.28 million is down very marginally on 2013’s audience of 4.29 million, the percentage difference between the two numbers is 0.29 percent, so we are talking thousands here. There is a bigger difference for the peak. 2013’s race peaked with 5.98 million, compared with 5.85 million yesterday, a bigger drop of 2.2 percent. Again, we’re not talking a huge drop, but it should be re-iterated that the figures are a far cry from what the British Grand Prix managed in 2010 and 2011, when the race peaked with nearly 7 million viewers.

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

Dramatic Formula E decider peaks with 1.2 million

The final two races of the Formula E season performed solidly on both ITV and ITV4 across this past weekend, overnight viewing figures show.

Live coverage of round ten was broadcast live on ITV4 on Saturday. Qualifying, which aired from 11:30 to 13:15, averaged 146k (1.5%), peaking with 184k (3.1%) at 12:35. Up until that point, it was the most watched qualifying programme for the sessions that ITV4 had covered live. In fact, the peak number for London’s Saturday qualifying session was higher than the peak number recorded for the Moscow race three weeks earlier, showing that it was a strong number in isolation.

ITV4’s live race coverage aired from 15:00 to 17:30. The programme averaged 274k (3.7%), peaking with 460k (5.7%). The peak, up until that point again, was the strongest since Beijing which peaked with 477k (6.8%). Against a backdrop of mediocre ratings over the past few months, this was a much needed strong figure. I also think this underlines how well the previous European races could have done had they not clashed with Formula 1.

The highlights programme on ITV, which aired from 22:55 to 23:55, averaged 387k (3.6%). You could argue that it is higher than the ITV4 race programme, therefore it is a better figure, however in reality, that figure is very poor for ITV, a picture which is unfortunately the same for Sunday’s highlights programme.

Due to the British Touring Car Championship on ITV4, and presumably also ITV wanting to give Formula E a bit of extra coverage, programming was switched to ITV for Sunday’s qualifying and race, which formed the final round of the season. Live coverage of the race, airing on ITV from 15:00 to 17:45, averaged 700k (6.7%). The race peaked with 1.18m (10.7%) at 16:50 as Nelson Piquet Jnr won the championship.

Live coverage of the race began with 406k (4.6%) at 15:00, growing to 811k (8.3%) as the race started at 16:00. It crossed the million barrier at 16:25, remaining above a million until the race concluded. The programme itself did not win the slot, but this was due to the long pre and post-race analysis rather than the race itself under-performing. Live coverage of qualifying on ITV from 11:30 to 13:15 averaged 395k (4.9%), peaking with 503k (5.9%). Not great. Repeats of The Jeremy Kyle Show on the channel generated a higher audience in the equivalent timeslot on Saturday. However, purely because of the ‘ITV factor’, qualifying and the race will stand as record high numbers for the series.

Sunday’s highlights programme, which aired from 22:20 to 23:20, averaged 454k (3.3%). Again, it is not a great audience for the channel. Over on ITV4, live coverage of the British Touring Car Championship averaged 263k (2.8%) from 11:00 to 18:15, peaking with 460k.

For Formula E, the numbers are brilliant, in that they are significantly higher than previous rounds, and further cement the case for the championship to be shown on ITV’s main channel. Of course, that works on the assumption that Formula E want to keep working with ITV. Given that the top headline currently on Formula E’s website surrounds yesterday’s viewing figures in the UK, one has to assume that Formula E do not plan to take he championship off free-to-air television. The two questions surround the nature of the deal from a scheduling perspective, but also whether ITV are willing to pay any cash for it. Do ITV see more value in the series after season one, and are they therefore willing to hand over money as a result. I don’t think Formula E has everything their own way, yet.

From a slot average perspective, the numbers on ITV’s main channel did not exceed the slot average. Does that make the live numbers disappointing? No. Yeah, they’re solid for ITV, no more, no less. I doubt it made ITV’s executives go “wow” when they saw the overnights this morning. However, I would argue that if Formula E can peak with 1.2 million viewers for a championship decider at the end of its inaugural season, then what can do it do in a year’s time, with perhaps more airtime and advertising on ITV’s main channel? Interest is only going to grow over time. That 1.2 million peak could be 2 million twelve months from now.

This requires commitment from both sides. I think logical progression from both sides would be to retain the current deal, but air the opening race of the 2015-16 season on ITV, along with two or three other races (the calendar hasn’t yet been released, so it is impossible to say which ones), with ITV committing to an on-site presence for those races. I think having every race live on ITV’s main channel could do more harm than good. I’ll elaborate on the above in a future post, but let’s keep things moving naturally rather than committing to anything too big, too soon.

But, first and foremost, we need an announcement about season two’s rights. So ITV and Formula E. What are you waiting for?


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