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F1 2015 starts off with 3.5 million

A depleted grid for the Australian Grand Prix meant that off-track talk continued to dominate the agenda, but the 2015 Formula One season began with 3.5 million viewers this past Sunday, unofficial overnight viewing figures show.

Race
From the outset, it is important to note that direct comparisons for Sky are difficult, as the race was held an hour earlier this year. Another issue is that, for Australia at least, Sky have decided to split their live programming on race day into four segments instead of three as in 2014. This blog has always tried to make the fairest comparisons. Going forward, I will continue to use the three and a half hour block from an hour before the race to an hour after the race, irrespective of what Sky do or don’t regarding scheduling. For this piece, I will provide both comparisons in the interest of clarity. As always, figures exclude Sky Go and BBC iPlayer.

Sky Sports F1’s numbers were down year-on-year, unsurprisingly given the change in start time. In 2014, from 05:00 to 08:30, the channel averaged 594k (26.9%), which compares with 517k (29.5%) from 04:00 to 07:30 for this year. The 05:30 to 08:30 slot in 2014 averaged 659k (27.2%) versus 586k (32.9%) from 04:30 to 07:30 for yesterday’s race. So either measurement puts Sky down around 70k year-on-year. I would say that the drop is due to the start time change rather than anything more, although the figures do include anyone who watched the live Sky broadcast later in the day. Having said that, the 2015 average was identical to 2013, which is an impressive feat all considering. Sky’s 2015 coverage peaked with 789k (40.3%) at 06:10, compared to a peak of 945k (21.2%) from 2014. 2013’s coverage peaked with 893k (21.1%). Looking at the breakdown, more people watched Sky’s post-race coverage in comparison with previous years. On one hand that is surprising as the race was uneventful, but there was a British winner so it evens out really.

Over on BBC One, highlights of the race averaged 3.03m (27.7%) from 13:15 to 14:40, which is up on 2.88m (25.4%) from 2014 but marginally down on 3.05m (21.9%) from 2013. There’s an argument about whether you can compare those figures as BBC’s highlights programme was 35 minutes shorter than in previous years. The share is strong, the raw figure, not so much. Yesterday was Mothering Sunday in the UK, which may explain that one. BBC’s coverage peaked with 3.38m (29.7%) at 14:15, up on 2014’s peak figure of 3.15m (26.6%), but down on 2013’s peak of 3.69m (24.5%). It is a mixed bag, but nothing disastrous either way.

The combined total is bang in line with 2013 and 2014, and up on 2012. 2013 averaged 3.57m, whilst 2014 averaged 3.47m. The 2015 Australian Grand Prix slides straight in the middle of those two figures with 3.54m. You can’t read too much into figures, I’d say it is just ‘good’ rather than anything more or less.

Qualifying and Formula E
Live coverage of qualifying averaged 261k (12.7%) on Sky Sports F1, with a further 54k (2.6%) watching on Sky1, and an additional 24k (1.2%) choosing to watch on Sky Sports 1. The three combined means that an average of 339k (16.4%) watched across Sky’s platforms, although both the Sky1 and Sky Sports 1 airings were not promoted. BBC One’s coverage averaged 2.29m (24.5%). The total number of 2.63m is a solid start to the season where qualifying is concerned.

Formula E’s underperformed on ITV4 for round five of its championship from Miami. Live coverage of the race from 19:00 to 21:30 on Saturday averaged 150k (0.7%), peaking with 269k (1.3%) at 20:45. Highlights the following day averaged 71k (0.9%). Both numbers were below the respective slot averages for ITV4. I don’t think Miami was helped by being on the same weekend as the Formula 1 season opener and also by being up against two big Saturday night shows on both BBC One and ITV. Is it concerning yet that the highest audience for the series in the UK is still the inaugural race? I really like Formula E, in fact Miami was better than Melbourne, but for whatever reason, the series is not yet taking off in the UK.

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

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Sky’s coverage of Jerez testing drops

Sky Sports F1’s coverage of the first test of the 2015 Formula One season dropped on 2014, and was also down versus 2013, unofficial overnight viewing figures show.

The four days, excluding repeats, averaged 15k, which is down on the 2014 average of 29k and 19k from 2013. It is worth noting that the numbers exclude anyone who has watched online. Unlike last year, there were no overruns, apart from day one when there were technical difficulties with Ted’s Notebook. Interest was lower for the first 2015 test than in previous years, which does not surprise me personally, from the outside, it feels like that there is not as much interest this year as there has been previously, for whatever reason.

Day 4 did jump above 2014 levels, with an average of 26k (0.1%), compared with 18k (0.1%) last year. Below is a summary of the ratings:

– 01/02 – 18k (0.1%), peak: 25k (0.1%) – 21:00 to 21:15 and 21:30 to 21:45
– 02/02 – 7k (n/a), peak: 10k (0.1%) – 21:00 to 21:30
– 03/02 – 7k (n/a), peak: 14k (n/a) – 21:00 to 21:30
– 04/02 – 26k (0.1%), peak: 36k (0.2%) – 21:00 to 21:30

The next two tests are being held in Barcelona, which should see an improvement in numbers as we head towards round one in Australia.

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Formula E sparks off the line

The inaugural Formula E season has begun in fantastic style with close racing in each of the four rounds so far. As the championship nears the half way stage of its season, it is too early to tell whether it will be a long term success story. But how have things been doing on the broadcasting side?

Viewing figures – the UK story so far
Interest was high for Formula E’s inaugural race back in September, with a peak audience of 477k (6.8%) for the live airing. When factoring in the evening highlights, this figure increased to 713k. A combined average of 426k dropped sharply to 160k for round two in Putrajaya, thanks to a clash with the Formula 1 season finale. Numbers have increased since then, however. An average of 197k (1.1%) tuned into the Punta del Este ePrix, with 260k (1.2%) tuning in last weekend for the Buenos Aires round of the championship. The peak of 423k (1.9%) for Buenos Aires was still down on the figures recorded in Beijing. Highlights of both Punta del Este and Buenos Aires are not included, as the airings were next day and the figures for both were negligible.

Stunning backdrops has been a key feature of Formula E. No desert races so far...

Stunning backdrops has been a key feature of Formula E. No desert races so far…

The increase in viewing figures is a good sign and one that should continue. Whether the figures are any good is a matter of opinion. I would have liked to seen both the Punta del Este and Buenos Aires figures to be higher given their primetime slot, so to see a peak of less than 500k could be construed as somewhat disappointing. The reaction from those that have been watching has been positive, so word of mouth hopefully will increase the numbers further. From ITV’s perspective, I think it would be great if the last three races this season were simulcast on their main channel. Monte Carlo, Berlin and London are all in mid afternoon slots, with no Formula 1 competition. Monte Carlo will be straight after the F1 Spanish Grand Prix Qualifying session and would be fantastic to showcase on the main ITV channel, Berlin will be two hours before The FA Cup Final, whilst I assume London will be live on-location. Last Saturday, ITV’s main channel hovered around 500k during the afternoon, and I have no doubt that Formula E would do better if promoted for the last few rounds.

By broadcasting the last three rounds on ITV’s main channel, it would show that ITV Sport are committed to the series and want Formula E’s audience to increase further ready for season two. This point is absolutely critical. If Formula E is to be successful in the UK, it has to stay live on free-to-air television, I cannot emphasise that point enough. It can not be snapped up by BT Sport for ridiculous amounts of money.

The product
The first four Formula E rounds have been held in picturesque locations, which makes for great television. There is nothing worse than watching a motor race in the middle of the desert with only a handful of people there. The crowds seem vibrant and colourful, which makes for a better product on-screen. The team which organised the locations deserve full marks, because they have got things spot on so far. Compare the images in this article with any image from Formula 1’s races in Valencia or Korea, and they are a world apart.

One of the many camera angles during the 2015 Buenos Aires ePrix.

One of the many camera angles during the 2015 Buenos Aires ePrix.

The direction for the most part has been good during the opening four races. There have been a few dodgy moments, notably during the pit stop sequences. The pit stop sequence has probably been the weakest point of Formula E’s product. It doesn’t yet seem ‘fluid’ to me, the lack of on-screen graphics does not help explain to the viewer what is going on. I think they could do with a pit stop tower, like what we see in IndyCars, which they call the ‘race off pit lane’ to see how many positions car X has gained from the start of pit lane to the end of pit lane.

One great point about the direction is that the cars look the part. They look fast. The reason for this is because the camera angles chosen have been simply fantastic, and make you feel ‘up close and personal’ with the action. The team have really excelled with the camera angles, and should be credited for that. The camera angles used in Formula E only serve to highlight the shortcomings of Formula One Management’s (FOM) on-screen product: in Formula E, the car is the primary focus, whereas you’re never quite sure with FOM whether its the Red Bull car or Rolex advert that is the focus. Concerning the music, I’m not too fussed with it now. I don’t feel like its been overused or underused, its use is just fine for me.

Overall, Formula E has got off to an excellent start, with close racing combined with excellent commentary and stunning locations making for a great product on and off the track.

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UK F1 viewing figures record slight year-on-year drop

Lewis Hamilton’s championship victory may have brought joy to both BBC and Sky Sports F1’s ratings in the latter half of the season but despite this, viewing figures are down year-on-year according to unofficial overnight viewing figures. Whereas 2013’s figures dropped sharply after the Summer break, the 2014 season has seen the opposite occur.

> BBC average figures drop year-on-year
> Sky record highest figures since channel launch
> Numbers still down on 2009-11 figures

As always, for those that are new to the blog, it is best stating what figures we are comparing here. For Sky Sports F1, all the viewing figures are for the three and a half hour race day slot: one hour before the race and approximately 45 minutes after the race. I have used the equivalent slots for 2012 and 2013 to present a fair and complete picture, there would be little use in presenting a skewed picture, so all data is for the equivalent timeslots. Over on BBC, I have used their programme averages, whether it be live or highlights, irrespective of whether the highlights were shown on BBC One or BBC Two, as was the case for Bahrain and Austria this year. Repeats are taken into account for Asian-based races that the BBC showed live. As always, viewing figures are for TV only. iPlayer, Sky Go and the such like are not included.

The 2014 story
It is worth a reminder that, in my Summer post, I stated that the UK’s audience for Formula 1 had “dropped to their lowest level since 2008.” Luckily, that has not happened. Thanks to a British driver winning the championship, numbers have increased. Crucially though, have numbers increased as much as expected, and has the scheduling hit the numbers badly?

Sky Sports F1’s race day programme has averaged 790k from 12:00 to 15:30, or equivalent across 2014. That number is up a massive 23.4 percent on 2013’s figure of 640k and up 11.1 percent on 2012’s figure of 711k. Whichever way you spin that, for Sky, those are very positive numbers. Things were not looking good for Sky during 2013 with numbers falling, but this year, they have turned it around, and then some more, to record an average higher than both 2012 and 2013. Back in the Summer, I was taking about a “meagre 22k.” The numbers bandied around above are much bigger than 22k, and in my opinion is definitely something worth recognising.

So, why the increase? Better picks? Absolutely. Having both USA and Brazil exclusively during the title run in would have done the average wonders. But even then, it is more than just that. In fact, 14 out of 16 races recorded increases between 2013 and 2014 on Sky Sports F1 (the other four didn’t take place), so even the races where Sky shared coverage with BBC did the numbers increase. That suggests to me that viewers are liking the product that Sky are putting out, otherwise they would not be tuning in to their pre and post-race shows. The substantial increase correlates with feedback on this blog to suggest that people are liking Sky’s race day show more than previously. Sky’s figures are no fluke, in my opinion.

The BBC’s figures dropped year-on-year by 5.9 percent, recording an average of 3.22m versus 3.42m in 2013. Numbers are up slightly on 2012’s average of 3.21m, although those two numbers are within the margin of error to be statistically insignificant. Scheduling was not great. Bahrain and Austria were both screened on BBC Two in highlights form, USA and Brazil, two races bound to draw big audiences if shown live, were shown as highlights. Under this current agreement, I feel that there will be a yearly discussion about what things could/could not have been done differently as a result. With USA, Brazil and Mexico back to back in 2015, BBC will not be able to screen all three live, although at least one of the three will be screened live.

Still down on BBC only days
The combined average of 4.01m is up 2.3 percent on 2012’s 3.92m, but down 1.3 percent on 2013’s average of 4.06m. What is fascinating to me is the closeness of those three figures despite the complete parallels that each of those three seasons faced. 2012 had a battle between Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso until the end. 2013 arguably peaked in Malaysia from a fan perspective, with figures tumbling in the latter half of the season. In contrast, 2014 started with backlash from the wider media over the sound, or lack of, developing into a rivalry between Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, inevitably helping the British figures in the final half of the year due to Hamilton’s involvement. I would suggest that it is a coincidence that the three years line up next to each other, although astonishing at the same time.

However, the 2011 season averaged 4.5m, a 10 percent drop. In fact, 2009, 2010 and 2011 all averaged higher than 2014. It will be, for me, an age old question of whether figures are really down 10 percent versus 2011, or whether more people are now watching Formula 1 via tablets, smart phones and as thus not being included in those figures. I don’t know. I’m not sure whether FOM even know the exact answer to that statement. For some people, 2009 through to 2011 will always be the barometer of Formula 1 coverage in the UK. Whether a group of fans bailed out of watching every race live at the end of 2011, I don’t know. I think it should probably be noted that a lot of shows have dropped year-on-year (the majority of ITV’s schedule is just one example), so in comparison, F1 has done well to hold onto the majority of its existing audience.

My own opinion is that viewing figures are down versus the BBC only days. That is an undeniable fact. When you include other devices, I think 2014 would close the gap in on 2011 slightly. Not significantly, as it seems clear to me that people have moved on. Sadly this is something that you cannot prove statistically, but anecdotally. If you were to grab a few people who have watched F1 at some stage in the past few years, chances are they would tell you that they are watching less F1 than when every race was live on BBC One, because it is not as readily available now as it was previously.

Heading into 2015
Whilst the overall picture is not exciting, the movement of viewers between BBC and Sky is somewhat interesting. There has been a 10 percent shift from BBC to Sky, although whether these are new viewers watching Sky’s coverage, or returning viewers to the channel from 2012, it is impossible to tell. 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.

A BBC spokesperson said “In what has been a fantastic year with a wealth of sport available to watch on the BBC including the Winter Olympics, World Cup and Commonwealth Games we’re delighted with our F1 coverage this season which reached an impressive 26.1m people. This was undoubtedly helped by a brilliant season finale – Abu Dhabi was the most watched race of the season, with 6.5m people tuning in.”

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Nearly six million watch Rosberg’s title defeat in Germany

Whilst a peak audience of 7.9 million viewers watched Lewis Hamilton win Formula One title number two in the UK, over in Germany, viewing figures were solid, but not spectacular.

According to Quotenmeter.de, an average audience of 5.74m (34.2%) watched the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix from 14:05 German time on RTL. A further 180k watched on Sky Deutschland, bringing the combined audience to about 5.9 million viewers. That compares with the 4.35m (25.3%) that watched the Singapore Grand Prix on RTL in September, so the UK and German uplift was broadly similar.

As widely documented, the TV ratings in Germany have sharply dropped this year by about 30 percent. In fact, that 5.74 million number above is identical to the number that watched the 2013 Belgian Grand Prix, which shows how much the numbers have dropped. In the context of the season, the number is good, but year-on-year, its not been a great year for Formula 1 numbers in Germany.

It will be interesting to see whether the numbers increase again in 2015 with Sebastian Vettel heading to Ferrari…

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