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Brazilian Grand Prix hits three year high

An average audience of 4.57 million watched the Brazilian Grand Prix, overnight viewing figures show.

Live coverage of the race, broadcast live on BBC One from 15:25 to 18:00, averaged 4.02m (24.9%), up significantly on 2013’s number of 3.45m (19.9%). It should be noted that 2013’s broadcast was 185 minutes long, whereas yesterday’s was 155 minutes long and yesterday would have benefited also from a strong lead-out with the BBC News at Six focussing on events in Paris. Sky Sports F1’s coverage from 15:00 to 18:30 added a further 548k (3.3%), an increase on 2013’s number of 473k (2.7%) across the same timeslot.

The combined average of 4.57 million is the highest for Interlagos since 2012, when Sebastian Vettel clinched his third championship in the final race of the year. Last year, an audience of 4.27 million watched as BBC showed highlights of the race, whilst 3.93 million watched in 2013.

Whilst yesterday’s Grand Prix was not the greatest in the world, it would have benefited from little sporting competition on pay-TV channels with no domestic top-flight football being played. Considering the championship has already been resolved, it is a good number.

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

MotoGP finale peaks with 433k on BT Sport

A peak audience of 433k watched Jorge Lorenzo clinch the 2015 MotoGP championship live on BT Sport, overnight viewing figures show.

MotoGP and Moto3 hit BT Sport highs
Live coverage of the final MotoGP round of the season from Valencia averaged 345k (3.3%) from 12:30 to 14:00 on BT Sport 2, peaking with 433k (3.9%) in the 5-minute period from 13:40. Unsurprisingly, the peak figure is nearly triple last year’s peak of 151k (1.5%) when the title had already been decided.

The Moto3 race, which saw Danny Kent claim Britain’s first Grand Prix motorcycle title since 1977, peaked with 217k (2.4%) at 10:40. The entire programme, excluding Chequered Flag from 09:30 to 14:15, averaged a strong 205k (2.1%). ITV4’s highlights programme actually fared worse than BT Sport’s live MotoGP race. An average audience of 331k (1.5%) watched ITV4’s highlights on Monday evening at 20:00, peaking with 381k (1.7%) in the 5-minutes from 20:35. ITV4’s MotoGP shows have performed worse year-on-year, for the Monday airings at least, with the pendulum swinging towards BT Sport – noticeably there is now around a 50/50 audience split between the two broadcasters, something that was not the case last year.

It should be noted that ITV4 have added a lot of MotoGP repeats into their schedule this year, but my motto is not to add in multiple highlights, otherwise where do you stop? In 2013, when Marc Marquez beat Lorenzo to the championship, an average audience of 1.21m (11.9%) watched on BBC Two, with a peak of 1.49m (14.0%) recorded. Including British Eurosport, that number jumps to around 1.7m. The combined peak in 2015 of 814k is not the highest under this current contract, that honour remains with Qatar 2014 which recorded a combined peak of 833k. So viewing figures for the finale were down around half what they were in 2013, on your traditional devices at least.

I believe Sunday’s figures were BT Sport’s highest ever outside of football, so they will be happy with the numbers. As always, all figures exclude the BT Sport app and similarly BBC iPlayer from 2013.

Formula E struggles, but up year-on-year
Elsewhere, live coverage of Formula E from Putrajaya averaged just 23k (1.6%) from 05:00 to 07:30 on Saturday on ITV4. That number includes anyone who recorded the live programme and watched it before 02:00 on Sunday morning. The audience peaked (5-minute measure) with 58k (4.9%) ten minutes into the race. Last year, Putrajaya averaged 66k (5.1%), peaking with 137k (7.2%).

Highlights on Sunday morning fared significantly better, benefiting from the slot on ITV’s flagship channel. An audience of 201k (2.8%) watched, which compares with the 95k (0.5%) that watched ITV4’s highlights programme on Saturday evening last year. Formula E’s figures can be spun two different ways. Here are the facts. ITV4’s live coverage, in an identical slot to 2014, dropped 65 percent year-on-year, a very similar percentage drop to Beijing two weeks ago. Including the highlights show, the combined audience is up 40 percent year-on-year, from 160k to 224k.

It is a confusing picture. On one hand you can say, that the combined number is up or you can say that the live airing is down. What you also need to remember is the respective channel slot averages. By default, a programme airing on ITV should get a lot more viewers than on ITV4. However, Formula E’s number of 201k (2.8%) is down on ITV’s slot average. I think Punta del Este will tell a clearer story. My own opinion is that the numbers so far for Formula E’s second season are not good. Punta will either confirm that, or reverse the decline shown for the live numbers on ITV4.

There’s an interesting pattern here. Formula E, MotoGP and BTCC have recorded drops on ITV4 this year/recently, which could imply a wider issue to do with the broadcaster itself rather than an issue with a particular series…

2.8 million watch Mexican Grand Prix

An average audience of 2.8 million watched Nico Rosberg win the the Mexican Grand Prix in the UK yesterday, overnight viewing figures show.

Live coverage of the race, broadcast on Sky Sports F1 from 18:00 to 21:30, averaged 690k (3.1%), with Sky Sports 1’s simulcast from 18:30 averaging a further 227k (1.0%), bringing a combined weighted Sky Sports average of 885k (3.9%). Highlights, which aired on BBC One from 22:30 to 00:00, averaged 1.96m (20.1%).

Being a new race in the modern era, we have no historical comparisons, and you cannot compare a viewing figure from 1991 to one in 2015. The combined average across BBC and Sky of 2.85 million is unsurprising when you consider that the championship has been resolved, but low nevertheless. The best comparison I can think of is with the 2013 United States Grand Prix which was held under similar circumstances with Sebastian Vettel having claimed the championship two rounds earlier in India. That race averaged 2.42 million, which remains Formula 1’s lowest figure in many years. Mexico yesterday was at least higher than that, and higher than Japan last month.

It does mean that a Grand Prix has not recorded an overnight viewing figure average of above 3.5 million since the Italian Grand Prix in September. As always, these figures exclude viewing from BBC iPlayer, Sky Go and Now TV. How much of a difference other forms of viewing actually makes is up for debate.

Highlights of qualifying, broadcast on BBC Two from 22:45 to 00:00, averaged 920k (8.3%). Sky Sports F1’s live coverage, airing from 18:00 to 20:45, averaged 344k (1.7%). The number does not take into account various BBC Two opt-outs yesterday evening. With a combined average of around 1.26 million viewers, it is below the average number for qualifying of 2 million viewers. I have not looked into the qualifying numbers recently, but 1.26 million is a throwback to the ITV days in the mid 2000s, when qualifying would struggle over the one million barrier.

Controversy helps MotoGP sizzle

A spectacular MotoGP season hit the tipping point in Sepang this past Sunday, with BT Sport rewarded as a result, overnight numbers show.

Marquez vs Rossi – TV reaps the rewards
The battle off the track between Marc Marquez and Valentino Rossi soon became an on-track battle, the two colliding in sensational fashion in Sepang. A one-minute peak audience of 300k (8.2%) at 07:15 witnessed the drama come to a head on Sunday morning on BT Sport 2. Live coverage of the race, from 06:30 to 08:00 averaged 186k (5.0%), the 5-minute peak was 269k (7.5%) at 07:15. BT Sport opted to extend their post-race broadcast until 09:00, the extra hour bringing a solid 110k (1.6%). Their entire broadcast from 03:45 to 09:00 averaged 101k (4.4%), this number including the Moto2 and Moto3 broadcasts.

As documented on these pages, BT’s MotoGP ratings upswing comes at a time when TV ratings are heading downwards. Last year’s coverage from Sepang averaged 68k (1.9%) from 04:45 to 09:15, with a 5-minute peak of 179k. Again, 2015’s viewing figures are significantly up on 2014. I think BT have been incredibly lucky to have the season that they have had this year. Over on ITV4, highlights from 20:00 to 21:00 averaged a further 301k (1.3%), recording a 5-minute peak of 384k (1.7%), also up on last year’s figure of 257k (1.1%).

Combined, the two channels recorded an average of 443k, which compares with the BBC’s live and repeat combined average in 2013 of around 1.1 million for Malaysia. You would expect more of a drop off for the fly-away races than the European rounds, the key for BT Sport and ITV is to continue in the right direction for 2016 and not make 2015 a ‘one hit wonder’, as it were. I could say the scale of the drop off is poor versus 2013, and it is as I have mentioned before, but the signs from 2015 so far have been very, very positive for MotoGP. I’m intrigued to see how the Valencia programming performs. It should be BT Sport’s highest ever MotoGP ratings, but as we saw this past weekend with the US F1 Grand Prix, what we expect to happen and what actually materialises are two different things.

Is Formula E about to suffer second season syndrome?
Over in the electric world, the picture was less than rosy. After a strong finish to season one in Battersea Park, Formula E stumbled for the start of season two in Beijing. The ePrix, airing live on Saturday morning on ITV4 from 08:00 to 10:30, averaged just 88k (1.4%) – the third lowest for the series, only behind Putrajaya and Moscow from season one. The Beijing number is significantly lower than the average audience of 266k (4.0%) for the inaugural race in September 2014.

The 5-minute peak of 168k (2.4%) was also down on the equivalent peak figure from 2014 of 477k (6.8%). In my opinion, it is a disappointing figure. On one hand, you could say that the drop was because last year was the inaugural race and all the hype that surrounded that, but on the other hand, did Formula E not gain any new followers from Battersea Park airing on ITV’s main channel in June? The fact that the season started on the same weekend as both Formula 1 and MotoGP running will have dented the numbers though, it should be noted, the lowest three numbers have all been when the series has held a race on the same weekend as Formula 1.

Highlights on ITV’s main channel performed okay with an average of 244k (3.1%), peaking with 321k (4.2%) at 10:00, up on ITV4’s highlights number from one year ago. The number is below the slot average and was beaten by three of the other four terrestrial channels. The combined live and highlights average of 332k is down on last year’s inaugural number of 426k, or down nearly a quarter. Moving the highlights to ITV’s main channel has helped reduce the deficit.

Ratings and scheduling aside from the series as a whole, advertising of the series has been poor from ITV. I watched multiple hours of the Rugby World Cup the weekend before last, which attracts a core male audience, and I did not see one trailer for Formula E. A series cannot attract a wider demographic without advertising, ITV need to realise that for the series to draw bigger numbers. ITV did produce a trailer for the season opener. If this was F1, you would expect to see the ITV pre-season trailer multiple times across a week. I didn’t see Formula E’s trailer once (anecdotally, of course). The problem we have: ITV won’t advertise > ITV’s viewing figures stay low > ITV won’t pay Formula E any more money as a result > Formula E want more money > Formula E can’t go to pay-TV otherwise figures would be embarrassing. Of course, Formula E could take the series to pay-TV, but if you are only attracting 300k on free-to-air television, you are looking at below 50k on BT Sport or Eurosport.

Time will tell how this plays out, but for Formula E’s sake, numbers cannot settle at a lower level than last year, in my opinion.

Hamilton’s title victory peaks with 1.7m on Sky Sports

A peak audience of 1.7m watched Lewis Hamilton become a triple world champion live on Sky Sports, overnight viewing figures show.

Live coverage of the race, simulcast across Sky Sports 1 and F1, attracted a weighted average of 1.13m (5.0%) from 18:00 to 21:30. Sky Sports 1’s airing from 18:55 to 21:30 averaged 313k (1.3%), with Sky Sports F1 averaging 900k (4.0%) over three and a half hours. Year-on-year, Sky Sports 1’s number is up slightly due to the channel only taking the race itself rather than the pre-race aspect. Despite it being a championship decider, Sky Sports F1’s number dropped just over 100k year-on-year, a decrease of 12.4 percent. It is worth noting that the race aired live an hour later last year, the race starting at 20:00 UK time instead of 19:00, but this is unlikely to make a significant difference to the total TV viewing audience.

The race started with 1.41m (6.7%) at 19:00 across both Sky Sports channels. Despite the quality of the race being one of the best of 2015 so far, the audience failed to nudge up to 1.5 million viewers until 20:20, showing that prime time races of pay-TV struggle to bring in a casual audience. Eventually, the audience peaked with 1.70m (6.9%) at 20:50 as the race came to a conclusion, with the audience split 1.21m (5.0%) on Sky Sports F1 and a further 487k (2.0%) on Sky Sports 1.

The peak of 1.70 million is down on 2014’s peak audience of 1.93m (7.5%). 2014’s race was also simulcast live across Sky Sports 1 and F1. In comparison, yesterday’s Manchester derby, broadcast live also on Sky Sports 1, secured a 5-minute peak audience of 2.39m (18.6%). In my opinion, Sky had to have expected some kind of boost with the expectation that Hamilton was going to secure a third championship. The fact that Sky’s numbers dropped is alarming. The fact that Sky failed to bring any casual viewers to the Grand Prix is not good. In their fourth year of broadcasting Formula 1, Sky have still failed to bring a peak audience of over two million viewers to any race.

Unfortunately, BBC’s figures are no better. Sunday’s race highlights programme on BBC One averaged 2.15m (22.4%) from 22:30 to 00:00. That figure is down on both 2012 and 2014. 2014’s highlights programme averaged 2.51m (22.9%), meaning that 2015’s number is down 14.2 percent. Again, that is a very disappointing number in the context of the race. Overall, it means a combined average for BBC and Sky of just 3.28 million, down significantly on 2014’s number of 3.84 million and down slightly on 2012. For a normal race, that number is on the low end of expectations. For a potential title decider, involving a British driver, the number is disastrous.

Disastrous may sound like an exaggeration, but last night was the first time a Drivers' Championship had been decided exclusively live on pay-TV since the current BBC and Sky deal came into effect at the beginning 2012. Compare the 3.28 million average, and a peak of just shy of 4 million with these figures. Last year's title decider the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, which was screened live across BBC One and Sky Sports F1, peaked with 7.89m (50.9%), whilst Hamilton’s first championship victory at the 2008 Brazilian peaked with 13.1m on ITV. It is the lowest rating for a title decider since 2004. Data is available back to 2006, whilst 2005’s title clinching race was Brazil and averaged 4.3 million. It should be noted that we have been lucky in recent years with last race title deciders, whereas we have three rounds left in 2015.

How high would the US Grand Prix have peaked had it been live on free-to-air television? I think we can go back to 2009 to find an answer. Jenson Button won the championship at the 2009 Brazilian Grand Prix. The race was not the last round of the championship, yet peaked with 9.09m (40.3%). I’m not saying it would have been that high, but you just get an idea of what could have been achieved yesterday, in different circumstances. Do viewing figures really matter? It is a question I get asked regularly. The more eye-balls the better. The more popular you are, the more attractive the product is to advertisers. We don’t want Formula 1 turning into a minority sport in this country.

As always, the figures above excludes viewing on internet based services such as Sky Go, Now TV and BBC iPlayer. My opinion is that those platforms would not make up the year-on-year difference of around 600k. BBC Radio 5 Live could make up the difference, but those figures are collected separately and I believe the methodology for radio, collected through RAJAR, is significantly different. Lastly, we have illegal streaming, however we can’t begin to estimate how much they may add, plus you would argue that the streaming is not legal and therefore should not count. The opposition year-on-year was largely the same: The X Factor, Strictly Come Dancing and Downton Abbey was again the main opponents last night.

To conclude, the numbers are bad, for both channels. For BBC, because their highlights programme failed to gain any viewers whatsoever. For Sky, because they failed to peak with over two million viewers. If they couldn’t bring a two million peak audience to watch Formula 1 on their platform last night, they never will. Whether the viewing figures show anything about Lewis Hamilton’s popularity in this country remains to be seen. If Hamilton was more popular, you would think that more people would have followed the race live on Sky Sports, evidently that was not the case.

Where we go from here, I don’t know.

Update on October 27th – A repeat of BBC One’s highlights programme on Monday afternoon on BBC Two at 13:00 averaged 364k (5.2%), peaking with 484k (7.0%) at 14:10 according to overnight viewing figures.

The 2014 US Grand Prix ratings report can be found here. Peak audience figures quoted in this article are five-minute numbers.


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