UK Viewing Figures 2012
2012 presented a closely fought season that went down to the wire in Brazil as Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel pipped Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso to the World Drivers’ Championship. In the UK, at least, it was also a season of major change in the way Formula One broadcast as free-to-view gave way to Sky’s premium subscription service with only half the races broadcast live and free. Despite the titanic championship battle compared with last year’s one-horse race, television ratings inevitably took a hit.
Despite a closely thought season, which saw seven different race winners in the first seven races, there was notable fluctuation in viewing figures (see graph below). This was driven primarily by the BBC’s pattern of live and highlights-only races, the latter drawing an average of 0.9 million less viewers than the broadcaster’s live coverage but without Sky making up the shortfall.
There were exceptions to this – highlights of the Hungarian and Italian races proved more popular than the BBC’s live coverage of the Belgian Grand Prix which they sandwiched, a pattern that repeated itself from 2011 – so much for the allure of Eau Rouge and Pouhon? The Italian Grand Prix was also noteworthy for being the only one of four races to have improved ratings compared with 2011 that wasn’t shown live on the BBC.
There were three notably poor performers: The popular Canadian Grand Prix running in effectively a prime time slot; The US Grand Prix also with a prime time slot and which should have also expected a boost from the novelty of being a new track, as seen with India’s debut in 2011; and the German Grand Prix which saw the BBC’s lowest viewing figures of the season. However, in each case, circumstances worked against them. The two North American races simply suffered because the BBC was not showing either live meaning that the highlights programmes were not broadcast until after 10:30 in the evening. In Montreal’s case, it added up to 3 million less viewers than 2011’s epic race.
In the case of the German Grand Prix, the BBC’s highlights ran up against golf. At around the time the race started, Adam Scott was comfortably leading The Open Golf Championship by four shots with four shots to play. By the time he’d finished his round the four shots had crumbled to nothing, Ernie Els had stolen the title and golf had grabbed F1’s more casual fans.
Those races covered live by the BBC are highlighted by a square
2011 ratings include figures for later repeats of early morning races
Bahrain’s “2011″ figures are taken from the 2010 race
However, looking at the season purely from the BBC’s perspective, their ratings for the season had dropped from 88 million to 64.5 million – almost three-quarters but probably not an unsatisfactory compromise from their point of view regardless of what fans make of their arrangement with Sky. The absence of Monaco from the BBC’s 2013 live schedule, one of the BBC’s first three choices when carving up the calendar this year, hints that they may have opted for Montreal and its prime time slot. Monaco can be a big draw with the casual viewers but in hindsight the BBC may figure the highlights can also perform strongly, certainly more so than than a late night slot for the Canadian Grand Prix. In the end, Monaco wasn’t even a strong performer for the BBC.
Sky’s average of just over 0.6 million viewers per race may be less happily received, especially as when directly up against the BBC with shared-live races, they failed to retain their audience. Sky’s best figures fell just short of 1 million, a reasonable guide to their possible audience given the need to subscribe, and yet the ten races competing against the BBC average just 480,000. Poaching Martin Brundle was a shrewd move but it surely hasn’t been as successful as Sky hoped. The channel also struggled more as the season went on, suggesting that the broadcaster failed to pick up new subscriptions through the season. Just 540,000 viewers for the title decider at Interlagos was a particularly poor statistic. For me, part of the problem may be the dedicated F1 channel – the firm fans will always tune in to watch, it’s catching the more casual viewers that is the trick.
Across all the live and highlight broadcasts, just over 77 million viewers tuned in to watch Formula One in 2012 – that’s an average of 3.87 million per race and a notable decline from 2011’s 88 million or 4.64 million/race. However, it’s worth noting that the calendar also gained an extra date in 2012. In effect, as far as the UK is concerned, the drop in viewers equates to sponsors enjoying 1.4 less races than 2011 in terms of viewers, and that’s before even considering those who watched both the live race and the repeated highlights.
With other European countries set to follow suit by losing full free-to-view coverage, that prompts the question of whether sponsors will start to take note of the falling ratings and respond accordingly?
Credit: Red Bull Racing/Mark Thompson/Getty Images