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UK Viewing Figures 2012

By Mav | 29 Dec 2012 | 21 Comments | 12,360 views

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.
 
Red Bull Racing/Mark Thompson/Getty Images
 
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.

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Notes:
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.

change

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

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21 Comments »

  • Leigh O'Gorman

    Not forgetting of course that SkySF1 have already lost their main sponsor, Santander.

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  • Bob Jonson

    I wish they’d just scrap this ridiculous arrangement and give the full exclusive rights to another FTA broadcaster like Channel 4.

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  • Robert Yaw

    It’s also worth noting that one of the reasons that Sky’s German Grand Prix viewing figures are high is due to the race being shown as part of their “Free Weekend Pass” promotion, when Sky offered all of their sport coverage for free for three days.

    This allowed people without a HD box or a sports channel subscription (like myself) to watch the race live, which would likely have meant fewer people needing to watch the BBC highlights show.

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  • Alianora La Canta

    It gets worse.

    3.87 million per race in 2011 * 20 races = 77.4 million total if same figures had persisted into 2012

    92.8 million / 4.64 million per race in 2012 = 16.68 races to reach same viewing figures as 2011.

    In other words, sponsors would have got more exposure from the 17-race calendar typical from 1997 until 2004, shown free-to-air, than from the 20-race calendar they have now, on a split schedule. And this is in one of F1’s four largest markets (the others are Germany, Italy and Brazil).

    Assuming sponsorship fees drop to take this reduced sponsorship into account, that means 17.6% of sponsorship will be lost from F1. Unless the total sponsorship in F1 is below $10.2 million, then this means the teams will, on average, lose money from the BBC/Sky deal (they took $1 m per year each from the raised fee Sky pays). How much they lose depend on how far away $10.2 million is from the true total sponsorship figures. But at some point you’d think the teams would notice their loss of income and insist Bernie goes back to free-to-air, simply out of a love of money.

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  • Alianora La Canta

    Leigh O’Gorman,

    Which is a problem. I already thought Sky needed just under a million viewers per race (I think I estimated it as 912,000) to meet the Bernie fee, assuming sponsorship and advertising covered their non-Bernie costs. They only managed it for the German GP, which was the one race they had a freebie weekend – so anyone on Sky could watch the race without paying the usual extra fee. If the advertising doesn’t even cover the non-Bernie fees, Sky (or at least the part of Sky advocating bringing F1 to its sports line-up as a good idea) is in big trouble.

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  • Adam

    Bob Jonson,

    They were going to! Sky originally weren’t interested, but the BBC brought them in to stop it going to C4. It’s a disgrace that a public service broadcaster did that to keep it out of another public service broadcasters hands! (C4 is publicly owned believe it or not!)

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  • michael

    Great piece Mav

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  • karen

    The crucial unique viewing figures were 22% lower in 2012 than in 2011.

    Sky are saying their audience will increase next year, to over 1 million viewers for exclusive races, and nearly 850k for shared races. A bit optimistic considering that’s nearly double what they get now.

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  • Mav (author)

    Sky are saying their audience will increase next year, to over 1 million viewers for exclusive races, and nearly 850k for shared races. A bit optimistic considering that’s nearly double what they get now.

    Maybe they’re getting rid of Georgie Thompson :-D

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  • Kimster

    Maybe they’re getting rid of Georgie Thompson

    And potentially lose Poker Channel viewers?

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  • Alianora La Canta

    karen,

    Maybe that’s what they need to get to hit their long-term target having missed the 2012 one.

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  • Sebastian X

    Sky are happy to be taking viewers from the BBC for its own sake. Murdoch would like to see the BBC crushed. The less the BBC has to offer, the more likely the public will subscribe to Sky (and watch the adverts) even if not the F1 service. Freezing the licence-fee and making the BBC find millions to pay for things it did not use to cover will do no harm in persuading The Sun to support Cameron for the next election.

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  • Mav (author)

    It is fair to note that the home-driver effect has waned of course. Hamilton’s arrival reversed a year-on-year decline going back to 1996. A British driver has been in the Championship hunt every year since 2007 until 2011. Maybe the new rules were enough in themselves for F1 to shake off Vettel’s dominance in 2011 – there was also the drama of Hamilton vs Massa of course. This year Button has been out of it for a long while and Hamilton was left with too much to do by McLaren.

    It’s certainly not the whole issue, but I wonder how much the figures would have dipped by if either Hamilton or Button where within a chance of the title in Brazil?

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  • str8y

    Loving The Graphs. Cheers MAV

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  • ac

    i was an f1 fan for 20 years always watched live if possible. even itv years, watched less and less in 2012 not sure if i will watch any in 2013 btcc is new thing, will boycott until back on terrestrial tv

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  • CD

    I was done with the deal the moment it was announced.

    I was shocked by the way the BBC handled it, and serving us a platter of leftovers (despite the great job by Jake et al).

    I was a die-hard F1 fan for 20 years too. Never missed a race (even when travelling around the world!).

    I boycotted the 2012 season, and hardly checked any websites throughout the season, though I was present at the Chinese GP (tickets bought before the deal was announced).

    It’s heartening to see the poor Sky figures. Shame for the BBC, but you reap what you sow.

    I also won’t go back until it is back on FTA TV.

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  • TJ

    Mav;

    Wondering where the figures originated from?

    Just looked a ‘Sylt’ article in the Guardian 16/02 on the same topic (I know, I know).

    His UK annual figures of 28.6m at an average of under 1.5m/race seemed lubricious. Is there a reason other then Christian’s propensity for taking the first thing Bernie say’s and repeating it verbatim?

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  • TJ

    CD,

    Totally concur but late last year I took the advice of one fan and got a satellite kit (£50) and tuned it into RTL and (providing I use 5Live commentary) I got the last few restricted race’s live. Not BBCHD with all the bells and whistles admittedly and I don’t know how long it’ll last for but it works really well.

    Anyway if the signal becomes encrypted at some point, I like you will I suppose lose all interest in F1, certainly the one thing I discovered about having half the season restricted to highlights, it diminished even the live transmissions to the point there were some I chose to miss.

    Never ever thought that would happen. Classic error by anyone to overprice any commodity, simply stifles demand.

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  • TJ

    TJ,

    lubricious…I wish! Ludicrous maybe.

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  • Mav (author)

    His UK annual figures of 28.6m at an average of under 1.5m/race seemed ludicrous.

    Well my figures are from BARB – the official source of viewing figures in the UK. These are the average viewers for each race programme. Incidentally, Sky doesn’t particularly like this measure as they have a longer pre-race build-up than the BBC but instead of complaining about that fact I think they should concentrate on making the pre-race build-up more watchable, or shorter, or both – after all, that’s when they’re putting adverts on.

    The figures quoted by Sylt are the “reach” figures which is simply the number of people who have watched more than 15 minutes of the 2012 F1 season. Those who have sat through some 30 hours or more will still be counted as one person and, significantly, you can’t really divide it by the number of races to get an average number of viewers per actual race.

    Incidentally, the FIA’s approach meant F1 WASN’T the most watched annual sports event in 2012 as the World Touring Car Championship topped F1 with a global reach of 512 million viewers! (The Superbowl would make them both weep but that’s another story.)

    More here: http://www.vivaf1.com/blog/?p=12757

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