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About those F1 TV viewing figures


For the second time in as many weeks, doubt is cast on data released by Formula One Management and according to Forbes this time it could leave team bosses hot under the collar.

It is a fact that statistics can be used to 'demonstrate' whatever it is the person providing them is seeking to prove, or "lies, damn lies and statistics", as Benjamin Disraeli so succinctly put it.

On Friday, Formula One Management issued a press release proclaiming that "Formula 1 TV and digital audience grows in 2017", the media duly repeating the claim at face value.

Two weeks earlier, following FOM's issuing of a similar press release relating to race attendance - again faithfully repeated by much of the media - Chris Sylt and Pitpass looked at the figures a little more closely.

Lo and behold - and ignoring the fact that organisers in Azerbaijan are at total odds with FOM over the attendance figures for 2016 - the percentages shown were wholly wrong. Indeed, the only figures that were correct were those races that showed a 0% percent increase.

Every other single percentage was wrong - in Azerbaijan's case 58.01% should have read 138.17%.

While FOM admitted to a "systematic error", which was really just a case of poor arithmetic, it looked wholly unprofessional.

Contacted by FOM within minutes of posting the story, we enquired when the TV viewing figures would be available, and were told that they were being worked on and would be made available to us when they were ready. Yesterday they were issued to much of the media - who again obligingly published the data verbatim, while Pitpass had to request a copy. Read into that what you will.

For the most part, the social media audience figures mean little. Ignoring the fact that Lewis Hamilton, despite wiping all his tweets, has 1.82 million more followers than the sport's official Twitter account, which benefits from the cross promotion of all ten teams and Pirelli, the figure means little in terms of monetary gain, unlike the TV figures, which give a fair indication of the sport's health.

Again, Chris Sylt and Pitpass spotted some interesting anomalies buried in the data.

At first glance everything looks rosy. "The TV cumulative audience - i.e. the aggregate of the average audience of all the F1 programs broadcast across the year - in the top 20 markets (based on ranking of TV audience) stood at 1.4 billion, which represents an increase of 6.2% compared to 2016," proclaimed the FOM press release.

"The top four markets - Germany, Brazil, Italy and the UK, ranked by absolute figures - all registered positive growth. The strongest was Italy (+19.1%), followed by Brazil (+13.4%), UK (+3.9%) and Germany (+0.9%). Other significant increases were registered in China (+42.2%), Switzerland (+14.3%) and Denmark (+14.1%).

"Cumulative viewing (live and non live) of the races remained at around 603 million, with a 1% increase of the live audience and improvements both in free practice and qualifying sessions cumulative viewing.”

Then comes the knockout. "During 2017, 352.3 million unique viewers have tuned their TV set into an F1 programming at least once. It’s the first time since 2010 that there was not a decrease in this specific number."

This raises questions because just last year F1’s owner Liberty Media claimed in a stock market filing (pdf) that in 2016, Formula 1 had a cumulative live television audience of approximately 390 million unique global viewers", a figure repeated in F1’s 2016 Global Media Report.

Writing in The Independent last year, Chris Sylt revealed that the 2016 figure was 2.5% down on 2015, marking the sixth straight year that the number of F1 viewers has declined. A further drop would paint F1 in a disastrous light but Liberty has avoided that in a way which is apparently more accurate.

Tellingly Liberty's filing and F1's 2016 Global Media Report both describe the total audience as being "global" whereas yesterday's press release does not use the same term in reference to 2017.

It is understood that the 2016 figure was based on data from ten countries and then extrapolated to give the 'global' figure of 390 million. On the other hand, data from 63 countries was used to derive the 2017 figure of 352.3 million and if this same measurement system was applied retrospectively to 2016 it would yield a similar total which is why the press release states that "there was not a decrease in this specific number."

So in the blink of an eye F1 wiped 40 million viewers off its audience. What of the sponsors who signed up last year on the strength of the 390 million audience? Would they have agreed if they had known the supposedly more accurate total of 352 million? It’s too late now for them to reconsider but team bosses may well be on the receiving end of tough questions from their sponsors as a result of F1’s recent decision.

It also raises questions about whether this kind of a revision will happen again which in turn makes one wonder what really is the 'actual' audience figure. Numbers which were officially released by the sport and were filed with the stock market have now been revised so the floodgates appear to be open.

The numbers relate to unique viewers, which is anyone who watched at least 15 non-consecutive minutes of F1 over the course of the year - whether you watched just 15 minutes of F1 or 150 hours, you are still counted as one unique viewer.

The viewing data comes from an independent company and while the unit being measured is still the same – the total number of unique viewers – the way it is calculated is different. As a result, while the end result can be compared year-on-year, as the units are the same, the driving force behind the change in 2017 is unclear.

Be it our own stats at Pitpass or direct reader feedback, it would appear that, despite a revival from Ferrari in 2017, another year of Mercedes domination, grid penalties, track limit rows and the failure of the new (for 2017) regulations to improve overtaking, took its toll, the sport is losing fans not winning new ones over.

Indeed, the positive news coming from FOM in terms of race attendance, social media and TV figures should have had sponsors signing on the dotted line at St James's Market, but this is not the case.

Furthermore, no matter how one dresses up the figures, in countries like the UK, where all live coverage will be subscription only from 2019, this will further impact audience numbers which will in turn hit teams already suffering a drop in prize money and further drops due to follow, combined with FOM's ongoing spending drive.


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1. Posted by imejl99, 16/01/2018 13:29

"Suggestion to FOM: check for methodology used previous year, present new data using the same methodology. It is not that difficult."

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2. Posted by Anakha56, 08/01/2018 8:25

"So I live in a country where in order to enjoy watching Formula 1 I have to pay a media company (much like Sky) for their premium package at R789 (48) which is rebroadcasting the Sky broadcast. Needless to say I do not watch Formula 1 through the "correct" channels. If I could subscribe to a service, much like Netflix, and stream the races I would be very happy. Side note, out of all the channels offered by the option in my country I would only watch about 10% of the content hence the reason why I cancelled and only have Netflix. Repeats and useless channels are not worth that premium price..."

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3. Posted by Spindoctor, 07/01/2018 23:54

"I could easily stomach paying for F1, I pay for Netflix and I have subscriptions to Amazon, BT, Office 365 and lots of other Services. I don't object to paying per se. I object to being ripped-off, especially by Murdoch.

I will NOT pay Sky (directly at least) to watch F1 or even the Arsenal. If FOM\Liberty had a grain of sense (as opposed to aparrently unlimited greed) they should sell direct, at a sensible price. Thjis would certainly cost a bit in the short, and maybe the medium term, but longer-term they would almost certainly rake it in.

I'm aware of the conventional wisdom that selling via an auction to Broadcasters (like Sky & the Premier League) generates the most money. I'd suggest that that was then, and this now. That model was made during the Broadcast era, we have entered that of Streaming, and things are different.
If they had any imaginatination Liberty could sell direct with differential pricing: say 5 per live race, but 3 to watch an hour or more later. As genuine rights-holders they could stream lots of extras, and re-sell again via other platforms.
I'm pretty sure that with the same number of viewers this would generate more than their current Broadcaster deals.

Should they continue with their errant ways, and F1 effectively disappears completely behind a paywall (especially one owned by Fox) they can knock one viewer off their totals...."

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4. Posted by Ubarrow, 07/01/2018 15:33

"As someone without Sky the big problem for me is that there are so many ways to inadvertently find out the result, unless watching live. "

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5. Posted by Bill Hopgood, 06/01/2018 20:48

"New Zealand could be a good case study for the effect of changes such as listed in the article as we have had pay coverage for a number of years now of F1 and most other sports.
Supercars is the most popular Motorsport here and that moved about 4 or 5 years ago from terrestrial TV which definitely had an effect as not every house has Sky. I know this because I’d mention F1 back then and people would say they didn’t watch it as they didn’t have Sky but did watch the V8 racing.
Now we know that despite having more and better coverage there is less viewers because Sky has been loosing subscribers due to a it not being seen as good value.
Brendon Hartley will see more people interested in F1 results however I can’t see there being more viewers, unless of course he has a chance of winning. People are fickle unless they are deeply interested in a sport or team.
FOM should analyse NZ fans and viewing figures before making changes affecting larger markets and fan bases. "

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6. Posted by Ro, 06/01/2018 20:45

"I think of the old saying "how can you tell when a politician is lying?" Their lips move....I think this rule now applies to Liberty Media. They are bringing the sport into disrepute. Shame on you Mr Carey!"

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