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Highlights gamble sees Channel 4 F1 viewing figures crash

NEWS STORY
16/04/2019

First off, the deal which has seen live F1 coverage all but disappear from British TV screens this year was agreed under the sport's old ownership.

This year marks the first year of said deal which means that all races, qualifying sessions and practice sessions are shown live only on Sky, Britain's main subscription broadcaster.

The one race that remains free-to-air is the British Grand Prix, though with the Silverstone event in the final year of its contract and a new deal yet to be agreed - not to mention Cardiff failing to agree to a race in time - fans in the UK may soon lose event that.

Due to an anomaly in the way TV viewing numbers are collected, the available data for the season opener gave little insight, however this was not the case with the second round of the world championship, in Bahrain.

To explain, viewer numbers are collated by the Broadcasters' Audience Research Board (BARB), which is joint-owned by six networks, including Sky, Channel 4 and the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA), the trade body for advertising, media and marketing agencies in Britain.

Such is the regard in which BARB's data is held, it is referred to as the ‘gold standard' and is the official measurement of TV viewing that British networks use to sell their advertising spots.

However, the system that BARB uses sees the broadcasting day begin at 06:00, seemingly because from the early 1980s this became the traditional time that breakfast programming began. As a result, though it is rare, when a broadcast is spread across the 06:00 threshold it tends to confuse the figures.

According to Forbes, "this is because there is a risk of the BARB log entry being cut off at the 6am threshold thereby making the programme appear shorter than it actually is".

Understandably, this can often prove to be a problem, particularly for sporting events, the Australian Grand Prix, which got underway at 06:00 (GMT) being one of them.

Not so Bahrain, which kicked off at 16:10 in the UK.

In a bold move, it was agreed that Channel 4's highlights show would be broadcast at peak viewing time, a move that FOM was confident would prove popular with fans.

Indeed, F1's global research director Matt Roberts had claimed in December that the new agreement would see a dramatic increase in viewing number.

"Channel 4 will have the highlights next year and we have worked with them to ensure they show the races in a favourable prime time slot," he said. "We estimate that we will actually have more viewers next year in the UK (thanks to this prime time slot) than we had this year."

In fact, according to Forbes, BARB's figures reveal that Channel 4 attracted 1.6 million viewers on TV, 16,869 watching on PC/laptop, 4,881 on a tablet and just 3,987 on a smartphone.

"It gives the highlights show a total of 1,658,137 viewers which was lower than the audience for other programmes shown in the same time slot in the week leading up to the race, lower than Married at First Sight, 24 hours in Police Custody and Gogglebox, which was watched by 3.5 million people.

Indeed, the show attracted Channel 4's lowest audience for the Bahrain race since it started showing F1 in 2016. Previously, its live broadcast of the event had steadily increased from 2.42 million in 2016 to 2.85 million in 2017, reaching a peak of 2.94 million in 2018.

Fact is, no matter how incident-filled the race was, no matter the controversy or the amount of overtaking, despite Mr Roberts confidence, who really wants to tune into a highlights show several hours after the race, especially when the BBC is showing the highly popular Line of Duty and ITV is showing Victoria.

The dramatic crash reveals two core flaws in Liberty's thinking.

While the first is that putting a highlights show up against some of your rivals most popular peak-time shows is never going to be a winner, the second is that it is the (live) racing itself that attracts fans, for once the result is 'out there' - especially following a yawn-fest as that witnessed this Sunday - what's the point in tuning in several hours later to see the best bit?

As for Sky, though quick to boast about its figures for the opening race, it has yet to reveal its figures for Bahrain.

Then again, collating Sky's figures is far from easy, a situation not helped by the fact that the opening three races have not only been shown on the dedicated F1 channel but also - effectively for free - on Sky One.

And talking of Sky F1, has anyone else noticed that this year, if you record the majority of the F1 weekend coverage, your box also records - and series links - those programmes you didn't necessarily want to record?

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READERS COMMENTS

 

1. Posted by Steve 666, 24/04/2019 22:03

"And it’s not helped by Ch4 with their extended programme intro without “The Chain” and Steve Jones cheap, sleazy presentation, he really triumphed interviewing Claire Williams by referring to the great Patrick Head as sir Pat, and then there’s his hero worshipping of Hamilton. Could do better is a phrase I seen to recall."

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2. Posted by Lancelot37, 18/04/2019 18:31

"Vis0n says " Not HD but essentially free without the Sky Sports subscription to anyone with Sky or Virgin." I have Virgin but I can't get it free, please tell me how."

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3. Posted by Lancelot37, 18/04/2019 18:28

"It's about the end of the line for me. Been watching F1 for 50 years or more but there is no way I'll pay to watch, and it looks like other supporters are also walking away. They've certainly found a way to kill it off. The TV advertisers will also be loosing money as people fail to watch since viewing for free was lost. "

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4. Posted by Mikee49, 18/04/2019 17:57

"Yes the racing - or lack of it - does not help having a highlights programme but not publicising when it's being broadcast does not help either (WHY?). Really miss the grid walks....it's all been pruned back to a point where it's difficult to watch. Can't imagine that this approach is a choice made by Channel 4 but must be what they are given to work with. I will not pay Sky to watch F1 live so it's probably goodbye to F1 after this year. Very sad after over 50 years of being a fan."

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5. Posted by vins0n, 17/04/2019 14:37

"It's live on Sky One. Not HD but essentially free without the Sky Sports subscription to anyone with Sky or Virgin and maybe others. I don't have to pay extra unless I want HD or UHD. I much prefer the C4 presenting team to the hundreds (it seems) of joyless corporate drones on Sky all wearing their pastel shirts and slacks. However it's live on Sky One and I can't watch both (I tried). "

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6. Posted by FQITW, 17/04/2019 11:27

"@sennapod

“partly due to Sky forcing them out of the pit lane, and having to do their interviews ‘behind the bike sheds’ “


Had not realised that, you’re right.

Just shows what Bar Stewards Sky are.
"

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7. Posted by Sennapod, 16/04/2019 23:56 (moderated by an Adminstrator, 17/04/2019 7:43)

"I don’t get the urge to watch it live - that was never the case the Murray and James etc ,and my favourite way of consuming F1 is to watch on catch-up, after the family have gone off to bed (assuming I can stay off social media all day to avoid hearing the results). That said, the C4 coverage is less dynamic than last year, party due to Sky forcing them out of the pit lane, and having to do their interviews ‘behind the bike sheds’ - just seems like SKY acting as spoilt-brats on that, because they know C4 do (did) a great job capturing the overall vibe,, and with just 2 or 3presenters, whereas Sky seem to need 10 or more."

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8. Posted by Bill Hopgood, 16/04/2019 19:11 (moderated by an Adminstrator, 17/04/2019 7:43)

"We have a telco using F1 to get ready for streaming of the Rugby World Cup (supposidly the worlds third highest viewed sporting event, when taxpayer money is used to host the tornament, but I digress) and it has been a mixed bag even with a decent machine and 100MBs download speed.

Highlights do "suck" however pay per view or pay for coverage is the way the world has gone and it happened here in NZ a long time ago.

I'm still on the fence regarding the 10GBP ish per month but that is cheaper than the 15GBP plus 25GPB to watch Sky Sport here, with no F1 coverage.

That being said. F1 is way behind the entertainment value of MotoGP and that is on Sky Sport here.

Hopefully the streaming improves here so that it doesn't take me 20 minutes to watch Q3!
"

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9. Posted by Andiamo, 16/04/2019 18:59

"I too don't like the current C4 highlights programme, it comes across a bit threadbare and lacks excitement. Unfortunately, for the time being that's all I've got. I refuse to be pressganged by Sky into packages I don't want. Having followed F1 since Keke Rosberg won the championship I am not about to walk away now. I say give it time and hope it develops. Even better wish, if Sky can't raise the audience figures they want, maybe they'll unload it and return it to the real fans."

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10. Posted by nnails, 16/04/2019 18:52

"I have watched ever grand prix since 1988.

But not watched one second of highlights this year and I now find I could have watch first three races live as my sister as now tv subscription for sky one. And this makes me even more angry with sky and powers that be.

But o well. I have formula e live, btcc live and sports cars live and all are the full race.

In smart phone world highlights don't work and I won't watch this year and to be honest f1 needs viewers more than I need there subscription "

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11. Posted by mds167, 16/04/2019 17:52

"Only by listening to Radio 5 live and then watching the highlights for Australia did I realise just how much I was missing in the C4 coverage. I agree that the coverage is disjointed but it was always this in a highlights package - wasn’t this all we had for some races back in the ‘80s in the UK?
On a race day I now put down a media blanket to avoid the result and then download or stream coverage on All4. I skip the build up (I’ve followed free practice and quali on Pitpass), watch the race until the chequered flag and then head to Pitpass for the analysis - I hate the cringy interviews and bland sound bites. Only Max or Kevin liven them up - for the wrong reasons!
I have yet to try a NowTV pass to see whether I think Sky might be worth it for a few races.
Our niche sport is heading into a smaller niche before it becomes totally irrelevant at the hands of LM."

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12. Posted by Ro, 16/04/2019 17:07

"To be quite honest, its not all Channel 4's fault. Primary fault is the racing, there isnt any. Its boring. How they start is how they finish. Its too technical and shows that us, as humans, will never be better than a computer, never. Secondary fault where Ch 4 can fix is the amount of chat. There is too much of it. We the fans want to see racing, not listen to a PR inspired chat with a driver. "

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13. Posted by Toffeecup0, 16/04/2019 15:45

"Pity contract has gone to sky tv where u have to pay to watch live races I remember when it was on bbc1no breaks apart from chit chat and celebs flaunting around meeting drivers etc no wonder people have or losing interest in f1 great shame"

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14. Posted by imejl99, 16/04/2019 15:14 (moderated by an Adminstrator, 17/04/2019 7:43)

"I am outside of the UK TV coverage, but if of any importance to anyone concerned - for over 30 years now, it is "live" or "just check the results later", even at the times when it actually meant reading printed papers the day after. So, regarding TV coverage, it is live or nothing."

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15. Posted by Motorsport-fan, 16/04/2019 14:08

"Have to agree with @FQITW, I just want to see the race, who would have thought losing Karun would have had such an impact, just do a race and post race package C4 and nothing else!"

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