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F1 loses 8.6 million TV viewers in UK


While the multi-million deal Bernie Ecclestone agreed with Sky - one of his last acts before the sport was bought by Liberty Media - may have helped balance the books for Formula One, the move to Pay-TV in the UK has taken its toll on viewer numbers.

This season, the first year in which F1 was shown almost exclusively on Sky - Channel 4 broadcasting only one race (Silverstone) live - has seen viewer numbers plummet.

Reduced to showing all but the British Grand Prix in highlights form, Channel 4 saw its cumulative audience drop by 10.8 million on 2018, the broadcaster drawing 34.7 million viewers in total this year.

While the move to Sky saw the subscription broadcaster's audience increase by 2.2 million to 20.1 million, the total number of F1 viewers in the UK was down 13.6% on 2018 to 54.8 million.

Unsurprisingly, Channel 4's most watched highlights show was the Hockenheim thriller, with 2.1 million tuning in to watch one of the most dramatic races in living memory.

Interestingly, according to the Independent, this was 4% more than the Monaco Grand Prix attracted and almost double the audience for the title-deciding United States Grand Prix which saw its audience 2 million down on 2018.

Indeed, the German Grand Prix highlights show attracted just 107,000 fewer viewers than the live broadcast of the British Grand Prix just two weeks earlier.

Ironically, with the promoters unable to meet the estimated $20m hosting fee, this year's Grand Prix was probably the last time F1 will race in Germany for some time.

The viewing figure data, which is compiled by the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board (Barb), and is considered to be the industry’s gold standard and the official estimate that channels use to sell advertising, reveals that though Lewis Hamilton secured the 2019 title in Austin, Channel 4's audience was down by 2 million on 2018 when the event was shown live. Indeed, Brazil, which, like Germany, was incident-filled and uncharacteristically unpredictable didn't even make into the Top 15 most watched programmes on Channel 4 in the week in which it was broadcast. Incidentally, the audience total for the Interlagos event was not publicly disclosed by BARB but was instead provided by, one of its official data partners.

Intriguingly, just two races pulled in more viewers this year than in 2018, the Japanese and French events.

Widely considered one of the most boring races in living memory, the French Grand Prix attracted 19% more viewers than 2018, which makes one wonder how bad the alternative programmes must have been that particular Sunday.

Shown live in the early hours in 2018, the Japanese Grand Prix highlights show a year later - broadcast in the afternoon - saw its audience up by an impressive 52% to 1.5 million, a scenario that F1’s global research director, Matt Roberts had previously predicted would be the norm this year.

"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 in late 2018. "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."

And while Channel 4's audience figures were dropping down the order quicker than a Haas, they were not flocking to Sky as F1 bosses – and indeed Sky bosses – had hoped.

Indeed, despite the pay broadcaster having the exclusive rights to all but one race (Silverstone), the audience for the dedicated F1 channel was down on 2018. This, despite a monthly access deal which saw subscriptions slashed by 44% to 10 and even the broadcasting of IndyCar, not to mention F2.

While the German Grand Prix was the most popular highlights show for Channel 4, in terms of live broadcasts the Hockenheim event was Sky's third most-watched race. Canada, which was broadcast at prime-time in the UK, was the second most watched race on Sky, with Bahrain being the most popular, courtesy of the fact that it was also shown on Sky One, essentially a 'free' channel.

With BARB only measuring the online streaming figures since August 2018, year-on-year data is not available. However, the number of viewers streaming F1 in 2019 combined with those who watched it on TV saw Channel 4's total audience up by about 2% and Sky by 4%.

With the teams receiving 68% of the sport's profits in terms of prize money, there are unlikely to be too many complaints from the likes of Mercedes or Red Bull, even though the boost from that deal Bernie Ecclestone agreed with Sky won't have the same impact in 2020.

However, the news is unlikely to go down with the likes of Lewis Hamilton, who earlier this year bemoaned the move to Pay-TV.

"(It's) definitely not cool," he said. "I remember growing up and turning on BBC and watching ‘Grand Prix’, it was awesome. It’s the fans that make the sport what it is so the more you almost block them or deter them the worse the business is going to be."



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1. Posted by Justin541, 30/05/2020 12:19 (moderated by an Adminstrator, 30/05/2020 12:29)

"This comment was removed by an administrator as it was judged to have broken the site's posting rules and etiquette."

Rating: Neutral (0)

2. Posted by Mark123, 06/01/2020 12:24

"I am sure the declining viewing figures are setting alarm bells off in the corridors of Liberty Media, Sky Sports and the FIA. No doubt the switch to pay per view has had a huge effect on viewing numbers but surely the F1 product itself has to take some responsibility.

I am a Sky Sports F1 subscriber and the only reason I continued last year was dew to the addiction of live Indy Car coverage to the channel.

This current era of F1 has to be one of the most boring and predictable of all time making it shockingly easy to walk away from and refusing to put your hand in your pocket and pay to be bored.

It really makes me wonder where F1 is heading. 2021 will be the most important year in the sports history. I personally think it will make or break F1."

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3. Posted by Spindoctor, 02/01/2020 13:13

"F1 is not Football\Premiership. Consequently people like me will not pay a relatively large amount to Mr Murdoch for the privilege of watching it on his Network. Despite being a pretty keen Footy fan I won't buy Sky's Premiership package either - its a matter of Value For Money.
Sky has too long relied on its first-entrant status - gobbling-up Sport and viewers, and gaining a huge price premium in the process. Technology is overtaking its delivery mechanism and its Business Model. Similar events are overtaking Cable in USA.

After 2024 when Murdoch's deal runs out, I might consider buying a streamed service- assuming it's not stupidly over-priced, given Liberty's record to date that can't be guaranteed.... "

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4. Posted by Rock Doc, 02/01/2020 2:48

"Pay tv really is hurting the viewers. But look at the highlight figures. If there is good racing then viewers will watch. Unfortunately F1 has never been true Lucy exciting for every race. Even with the rose tinted glasses of yesteryear most season had a number of dull races. But it is the prospect of a great race that brings the fans back for the next race. If they are not watching then they will not appreciate those special events we all remember.

Another reason is almost certainly the current engine formula. Merc have dominated for so long and been so successful it leaves you feeling then 2030 will be another 2019. Merc wins and the other teams take the scraps. Lewis got into Merc at the right time and has driven spectacularly. But had it been any other engine formula I do not think even with his talent that he would racked up the same wins. Even being in the best team for the last six seasons he has been beaten.

In Canada we pay for every channel, but F1 is not a premium channel so fans can slip by with a good deal. If it was a premium channel I would not be paying for it based on the last couple of seasons.

Looking forward to some major changes in the formula and Merc to go to electric cars so we can get back to the variability we have missed for a number of years.


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5. Posted by Lakota, 01/01/2020 23:02

"Boring races , crazy rules , to technical, you would think they would learned from watching NASCAR destroy that series . It's racing. It doesn't have to be that hard "

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6. Posted by VC10-1103, 01/01/2020 18:54

"Sky F1 is currently part of my Virgin package only because it was part of an offer that cost me 2 more than my existing package. Unless I get a similar offer when the deal expires I will not be renewing. To be honest I am not that bothered about watching on C4. I have been watching F1 on TV since the BBC only showed Monaco and the BGP each year."

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7. Posted by Cobra Racer, 01/01/2020 14:35

"I'm not surprised...just let the suits at a successful program and they will screw it up. Some boring venues coupled with too many driver aids equals audience shut down.

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8. Posted by PearBear, 01/01/2020 8:44

"F1 Viewing figures have plummeted all over the world due to people being unable or refusing to subscribe to pay TV. With most races being mind-numbingly boring (to average viewers) they are not willing to shell out money to watch Grands Prix. The figures are fudged by Sky and all those with vested interests but the truth is every country that has stopped showing F1 on free-to-air has had massive drops in viewers. As the 2020 season will be a rinse and repeat of 2019 there will be even less viewers to welcome the 2021 season."

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9. Posted by Mambo, 31/12/2019 17:58

"Perhaps the decline in Channel 4’s viewing figures is because a full half hour of their two hour programmes is given over to ad breaks, including during the race, when there are four or five (possibly more!) ‘interruptions’. "

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10. Posted by Editor, 31/12/2019 17:36

"@ Roli

The contract runs until the end of 2024"

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11. Posted by Editor, 31/12/2019 17:36 (moderated by an Adminstrator, 30/05/2020 12:29)

"@ Anthony

Karun Chandhok an "ordinary driver"... seriously, you flatter him. Though in his imagination he is clearly up there with the greats."

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12. Posted by nnails, 31/12/2019 16:43

"Watched almost every grand prix between 1988 to 2018. Did not watch last season. Congrats f1. "

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13. Posted by Anthony, 31/12/2019 16:15

"I think that Sky would benefit from refreshing their commentary team. Whilst they can’t be faulted in terms of the number of ex drivers in the team, it seems to be dominated by David Croft who is dreadful and Martin Brundle seems to be losing interest. Also Karun Chandon seems like an odd choice as he seemed to be a very ordinary driver and I’m not aware that he has any specific technical qualifications. "

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14. Posted by KKK, 31/12/2019 16:04

"One question begs asking, How long is the SKY contract ?"

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