Lewis Hamilton, McLaren, Melbourne, 2012

UK TV audience falls by one million at Sky’s first F1 race

F1 televisionPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren, Melbourne, 2012Viewing figures from the first race weekend of 2012 indicates a fall of over a million viewers in the UK.

There was no live free-to-air coverage of the race in Britain. The race was shown live on Sky while the BBC broadcast highlights later in the day.

Sky declined to issue details of their TV audiences for their F1 programming over the race weekend when asked by F1 Fanatic.

However multiple sources have reported their first F1 broadcast attracted a peak audience of 1.02 million viewers.

This represents a fall of over 2 million compared to the figure recorded by the BBC for last year’s live race.

The BBC reported a peak of 3.2 million people watched their highlights programme, over one million more than their repeat of the race in a similar time slot attracted last year.

Combining the figures suggests around one million fewer people in the UK watched the first F1 race of the season, a fall of over 20%.

However Sky commentator Martin Brundle, who left the BBC to join the broadcaster, praised the figures, saying on Twitter: “Very happy Sky F1, BBC F1 (and hopefully BBC 5 live) had strong Australian F1 audiences. So important for British [motorsport], Silverstone and F1 generally.”

Half of this year’s ten races will be shown live on the BBC, starting with the Chinese Grand Prix.

F1 on television

Image ?? McLaren/Hoch Zwei

115 comments on “UK TV audience falls by one million at Sky’s first F1 race”

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  1. I wonder, as pubs would have been showing the race live but they would count as a single viewer with perhaps 40-50 people there at one time.. It’s curious to think about what the actual reach was? One thing for sure is there has been a drop off due to people being forced to pay if they want to watch these races live

    1. Maybe we could get F1 in Pubs to do a headcount?

    2. they aren’t counted at all… read up on how they “work” the numbers. they have a few thousand (not sure how many the UK) households which records what each person in household watches etc, and then do some voodoo math to get a figure that represents the entire country.

    3. I doubt F1 is showed in enough pubs to make any real difference to these figures.

      1. You’re right not at the moment, but I already have 4 friends who I have arranged to see races at the pub with but not at 7am!

        Think it will be more popular as it gets to Europe and summertime.

          1. Whichever interpretation of the figures you take it is really not good, is it?

            The Concorde Agreement relating to the broadcasting of the sport states: ‘The Commercial Rights Holder may not permit Formula 1 events to be shown only by pay television in a country with a significant audience if it would materially adversely affect audience reach in that country.’

            Is this bad enough to state the audience reach has been materially affected? If so does it now prove the deal does not conform with the Concorde agreement and the people how can make a difference can start throwing their weight around? We need someone on our side with some good ammunition.

    4. But this wouldn’t make much difference in the sky vs BBC debate…. the same amount of people (probably?) would watch it in a pub no matter what channel it was on?

  2. Why do you assume that people who didn’t watch the live coverage chose to watch the BBC highlights? Perhaps they watched a repeat on Sky…

    1. I didn’t assume anything – as it says in the article, Sky would not provide the data.

      However there’s an obvious reason to make such an assumption – if someone is shelling out £360 quid a year for Sky to watch F1, it stands to reason they’re doing so to watch the race live instead of delayed.

      1. As for as I know the average numbers take into account recordings.

        The main reason for the difference is BBC is in 99% of UK households were as sky sports or sky hd is in 25-30% Uk households.

        Had to laugh at Brundles tweet! sure Martin!! The only thing increasing is your bank balance!

        1. i don’t think that’s the case actually. Brundle is well off at this stage and doesn’t need to make money his primary motivation. At the autosports awards he said the main reason he moved was because the bbc bigwigs treated the f1 team so badly around the time the rights were sold.

          1. Another factor is that Sky will basically bend over backwards to give him the freedom and scope that he wants, it’s no coincidence he recently drove a modern Ferrari.

      2. I knew someone would say that. Obviously if you’re going to fork out specifically for F1 then you were going to get up and watch it.

        But remember that not everyone who watches a Grand Prix is necessarily a die-hard F1 fan. There are people who have received the F1 channel as a result of already being a Sky Sports or HD subscriber (my household included), and therefore had no such motivation to watch it live.

        Besides, I might be wrong here, but wasn’t the race on at 7am instead of 6am last year due to the clocks changing? If so, that makes comparing the figures a little tricky. You’re best waiting until a standard 1pm race start before making fair comparisons.

      3. Agree, why would you not watch the race live on sky! regardless of what package you have sky wise, I presume you have sky installed surely you are going to watch the race live on sky and not the BBC highlight show. It would be like paying for first class seats and deciding to sit in economy…lets face it this article has confirmed the inevitable which every one (without sky) would say would happen.

      4. No Keith, for that to be true then everyone with Sky would hav had to have bought it specifically for F1. People who already had Sky prior to the announcement that F1 was moving to Sky may either be watching the race repeat on Sky or the highlights (that cut out the boring bits) on BBC.
        Personally, I noted that one couldn’t always be certain when the repeats were starting on Sky and so the BBC stated time was more attractive.

  3. “The BBC reported a peak of 3.2 million people watched their highlights programme, over one million more than their repeat of the race in a similar time slot attracted last year.”

    Sure thats the most important stat – the sky stat is useless as there is no real data to compare it to (last years was free to air, you cant compare something paid for to something free). Next year we can do a fair comparison Aus on Sky to Aus on Sky and see if Sky can build the audience up.

    If the BBC got more viewers this year than last year, then everything is vindicated for them (sadly)

    1. Not necessarily. Last year, I watched it live on the BBC, so did not watch the highlights program. Doubt there’ll be any way to give a fair comparison.

      1. @eurobrun but this year (if you dont have sky) you didnt have the choice.

        So the BBC have not only upped viewing figures by 1m, they dont have to show the race twice within a 8-10 hour period. There is less editing and less cost.

        I didnt want Sky to get F1, but these numbers scream out to me that the BBC will probably be quite happy at this point. They are doing less and still getting the viewer return :(

        1. upped viewing figures by 1m

          Over how many normally would have watched the “replay”.

          BBC total figures would be drastically cut I assume.
          @keithcollantine Any chance you know how many viewers the BBC peaked at at last years Aus GP? (or where to find out?)

          1. yes, this year the BBC got 3.2 million, last year they had 5 million (3 million live, 2 million for re-run).

            One thing i think Sky need to be aware of is that they can’t afford to put adverts during the practice sessions during the races the BBC have live. People, will turn over to BBC, and then, due to the fact they would have to press the red button etc every time, i assume they won’t switch back. This gives a prime opportunity for the viewers to get used to the BBC coverage and then possibly decide to stick with them for the whole weekend. The worst thing for Sky would be to have a massive drop in viewing figures every race the BBC have live.

    2. “last years was free to air, you cant compare something paid for to something free”

      You can bet your bottom dollar sure the sponsors will be comparing the stats….. and won’t be too happy at the moment

  4. So a back of the envelope calculation might suggest that they will generate £420M from subscriptions in a year based on 1M newsubscribers for F1.

    Anyway, A question I have is this. Is it normal for Sky to withhold viewing figures or do you think they are withholding them because they were lower than the BBC’s?

    1. @gatekiller That depends how many of the viewers were not Sky subscribers to begin with.

      1. Hence my emphasis on new ;)

      2. I heard somewhere (possible rumour) that the BBC were spending about £40M per race?

        If so, it currently looks like Sky won’t be making a profit. If this is true, I would expect them to start making a bigger marketing push to get more subscribers.

        Again, this is speculation.

        1. £40M per race. Not sure about that!

          The BBC’s total TV expenditure in 2010/11 was £2,368.1 million. They’re not going to blow a third of their budget on 20 (inc Bahrain) F1 races.

          Speculation is their F1 budget was more than the total budget for BBC4, so think ~£80m total.


        2. £40M per race is surely some miscalculation, otherwise they could easily afford the fee for staging their own race, given they built or rented an F1 track ;) Maybe they should adapt Top Gear’s aerodrome for that?

          1. I believe the figure was around £40 million for the live broadcasting rights each year.

          2. Correct. It’s for the whole year.

    2. Sky have never published viewing figures – they will always be lower than the free competition

  5. @keithcollantine, I read elsewhere (thanks to a post by @prisoner-monkeys) that the BBC highlights increase was only 100,000 on last year. Do you have a source for the BBC figure comparison?

    1. Actually @keithcollantine scrub that last question. The comparison wasn’t like-for-like – it was highlights against live. Apologies.

  6. Pretty poor figures all round really, shows F1 isn’t as big in the UK as it used to be sadly. I wonder if anyone knows what the highest viewing figures are and when they were, i’m guessing it was at it’s peak in the late 80’s, early 90’s?

    1. The poor figures may also reflect a slow global economy and high unemployment rate, rather than that F1 isn’t as big in the UK as it used to be. There may be many households that love F1 but simply can’t justify the added expense in their budget and have had to make a tough decision. We have had a poster here 3 or 4 weeks ago say he has to put his family and their needs ahead of Sky coverage, and I applauded him for that.

    2. “F1 isn’t as big in the UK as it used to be sadly”

      Nonsense. It suggests that last year a combined total of 5.3 million people in the UK watched F1.

      When you have the religion that is Football here in the UK, the Motorsport F1 attracting almost one in ten is an excellent figure. In fact, I for one have always been surprised at how F1 is in fact given near parity with major footballing events; time slots( except now of course!), news slots etc

      1. Well no it’s not nonsense, 5 million isn’t the real figure, most of us with Sky watched the BBC show too, 3 million is normal. I wouldn’t call 5% of people watching as Popular would you?

  7. using a picture of lewis like its his fault viewing figures are down.

    1. picture is because there is a Sky Sports F1 mic in it, and it was probably made by sky Sports F1 camera.

    2. For real? I think its cause there is a Sky Sports microphone in the picture.

    3. The paranoia of some Lewis Hamilton fans knows no bounds :)

  8. Keith, I’m glad you included the figures for last years highlights programme. All the other reports I’ve seen excluded that only looking at the sky live figures + this years highlights, compared to last year live. Excluding last years highlights makes a big, big differance.

    Unfortunately with almost zero UK sponsors, Bernie and the money men probably don’t care about the UK viewing figures.

  9. As somone alluded to it will come down to the actual numbers of people who specifically signed up to SKY in order to watch the F1 rather than the number of people who watched the program. For them it would appear to be a way of getting more subscriptions and sign ups, then selling them phone and broadband packages i would imagine than the F1 itself, the % of existing vs new would be the interesting stat and the one that will not be shared unless very favourable to SKY (i am guessing)
    Being without sky i hope someone else can answer another question i have, apart from the F1 live (and repeats etc) what has the rest of the schedule got in terms of offering, by that i mean is it worth having when there is not a race on and will people watch it, if not then how long a dedicated channel lasts could be questioned.

  10. Another curve ball to screw up the figures aside of pub coverage…
    “Illegal viewing”.
    I know a lot of people who watched various online sky feeds or even RTL or other European broadcasters.
    I’d be interested to know what the 5 live radio figures were.

    1. I watch many sports with online feeds, 6am f1 on the laptop while in bed is perfect. Same plan for this weekend too.

      Also If I brought the sky deal, that would help murdoch defeat free to air f1 on tv. If no one brought the sky deal, then we would be back to the bbc.

  11. Well I’m fortunate to be a Sky subscriber (or is that unfortunate) which I signed up for exclusively for the F1 (there are other benefits though.)

    The coverage was close to the BBC with some nice new extra features. But the ‘main anchor’ – I don’t know his name – alongside Damon and Martin isn’t a patch on Jake. In fact he is quite irritating and clearly just a generic presenter type with no real depth or passion for F1.
    True, Jake started out as an F1 noobie but he took it up and at least appeared to become a genuine fan. Sincere or not, a testament to the fundamental difference between the BBC and Sky.

    1. Totaly agree

    2. I agree that last weekend wasn’t Lazenby’s finest hour but give him some time. As you point out Jake Humphreys (who is a great presenter) didn’t get it all overnight. I don’t think you can draw any conclusions from one race weekend – especially not about fundamental differences between the BBC and Sky. After all, Lazenby was a very knowledgeable rugby presenter…

    3. The person i miss most is DC…which surprised me

    4. Gotta say, the newfangled Table Tennis Paddle attached to Simon’s hand was nowhere near as good as the one attached to Jakes Hand. Jake actually used his.
      As far as the Sky ‘extra features’ segments go, they were a pale comparison the the Beeb’s. Loved BBC’s version of the Bob Dylan Vid. Very clever (and the song wasn’t half bad either!).

  12. Think once the lunch time races start up will see a truer picture on viewing figures.Also we are talking uk figures would like to know the Europe figures takeing into account all the bars that would have opened early in the Costa’s
    ect to get some trade before the footy starts.

  13. I think it is quite clear that 2 million of us are not prepared to pay Murdoch for live coverage and are happy to watch the BBC’s highlights

    1. Here here!

  14. What gets me in all this is where is the moral responsibility of the Sponsors – I wrote to Vodafone saying that I cannot understand how they can be happy with less viewers and basically making the rich pay more to pay for F1, but yet fewer people watching their Vidafone Mclaren’s – I got told that they could not control the media –

    I told them that money controls everything – when the sponsors wake up to fact that their products are seen by only the very rich then perhaps they may want to stand up and be counted. At this moment the sponsors are not voicing their opinions.

    We’ve seen it before – stealing as much as the market can possibly take and then taking even more – that’s where we are now. The future my friends is that the sponsors will leave and F1 will be a worse place and Bernie and his sickening daughters will be long gone.

    1. I don’t know whether I agree with the statement about products being seen by only the very rich – we have Sky Sports, and I don’t consider myself “very rich”. Nor do I think it’s a moral responsibility for the sponsors. They are just picking a platform to advertise on.

      I do agree though with your hypothesis that the sponsors don’t necessarily know where to get best value for money for their investment – and possibly don’t care. All it takes is for a board member or CEO to fancy rubbing shoulders with a Pussycat Doll or Lenny Kravitz, or (heaven forbid) actually to be interested in F1 for itself.

      I’m working at one of the big F1 sponsors at the moment, and to be honest seriously doubt that marketing have a coherent business case for sponsorship. They like to see their discipline as a science, but it’s not what I would call rigorous.

  15. When Japan went down this hybrid route of part live and part highlights on free to air TV, the ratings fell away and haven’t come back. F1 is in peril in Japan. Will they still have a GP in 5 years’ time?

    The danger in Britain is more acute, and of greater concern, because so many F1 teams and F1 infrastructure is based here. I’m amazed the sponsors haven’t demanded some of their money back. It can’t be long before they do.

    1. I know nothing of the coverage of F1 in Japan, but could this not also be slightly due to the lack of any japanese constructors or engines in F1 anymore? Yes they have Kamui, but the Japanese, as with most asian cultures, are more focused on the team than the individual, so I would imagine they were more into the sport when they had a whole team to get behind.

  16. In other news, bank balance figures for Bernie Ecclestone showed an increase in income from F1 TV rights when compared to figures this time last year.


  17. I live in Canada, and just started downloading and watching the British feeds a couple of years ago (as opposed to our local). Either way, I don’t have to pay to watch, so I’m just judging purely on feel. To be honest, I found the Sky blokes to be dry, uncomfortable, and even though the coverage had more stats and technological features, it lacked interest. I know Brundle is much-loved with the UK audience, but it really seems that neither drivers nor team principles actually like him at all. So, I’ll continue to watch BBC coverage and highlights. They have that magic formula (excuse the pun). Oh, by the way, what’s with the scary transvestite name Georgie that Sky has covering the giant iPad? HAHA!!

    1. artificial racer
      22nd March 2012, 18:54

      Thats good, just publicly admit to pirating F1 broadcasts…

      Not being live is always a problem if you go down that route. But as a non paying customer the commercial interests don’t care about you.

      It does raise the point though… the team sponsors on the cars get seen by many many more people than the official viewing figures.

      1. artificial racer
        22nd March 2012, 18:56

        And for what it’s worth I happen to agree with everything you said. (USA here)

  18. It will be good to see when the european races come around and also see what the figures will be when bbc and sky are showing the race live.

    I for one will be watching the bbc when both are showing live mainly becuase im on virgin media so no F1HD so will watch bbcHD.

  19. I would love to hear the teams opinions on this, sadly I can’t see sky out the beeb asking them… The sponsors cant be happy, the fans aren’t happy, I bet the teams aren’t happy. How long can Bernie go on alienating the majority of people involved in the sport for money?!

    I cant wait for the stats when both channels are showing the races live… I’m someone who could afford to get sky just for F1, but refuse to do so as a matter of principle. I ain’t lining Murdoch’s or Ecclestone’s pockets any more than I have to…

    1. Here Here. I agree

  20. Bernie will make another castle or so of cash, leave F1 on one limb and move on. The teams are busy hacking at each others’ trunks, FOTA is a joke, new Concorde will make Bernie (along with Ferrari and RBR maybe) even richer at the cost of the teams and the sport. Viewership will keep dwindling and we all know how that will end. Wonder how much Virgin had to pay Sky to get access! How the hell did this deal go through without all the sponsors and teams protesting? Its not really a coincidence that this is a deal between two of the evil turds I hate the most – Bernie and Murdoch. Another just died recently – won’t name him!

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