UK F1 television audience falls after BBC/Sky deal


Lee McKenzie, Daniel Ricciardo, Melbourne, 2012The loss of live coverage of half of the F1 calendar from free-to-air television in the UK prompted furious debate 12 months ago.

A key concern was the potential damage it would do to television audiences in the UK with many people unable or unwilling to pay a minimum of ??381 to see the ten races not shown live on free-to-air television.

With one of the first season under the new arrangement behind us, how has the move away from live, free-to-air broadcasts affected F1 audiences in the UK? Here’s a look at the viewing figures for the BBC and Sky’s coverage.

2011 live vs 2012 live

With half of the races no longer live on free-to-air television, the total number of people watching the races has inevitably fallen.

Adding together the average live viewership for the first 11 races of 2011 shows they were watched by 45.7m people, an average of 4.15m per race.

Over the same races* in 2012 to date the corresponding totals are 24.15m viewers, averaging 2.2m per race. For the five races which were shown live on both the BBC and Sky, the average is 3.8m – much closer to 2011, but still a fall of 9.5%.

Here’s how many million live viewers each race received (the same unit is used for each graph):

Australia Malaysia China Bahrain / Turkey* Spain Monaco Canada Europe Britain Germany Hungary
2011 BBC Live 2.1 3.5 3.3 3.2 4.7 5 6.2 3.9 4.9 4.3 4.6
2012 Sky live + BBC live 0.714 0.906 3.404 0.819 4.023 3.665 0.924 4.331 3.655 0.989 0.718

The obvious drawback with these figures is they do not reflect viewers who do not have Sky’s F1 channel and instead watched the delayed highlights of the first six races which were not shown live on the BBC.

Attempting to account for these viewers is where the picture gets complicated, as we have no way of knowing how many repeat viewers there may have been.

2011 live vs 2012 live plus BBC highlights

Here are the viewing figures for the first highlights programme for each of the six races which were not shown live on the BBC have been included.

These figures will inevitably over-state the extent of F1 viewership this year as some people will have watched both the live broadcast and the repeat of some races – particularly those who wanted to compare Sky and BBC’s coverage.

Given that, it is significant that these figures for 2012 still fall short of what was achieved in 2011: the total number of viewers reaches 41.15m (down by 4.55m), an average of 3.74m per race (down by 0.41m).

Here’s the race-by-race figures:

Australia Malaysia China Bahrain / Turkey* Spain Monaco Canada Europe Britain Germany Hungary
2011 BBC Live 2.1 3.5 3.3 3.2 4.7 5 6.2 3.9 4.9 4.3 4.6
2012 Sky live + BBC live + BBC highlights 3.414 3.606 3.404 4.419 4.023 3.665 3.224 4.331 3.655 3.089 4.318

Qualifying the data

Inevitably it is impossible to do a like-for-like comparison with these kinds of figures. The best we can do it to make the most of the numbers that are available to us and be wary of their limitations.

Coinciding programmes or exceptional events may have inflated or depressed viewing figures on occasions. The 2011 Canadian Grand Prix viewing figures were very high because a lengthy rain stoppage meant the race ended up being shown in prime-time.

Had that happened this year it would have made little differences as the race was not live on the BBC anyway. This year’s Malaysian Grand Prix did run late due to rain but, again, it was not live on free-to-air television.

This year’s races have faced competition from the likes of the Wimbledon men’s finals (British Grand Prix) and the Olympics (Hungarian Grand Prix). The BBC moved the British and German Grands Prix to BBC2 instead of BBC1, which usually delivers higher viewing figures.

Sky recorded their highest viewing figure for the German Grand Prix on a weekend when their F1 channel was provided at no extra cost to Sky subscribers who did not have the channel in their package, as part of a promotion.

Finally we should note this analysis covers 11 of the first 20 races, of which six were not live on free-to-air television, but five of the remaining nine will be.

Here are all the race viewing figures for the first 11 races of 2011 and 2012, separated by broadcaster. For the BBC in 2012 the figures for their first highlights programme has been used where they did not show the race live:

Australia Malaysia China Bahrain / Turkey* Spain Monaco Canada Europe Britain Germany Hungary
2011 BBC Live 2.1 3.5 3.3 3.2 4.7 5 6.2 3.9 4.9 4.3 4.6
2012 BBC Live or first highlights 2.7 2.7 2.9 3.6 3.5 3.1 2.3 3.8 3.2 2.1 3.6
2012 Sky Live 0.714 0.906 0.504 0.819 0.523 0.565 0.924 0.531 0.455 0.989 0.718

Average viewing figures for each programme have been used throughout. These were obtained from the BARB and the BBC.

Sky said they prefer to use peak rather than average figures, as their F1 programmes tend to be slightly longer and therefore the average viewerships are lower. When asked, the BBC provided peak viewing figures for their 2011 and 2012 race broadcasts but Sky declined to.

Here is how the BBC’s average and peak figures compared for the first 11 races of this year. Their peak figures are around 25% higher on average:

Australia Malaysia China Bahrain / Turkey* Spain Monaco Canada Europe Britain Germany Hungary
2012 BBC average 2.7 2.7 2.9 3.6 3.5 3.1 2.3 3.8 3.2 2.1 3.6
2012 BBC peak 3.2 3.2 4.1 4.1 4.5 4.2 3.1 5 4.8 2.4 4

What the broadcasters say


Simon Lazenby, Martin Brundle, Christian Horner, Damon Hill, Melbourne, 2012A Sky spokesperson highlighted the extended time they have been able to give to F1 programming through having their own channel: “We?ve given longer lead ups, analysis and stayed on air for longer post-race ?ǣ meaning we?ve brought viewers coverage of incidents like the Williams fire at the Spanish Grand Prix.”

Sky stated that the rise in the use of mobile devices and time-shifting digital video recorders means that television audience figures have become less useful as a means of measuring popularity.

“Given the extra hours and programming we dedicate to each race and the days and weeks in between, we don?t measure our success by viewing figures,” they added.

“We?re also giving more coverage than even before to the feeder series and the F1 stars of the future, with live GP2 and GP3 and live qualifying too where possible. We?re giving these drivers and teams the opportunity to offer extra value and ways to be seen to their sponsors and we?ve invited personalities from these series to appear on The F1 Show.”


A BBC spokesperson told F1 Fanatic: “There is no evidence to suggest that F1 fans are no longer watching. There are excellent peaks of up to 5m for live and around 4m for highlights.

“It is probably more of a case that in such a huge year of sport with Euro 2012, the Olympics and Paralympics on top of the usual sport offering that there is so much choice out there for sports fans – a large audience contingent engage with whatever is the main sport event on at the time.

“It is important to acknowledge that F1 fans can still access the entire season free-to-air on the BBC, through a mix of live and extended highlights which bring all the action from the race.”

The BBC said they were “very pleased with the figures” adding “overall F1 is doing well”.


Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, Monaco, 2012Even by the most optimistic assessment, F1 viewing figures in the UK have clearly fallen over the first 11 races of 2012 compared to last year. At three of the first five races which were shown live on both channels, combined audiences figures failed to match those of 2011.

The Monaco Grand Prix is considered one of the prized races for F1 broadcasters. When the BBC/Sky race share deal was first announced it was one of the three races BBC immediately confirmed it would screen live in 2012.

The race did not clash with any other major sporting events on free-to-air television. Yet between them, Sky and the BBC attracted less than three-quarters of the 2011 audience.

Even when the BBC’s delayed highlights are factored in – which creates the potential for double-counting viewers – the totals still fall short of last year.

Analysing this kind of data is never straightforward and there are mitigating factors to take into account, many of them noted above. But we should be sceptical of the view expressed by the likes of Martin Whitmarsh recently that the rise of new media means falling television viewing figures are not a concern.

F1 audiences in the UK were on a clear upward trajectory until this year, and it seems wishful thinking to blame new media for the sudden reversal of that trend. If anything, the growth of real-time media such as Twitter and the wealth of information available to fans during races makes following races live even more appealing than before.

Following the announcement of the Sky/BBC deal last year, Bernie Ecclestone indicated viewing figures on subscription television could be sufficient to justify moving F1 off free-to air television entirely:

“We will never move all countries to pay?per?view only though it wouldn’t make any difference here in the UK,” said Ecclestone. “Sky reaches over 10m [households]. We don’t get 10m on the BBC, normally about 6m or 7m.” Clearly the figures at present do not come close to that. It remains to be seen how they will change over the rest of the season.

In the second half of last year the championship was a foregone conclusion and Red Bull were seldom threatened in the races – a potential turn-off for casual viewers.

This year’s championship and races are far closer. It will be a very poor sign if the UK’s viewing figures for the second half of the season are not better than last year’s.

Meanwhile Formula One Management has already used the UK set-up as a model for similar deals elsewhere, including Italy, where only nine F1 races will be broadcast live on free-to-air television next year.

Over to you

What’s your view on how the F1 television audience in the UK has been affected by the BBC/Sky deal? Has the new arrangement changed how you watch F1?

Have your say in the comments.

*The Bahrain Grand Prix appeared in place of the Turkish Grand Prix on the 2012 calendar.

F1 on television

Images ?? Red Bull/Getty images, Red Bull/Getty images, Ferrari/Ercole Colombo

Advert | Go Ad-free


128 comments on UK F1 television audience falls after BBC/Sky deal

  1. Evander said on 8th September 2012, 18:32

    Listen….the real crux of the problem is Bernie Ecclestone. The man’s greed knows no bounds. How else is he going to support all of his divorces and daughter’s nine-figure housing bills?

  2. I have been watching the Sky races on RTL with 5Live on the radio.

    Cheap Satellite kit from B&Q for £50.00, much more desirable than £363 a year for Sky.

  3. sallicedj (@sallicedj) said on 11th September 2012, 15:19

    I am British and was extremely annoyed with the BBC for not continuing their support of F1. They really found a way to keep you entertained. I watched all the practice sessions and loved the conversations they would have. I am out Saturdays so always watched qualifying on the I-Player and then would watch the race and forum on Sunday. The trio of presenters are brilliant and always enjoyable to watch.

    I was against F1 going to Sky and couldn’t decide if to pay for it or not. I waited until the last minute before buying sky. I have read some posts on here saying that sky have adverts. They do not have adverts during the races (Although Sky have only promised this for 1 year). I think sky have done brilliantly. I have been to Silverstone twice in recent times and gone for all 3 days. What you get with Sky is a feeling that you are there. You get to see all the GP2 and GP3 practice sessions and qualifying. The races are pretty good too. As well as all the F1 sessions. Add to that the F1 live show and I could spend my whole weekend in front of the TV. If I don’t then it is all saved and ready to watch during the week.

    Sky also have a really good line up of presenters. Crofty and Brundle are a great team that they pinched from the BBC. Simon (who is Sky’s version of Jake) is as likeable and as friendly as Jake. I would say that EJ and DC just beat Hill and Herbert but they are starting to relax in front of the camera. Ted Kravitz (Also pinched from the BBC) is also given his own little slot which only used to be available on the BBC website. Sky have given him his own feature.

    Add to all this the documentary’s of seasons gone by and drivers. I can only sum it up as this. Sky have done it brilliantly. There maybe less people watching F1 live but those with Sky F1 have been opened up to the world of F1 and everything around it.

    Still love JH, EJ and DC though :-)

  4. You have “2011 live vs 2012 live plus BBC highlights”, but to be fair you should have:

    2011 live plus 2011 BBC highlights vs 2012 live plus BBC highlights, otherwise you skewing the figures by discounting one complete season of highlights.

  5. This really is a case of a sport selling its future off for jam today. Cricket did the same a few years ago and kids just don’t see cricket on TV anymore. English cricket will die because of this in 20 years.

    It’s slightly different in F1, because it doesn’t rely on mass participation. However, if I was a car manufacturer looking how to spend my marketing money, I would think that F1 has just lost at least half of it’s market appeal in this country.

    Just in case you are wondering, I really was a true fan. I used to watch every race live, including when I had to get up at 5am. This year I haven’t even watched the highlights of at least 4 races. Next year who knows, but I certainly won’t be looking at F1 with the same warm feeling. If others feel the same, this means that the value of having your name on an F1 car is massively diminished.

    F1 used to be seen as a rich boys toys sport for the masses. I fear it will become rich boys toys for rich boys only.


  6. don brider said on 13th October 2012, 9:40

    i havn’t watched any of the 2012 coverage. it has killed it and the only way anything like the bbc coverage on free to air tv of 2011 will happen is if people go cold turkey for a while. that’s the only way we can get a message to eccelston and his buddy murdoch that your nothing with out the people that believe in you. that also to some extent goes to the bbc who probably sold out F1 because of the olympics. which will never happen again in our life time, but has sold out a whole group of sports fans future involvement with that sport ie F1 and given it to apay per view channel. please see sense.

  7. Ralph Horrocks said on 14th October 2012, 21:35

    Anyone remember the WRC?? Look what happened to that exciting motor sport. After BBC left it only the two top companies could afford to stay in it. Ford and Citroen. No more viewers, no top British drivers or celebrities. Colin McRae, Richard Burns. Remember them? That’s what you can expect F1 to become when the BBC drops the sport and the UK forgets about it.

  8. I was gutted that the coverage went from FTA television and ended up on Sky and still am. I am lucky in the respect that I can watch on both channels if I choose to but neither offer the quality we experienced in 2010 and 2011 on the Beeb. When the races are on Sky exclusively I will watch them, but when the races are shared its no contest. The BBC deliver a quality that Sky can not match although that’s not saying Sky have not tried. The Sky coverage is good but the BBC do it better in my opinion. The extended coverage on Sky is often filler going over the same points. Georgie is lovely but often looking bewildered as to what to ask next. Lazenby is no Jake Humphrey and his presentation is more cringe worthy than professional. Brundle and Kravitz appear more arrogant this season and I must admit this approach grates on me some what.

    All in all I am a Sky customer who would much rather it had all remained on the BBC. The sport in the UK will no doubt feel the effect of this reduction in interest in years to come.

  9. Red555 said on 6th January 2013, 22:02

    Sky will marginalise f1 as it has other sports. Who these days knows much about boxing, pdc darts etc. I am a lifelong f1 fan but becoming more interested in other categories of motorsport. To be honest I now don’t feel the need to watch the sport live anymore. I won’t pay for sky and if I want live coverage and its not on bbc I will listen to it on the radio. That way I can get on with other stuff as well.

  10. Dale T said on 25th March 2013, 11:09

    As far as I’m concerned Sky get enough out of me I’m struggling to pay a basic package with no movies, no sport, no box office and yet since Sky took over F1 and even though highlights are on BBC, I have switched off completely F1 and I never watched any of the 2012 season and I will not be watching it anymore at least until the BBC get the full rights back and if they don’t I simply won’t have a TV or buy a Licence as far as I’m concerned I won’t be watching it anymore.

  11. steven said on 4th February 2014, 12:12

    In the Flemish part of Belgium, we won’t even be able to see F1 live, no matter if you have a paid subscription or not. The channel that has the rights will not broadcast any live F1 or MotoGP in 2014 because of the low viewing figures. Live streams and BBC are the only option.
    I’ve been watching F1 since I was a kid.

Add your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All comments must abide by the comment policy. Comments may be moderated.
Want to post off-topic? Head to the forum.
See the FAQ for more information.