TV viewing figures are all about methodology. I have a file in my computer listing the published viewer numbers from 1981 to 2000 and they reveal that in the first year 8.5 billion people saw something about F1 on the TV that year. In 1999 the claim had risen to 57,754,361,716. I kid you not. These days the methods have changed and are a little more realistic. Formula One Management’s 2013 Global Media Report reports that the sport was watched in 185 countries or territories and consisted of 27,000 hours of coverage, while resulted in 450 million viewers worldwide watching more than 15 non-consecutive minutes of the sport during the course of the season. This, therefore, cuts out the billions that used to be counted when they watched a new item. It is a good solid way of looking at the numbers. The bad news is that this is considerably down on last year’s numbers, and they were down on 2011. The drop went from 511 million in 2011, to 500 million (give or take) in 2012.
This does not take into account the fact that there were 20 races in 2012 and only 19 in 2013, the same number as in 2011. On that basis the drop-per-race between 2011 and 2012 was rather more than between 2012 and 2013. Having said that these losses and gains depend largely on the TV deals in place, rather than the levels of interest. Thus there was a big drop in 2013 in China because state broadcaster CCTV gave up its coverage and the 13 regional stations that took over did not have the same reach, so the 49 million figure in 2012 fell to 19 million. This clearly skews the figures somewhat. Bernie Ecclestone said that the “less-than-competitive nature of the final few rounds, culminating in the championship being decided ahead of the races in the USA and Brazil, events which often bring substantial audiences, had a predictable impact on reach”. Inevitably this was translated by some of the media into Sebastian Vettel being the problem. When one looks at the figures a little more closely one sees that there was definitely an impact with Sky in the UK providing a good example. There was a small increase in the channel’s overall average but a much more significant change between the averages of the first half and second halves of the year. That reveals a drop in the region of 27 percent, compared to just 4.5 percent in 2012. Having said that, another important element in the process is the switching from free-to-air to pay-per-view in some countries. This resulted in a big drop in Britain in 2012, when the BBC and Sky shared the coverage for the first time. This arrangement reduced the pain in the UK, but the decision to switch from TF1 to Canal+ in France in 2013 showed the level of destruction that such moves can create, even if the financial returns are better. France’s 27 million in 2012 fell to 10 million last year. This sort of thing is going to drive away sponsors, making it harder for the teams to generate revenues, although they will benefit from an increase in TV money, albeit shared between them. In the overall scheme of things this is not good for them but it suits the financial types who take the money that stays with the Formula One group.
The success stories came largely in markets that were ripe for expansion, such as the US where TV gave the sport a better run following the successful GP in Austin in 2012. There were increases in the UK but that market took a major hit between 2012 and 2013 when many of the races went behind a pay-wall. It was alarming to see a drop of 10 percent in Germany when the man winning everything was a German, but the Spanish market held up well despite Fernando Alonso struggling. Brazil had a drop of around five percent compared to 2012 which may have had something to do with the decreased interest because Felipe Massa was the only Brazilian driver left and he was struggling. It was similar but more acute problem in Russia after Vitaly Petrov dropped out of F1.
One hopes that a shake-up of the rules and a new pecking order should create some more exciting racing in 2014.
Migrating to pay-per-view deals is something that needs to be done with great care, or not at all. The problem is that while there is a quick buck to be made, such switches mean that getting new viewers is much harder than before because new people do not stumble on the sport as they would when it was free-to-air.