Cumulative F1 audience up 9 per cent but unique viewership drops in 2019
Formula 1 motor racing was watched by a global cumulative television audience of 1.92 billion people in 2019, its highest figure since 2012, according to new data released by the series today.
The total worldwide audience represents an increase of 9 per cent on 2018, and is the third consecutive year of TV audience growth for the competition.
However, the worldwide number of unique viewers dropped 3.9 per cent to 471 million, in large part due to the switch in certain markets, such as the UK, to exclusive pay-TV broadcasters.
Reacting to the release of these TV and digital figures, Ian Holmes, Formula 1’s director of media rights, said: “It goes without saying that an FTA [free-to-air] broadcaster is going to generate a larger audience than a pay TV channel… but it is a bit of an oversimplification.
“Pay-TV often provides far more in-depth coverage, and I think it would be fair to say that with the likes of Sky and Canal+ [in France], they continue to strive to improve the overall standard of F1 coverage.”
The top 20 countries in terms of cumulative audience contributed 1.78 billion of the figure. Brazil, Germany, Italy, the UK and the Netherlands accounted for the top five, with total TV audiences of more than 100 million over the course of the season in each country.
Poland and the Middle East and North Africa had the largest percentage increases – 256 per cent and 228 per cent respectively on 2018.
The rise of the sport’s popularity in Poland in particular can be put down to the return to the series of local hero Robert Kubica, while in MENA a new TV rights deal was struck with free-to-air satellite broadcaster MBC in March last year, right at the start of the season, after pay-TV's BeIN Sports announced it would not be renewing its lucrative contract, citing piracy concerns.
Other territories where substantial year-on-year increases were recorded were Greece, the Netherlands, Italy and Germany.
The sizeable potential growth markets of USA and China both saw smaller rises, of 7 per cent and 5 per cent.
Out of 21 grands prix in 2019, 19 recorded higher cumulative audiences than the year before. September's Italian Grand Prix recorded the most viewers worldwide per race - 112 million, a 20 per cent increase year-on-year.
That audience figure is also, according to Formula 1, the highest total TV audience for a grand prix since the 2016 Mexican race.
Three other races – in Monaco, Brazil and Germany – also had total audiences worldwide of over 100 million, while the average TV audience for a grand prix last year was 91.5 million.
Formula 1 also secured increases in its total reach across social media in 2019, with followers across the most popular sites of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube rising to 24.9 million in total by the end of the season, up 32.9 per cent from 2018.
This increase of nearly one-third made Fornula 1’s social media channels the fastest-growing out of all major sports leagues worldwide last year, according to the data.
Soccer’s Uefa Champions League and English Premier League were the closest to Formula 1 on that list, with increases in their social media followings of 20.1 per cent and 17.5 per cent respectively.
The number of unique users on Formula 1’s main website, and on the series’ mobile app, also increased during the 2019 season. There are now around 3.7 million unique users on the app, up 33.5 per cent.
Frank Arthofer, director of digital and licensing at Formula 1, said: “It has been a terrific few years of social growth, and we’ve even surprised ourselves that the rate of growth continues now…
“We are working with sponsors to expand our digital advertising and branded content offering – we think branded content is the future of the global advertising marketplace and that we can be the leading sports league in the world in creating value for partners in this area.
“Across the board, we believe we’re still in the early innings of our maturation.”Holmes added: “It [the data] shows that engagement with F1 has increased significantly year on year. We have enjoyed some notable successes in certain territories this year. Numbers in Poland have been excellent, and massively improved as a result of introducing more coverage across more channels, and the biggest success story of the year would be in the MENA region, where we moved to the ever-popular MBC who have provided very comprehensive coverage.”
On the battle against beoutQ, the Saudi-backed platform that has been stealing BeIN's premium sports content, Holmes said only: “Piracy remains a problem in the region as a whole, but we will be working closely with MBC’s anti-piracy coalition to try to address the issue.”
BeIN Sports had told Sportcal prior to the 2019 season: “Formula 1 continues to turn a blind eye (to the theft of sports rights). This is not only commercially self-harming given the broadcast feeds of Formula 1’s global broadcast partners – including Sky, ESPN, Fox and Channel 4 – are widely available for free on beoutQ’s IPTV function; but it is also remarkably short-sighted given every day that beoutQ exists, Formula 1’s rights are worth less.
“Illegal broadcast piracy is the biggest threat to the sports and entertainment industry and Saudi Arabia’s beoutQ is pouring petrol on the problem. Most sports organisations are trying to do something about this epidemic; Formula 1 is only encouraging it.”
Parent company Liberty Media announced in November that turnover at Formula 1 amounted to $633 million in the three months to the end of September 2019, down 2 per cent from $647 million in the same period last year. However, operating income climbed from $39 million to $44 million.
The organisation yesterday confirmed the departure of Sean Bratches from the role of managing director of commercial operations, with effect from the end of this month.
He will not be directly replaced, with Formula 1 saying that “the majority of his direct reports” will be sent to chairman and chief executive Chase Carey.