Formula One has revealed that its audience is down so far this year despite a boost in on-track action which has seen three different drivers win the first four races. Over the past decade the total number of viewers has crashed by 41.3% and the driving force behind this has been a gradual switch to Pay TV broadcasters. They often outbid their free-to-air rivals by paying a premium for exclusive content which attracts subscribers.
Testimony to this, a report from investment bank Morgan Stanley states that Sky Italia is paying £98m annually which is 33% more than the previous year when it shared coverage with the free-to-air channel RAI. It is a taste of things to come in Britain as Channel 4’s free-to-air coverage will get the red light next year when Sky becomes the exclusive broadcaster in a deal estimated to be worth £110m annually.
A drop in the number of people watching live Formula 1 races has also been blamed on the sport’s move towards pay television deals by CEO Chase Carey. In a Liberty Media corporation earnings conference call this week Carey admitted the average viewership of F1 races had fallen by 4% compared to last year: “That is largely due to our move from free to pay television in Italy. Excluding Italy our television viewership is up 3% year-on-year and our Saturday viewership for qualifying is up even more.”
Italian pay television Sky Italia took over the exclusive live broadcasting rights for the championship in a three-year deal beginning this season. F1 is moving increasingly towards pay television deals in other markets, such as the UK, where Sky will also have exclusive live broadcasting rights from next season. Chase Carey said F1’s viewership has increased elsewhere, including the USA and China, “where viewing figures are showing particularly strong uplifts. Fans reacted positively to our enhancements in cameras, sounds, graphics, and other elements in our broadcast and we have more to come,” he added. “69% of our fans say F1 TV coverage has improved while just 13% say it’s worse.”
He admitted there had been some problems with the launch of the sport’s over-the-top direct streaming service F1 TV, the introduction of which was postponed from the Australian Grand Prix to the Spanish round. “This year’s priority is get the product to where we want it to at this point in time to really give it a proper commercial launch next season.” – F1’s boss Chase Carey concluded.