The F1 thrill is gone, TV viewership plummeting (Update)

UPDATE [Editor's Note: Make no mistake about it, the F1 scream is gone, and with it the thrill. Can't say we didn't tell you so. Couple that with the lack of interest from youth around the world and make no mistake about it, racing is in trouble and F1 is no exception. IndyCar, NASCAR, F1, Sportscars, everything is at risk until the racing leadership addresses the real problem.]

F1's television ratings in key markets are strikingly down in 2014.

Writing in the Spanish sports daily Marca, correspondent Miguel Sanz said the most worrying figures are coming out of Latin America, where the ratings decline has been a staggering 50 per cent.

"In Italy," he added, "depending on the successes of Ferrari, the drop is 20 per cent based on data from the first five races of 2014."

A closer look at Italy is even more worrying. Considering only the Canadian grand prix, the combined losses by broadcasters Rai and Sky in just a single year was almost 3.5 million viewers.

"Spain, always with an eye on Fernando Alonso, is at a 15 per cent decline", said Sanz.

The analysis said the ratings decline began with Sebastian Vettel's utter dominance a few years ago, when the global audience fell from 515 million in 2011, to 500m in 2012.

And Bernie Ecclestone's FOM company revealed a further drop of 50 million viewers last year, ending with a nine-race winning streak by the Red Bull driver.

Sanz said major markets in China and France have not helped the situation, when the Chinese state broadcaster CCTV's coverage ended, while France moved to pay TV.

Germany's ratings decline was reportedly 10 per cent last year, but it has continued to drop a further 3 per cent in 2014, despite the prominence not only of Mercedes, but also the top form of championship leader Nico Rosberg.

If you ask former F1 team boss Flavio Briatore, the big problem in 2014 is the regulations.

"What we have now is not formula one. Formula one is something else," he told Italy's Radio24 after the Canadian grand prix.

"The audience is clearly enjoying it a lot less, because there are cars that do not make much noise.

"There are drivers who save fuel, drivers who only do 'fake' overtaking when their wing flap is open. Drivers who are doing their accounting in the car rather than being gladiators," Briatore charged.

F1 chief executive Ecclestone has also been highly critical of F1's new era, and particularly the quieter V6 engines.

But he is not overly worried about the TV numbers.

"I was talking to the people from RTL television in Germany," Ecclestone told Forbes last month.

"They said it is surprising that across everything they do, television ratings are down," he is quoted by F1 business journalist Christian Sylt.

"Why? Because people have only got so much time. They are using Facebook, Twitter … there are so many things people can watch.

"You see the ratings have gone down but in the end they will go back to watching television," Ecclestone added. [Editor's Note: Nope. Wrong Bernie. The thrill is gone. Mercedes and others who wanted these ridiculously expensive, horrible sounding engines are to blame.]

06/05/14 Amid viewership drops in key markets such as Italy and Germany, there have been calls for F1 to make the most of opportunities offered by new media channels like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

But Ecclestone remains unmoved, and doubts the social media boom will last.

"It matters obviously, but when you say it is falling, it is changing," he said when asked by AUTOSPORT about falling TV figures.

"But I think the change that is currently taking place is very short-lived, as these social media people are starting to think it is not as good as they thought."

When asked if he believed F1 needed to change its approach, and officially embrace social media like other sports have done, he said: "No. We're commercial… If they find people to pay us [to do that] then I will be happy."

HEMBERY: UNDERSTANDING AUDIENCES IS KEY

Pirelli motorsport chief Paul Hembery believes understanding what fans want from the sport is one of the biggest issues facing F1.

"We're a technical partner but we're also a sponsor," he said.

"We look at how many people are watching the sport and what they think of the current F1. Viewing figures so far this year are extremely disappointing – there's no doubt about that."

But with BBC figures suggesting that iPlayer growth was 33 per cent last year, and live radio audiences jumping by 53 per cent, there is a growing view that the way people consume F1 is changing dramatically.

"We've been looking at some studies done by Premier League and Sky, and they've seen a very increased take-up on the iPad viewing and not watching on TV. That's certainly a way many people are going," said Hembery.

"You see telephone companies wanting to create their own digital content as well. We've seen Movistar come into Formula 1 for example with that objective.

"We're seeing the world change and it's not just Formula 1, it's the whole way people follow their sports and get their entertainment.

"That's something FOM is working on and hopefully we'll see the results of that in the near future." Yahoo Eurosport UK

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