Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Circuit de Catalunya, 2019

Hamilton concerned by “terrible” drop in UK TV audience following pay-TV move

2019 F1 season

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Lewis Hamilton is concerned by Formula 1’s declining popularity in Britain as live coverage of the sport moves away from free-to-air to pay-TV broadcasts.

From the 2019 F1 season only one of the 21 races will be shown live on free-to-air television. The number of people watching F1 races live in the UK has fallen as a result.

When Hamilton won his first world championship in the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix, 8.9 million people watched the free-to-air broadcast live in the UK. Last year just 1.28 million saw the live coverage of his fifth world title win on pay-TV.

“I didn’t know those numbers,” said Hamilton when RaceFans gave him the figures during a press conference at the Circuit de Catalunya today. “That sounds terrible from a business point of view.”

“That’s definitely not cool,” he added. “I remember growing up and turning on BBC and watching ‘Grand Prix’, it was awesome.”

Hamilton said he understand why fans were unwilling to pay hundreds of pounds a year for a pay-TV subscription to watch F1.

“I don’t currently understand that pay TV situation but it’s not my job to come up with the answers for that. But I do understand because it’s bloody expensive nowadays with everything you have in a home with all your insurance and all the things you do end up paying and then on top of it you’ve got to pay for TV, and for a TV licence, it’s ridiculous. So I can understand it.

“I’m pretty sure that number’s not going to change because the economy, it’s difficult times for everyone.

“It is a shame that the fans are not getting to see as much because the more people you have at a grand prix the more atmosphere, it’s the fans that make the sport what it is so the more you almost block them or deter them the worse the business is going to be for the people that own it.

“But again it’s nothing to do with me I’ve just got to arrive and when the fans do come or the people I do get to meet at the races I just try to utilise that opportunity to connect with them.”

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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...
Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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  • 59 comments on “Hamilton concerned by “terrible” drop in UK TV audience following pay-TV move”

    1. Stephen Higgins
      1st March 2019, 11:59

      Now IndyCar has gone the same way in the UK as well.

      1. Pat Ruadh (@fullcoursecaution)
        1st March 2019, 13:12

        IndyCar was already behind the BT Sport paywall in the UK anyway, so moving to Sky makes it more convenient for those who wish to follow both series.
        The only downside might be that Sky may choose to follow the US ad-breaks, whereas BT Sport switched to UK based commentary from our own KC, which as well as providing a largely uninterrupted race, made for a nice juxtaposition between the bombastic enthusiasm of the US commentators, and the composed analysis of their UK colleagues.
        @keithcollantine are you able to shed any more light on this for us UK based Indy fans? Should we brace ourselves for ads?

        1. @fullcoursecaution When Sky sent through their press release this morning I contacted them several times to ask just that, but I’ve not had a response.

      2. Have they? Is it on skysports f1 or some other channel?

        1. Pat Ruadh (@fullcoursecaution)
          1st March 2019, 13:40

          Yep Sky F1 channel

          1. Aren’t Indycar races free to watch on Youtube?

            1. I’d give that COTD.

    2. 1.28 M really? So there’ re almost as much Dutch vievers as UK viewers…. I hardly can believe this

      1. @anunaki That’s only the viewers of sky, last year it would have got more than that on free to air at the same time and this year there will still be free highlights which usually get more viewers than the live broadcast does on sky.

        1. British people are used to being screwed over by Sky. I know more people who watch F1 by other means than I know Sky subscribers.

          1. This isn’t actually Sky’s fault: Liberty Media put the licence to broadcast F1 races in the UK out to tender and Sky put in the highest bid. If F1 wanted to they could have stipulated their races must be broadcast free, in which case Sky either wouldn’t have put in a tender, or they’d have put in a tender based upon F1 races being simultaneously broadcast on a Free to Air medium, but LM didn’t. The responsibility for F1’s falling audience lies with Liberty Media.

            1. @drycrust, true, but with an $8 Billion debt to service, thanks to Bernie and Max, they have little choice in the matter, indirectly it is the teams that a paying the price though.

            2. @keithcollantine Thank you for correcting me. I should have been more cautious in my singling Liberty Media out as the cause for the situation in the UK.

    3. And of course what Lewis didn’t say was “lower viewing numbers negatively effects my personal sponsorship value”, good old Bernie knew that higher income from pay TV gave him more revenue but was neutral to worse for the teams as they lost sponsorship value making them ever more reliant on FOM.

      1. It affects ALL sponsorship of drivers and teams. It was this move by Bernie more than any other that made F1 unsustainable. FOM/CVC got more direct from Sky but it killed it as an attractive sponsorship platform. Thus it made the teams more dependant upon the prize money.

    4. Here in the USA, ESPN, which is a cable TV network, is the only way I can watch Formula 1 races. In fact, F1 is one of the few reasons we still have a cable subscription. I wonder what the viewership number is for the USA?

      1. <> true, in Savannah, too

      2. I don’t think there are very many people out there without cable, although the younger generation is increasingly switching to internet based broadcast and TV services. The way cable packaging works here, ESPN2 and NBCSN before are/were part of my overpriced TV package anyway, but some years ago with Speedvision, I needed to purchase an extra package of some eight channels to be able to watch F1…I believe the cost for it was about $13 monthly.

      3. There’s also F1TV Pro in the US.

        For $10 a month to get every session live as well as onboard cameras from every car, Live/uncensored team radio & for this year 3 extra feeds as well as F2/F3/Porsche Supercup coverage. And there is also the ever expanding archive that currently has some coverage of every race going back to 1981 as well as some extra documentaries and other programs with more on the way.


        1. @gt-racer Ads are getting smarter ;)

        2. Yeah…but that is another $10 addition to my already $200+ monthly cable bill…shouldn’t I get all that included already?

          1. @gpfacts No, it’s an Over-The-Top service. Do you complain about Netflix’s or Amazon Video’s subscription fee?

        3. How’s the quality? I know for awhile, they were having problems keeping up with demand. Did they get it smoothed out by the end of the season?

          1. The quality, in my opinion, has been great, at the latest from June 2018 onwards @grat

          2. I got F1TV Pro here in Switzerland for the beginning of testing last week and it’s excellent.

        4. In the UK we have to pay more than £12/month just for a tv licence. We used to get 11m viewers for regular tv shows including F1. (Back then about 25% of the population) We resent having to pay for content that was always free to air before. Only a minority have Sky (satellite) and even less have cable. Streaming services via internet are available, but not official live F1 Liberty/FOM stream in the UK. Additionally Iin my area the internet connection speed is too slow for streaming services unless you pay for Fibre.
          Many of us long time fans are now pensioners with a fixed income which is eroded by inflation each year we cannot afford Sky. (Having seen it a few times via Nowtv I do not like their presentation or format either) So we are most unhappy that while the delayed Channel 4 higlights program is excellent we have to wait longer for a shorter program this year, long after the results and incidents are published.

          1. c9.64m people in the UK have a Sky subscription, vs c25.8m tv licences. That’s a ‘minority’ of just over 37%, or more than 1 in 3 tv viewers in the UK are Sky subscribers. Netflix have actually overtaken Sky in 2018 in the UK, a portion of that total will have a TV licence, Sky subscription and Netflix along with an Amazon prime subscription as well. It’s no wonder free to view can’t compete anymore. When the next round of broadcast contracts come round Liberty will have to consider the trends in TV viewing and how to balance that with increasing access.

            1. @ju88sy When the next round of contracts come around, I suspect Liberty will either prevent the bidders from blocking the F1TV service (Sky veto’d it in the UK as they have NowTV/Sky Go) or just not tender it at all.

              They know that F1 fans will happily pay the £8/equivalent a month (I would) – it’s good value if it has all the feeder series content and the FOM archive on demand.

    5. Wow
      Those numbers are shocking.
      On the other hand, F1 viewership in the Indian Subcontinent grew by 87% in 2018 !!!
      India isn’t behind exactly paywalls exactly but the races are aired on pay channels.
      The official broadcaster also provides a package service for streaming all other sports combined. Gem of a deal.

      1. The official broadcaster also provides a package service for streaming all other sports combined. Gem of a deal.

        @webtel – yay for Hotstar! The only shame is there’s no FP streaming telecast. I cut the cord in mid 2018, and miss the chance to view FP.

        I’m curious to see who provides the feed this year for us. Until last year we got a C4 feed with commentary from Ben Edwards/Karun/DC, but seeing as C4 will only do highlights for 20 of the races this year makes me wonder.

        1. @phylyp
          Nothing to worry. FOX and Star have a contract (for broadcast rights in Asia) that runs until 2022.
          One way or another, we will get to watch irrespective of where they source it from.
          Although its more likely that we will have to put up with Croft’s verbal diarrhea. !!!
          I am going to certainly miss Ben, DC and Karun.

          1. @webtel – yeah, I wasn’t worried about not getting a broadcast, just that it’d be the Sky commentary :-(

    6. Motor racing has in general been in decline The switch to pay has not helped, but it has given a short term financial boost to the owners.
      I don’t think Liberty has any intention of changing the current set up. After all they are a media company, their only interest in sport is how much money they can get out of it. If in the short term they can make a profit from pay to view then that’s the RD they will go down.

      1. @johnrkh It’s expected that Liberty will launch the F1TV service in the UK when the Sky contract comes up for renewal.

    7. Thanks for raising this team :)
      You never know, maybe the drivers have more power thank they think in getting F1 back to the masses. I’m sure if F1 was behind such a large paywall 20 years ago you wouldn’t have the excellent attendances at Silverstone that we do now. I worry for the future.

      1. Usually the drivers always just say that they are there to drive, whatever the rules, politics or other circumstances might be. At least Hamilton is voicing a personal opinion here…so kudos to him for that.

        1. @gpfacts …even though he then suffixes the comment with ‘…but at the end of the day, i’m just here to drive!’ :)

    8. Cut the cord plenty of iptv services if you care to look.Most are around £50/£70 per year so ive been told and they show every race and just about every other sport apparently.

    9. Bert. Ecclestone
      1st March 2019, 13:06

      I don’t watch any more after 40 years its so dull even the highlights are slim pickings.

      1. And yet here you are logging in reading and commenting.

        1. Magnus Rubensson (@)
          1st March 2019, 17:20

          And he’s not alone.
          Same with me (after 50 years). Not bothered about the live television.
          I signed up for this site instead.

          It’s a bit like going back to the 1960s when I could only read about the races in magazines the week(s) after the races. Suits me absolutely fine. :)

          1. Magnus Rubensson (@)
            1st March 2019, 17:34

            That said, the 2019 season looks promising so far – but not enough for the expensive Sky package (at least not for me). Not keen on “monopolistic” media, so I will abstain from live F1 due to that.

      2. Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.

        I’ve watched some of the races from the 80’s and 90’s that were supposed to be so much greater than what’s on today… And oh look– tire management is a huge issue, and there’s McLaren (or Williams, or Ferrari) winning nearly every race in the season, and Senna finishing 30+ seconds ahead of everyone else.

        The teams that got it right each season clobbered the teams that didn’t. Usually by large margins. Drivers who were too hard on their tires finished near the back, assuming they finished at all.

        We have faster cars, far better reliability, and closer lap times than we’ve had before, and people are still griping.

        1. Pedro Andrade
          1st March 2019, 17:04

          This for comment of the day!

        2. You’re just not going far enough back, the rot had already set in by the 80’s, that’s why Bernie was talking sprinklers etc. but decided on refueling, despite the extra cost and predictable result, in the 90’s.

          1. So the Formula 1 World Championship has been going on for what, 69 years, and you’re claiming it’s been crap for the last four decades.

            Well, that’s success for you. :)

    10. A little something regarding the figures is that they don’t count those who were watching via NowTV or those watching via Sky’s on-demand services, It’s purely live figures from Sky’s platform.

      It is also worth pointing out that the reasons both ITV & the BBC gave up live rights is because they couldn’t afford the production costs. Producing live sport, Especially something like F1 that requires you ship crew/equipment around the globe is expensive & in an era of budget cuts at ITV & a cap at the BBC it was no longer viable for either to be spending as much on production as they were.
      It’s harder to tell with Channel 4 because they inherited the BBC’s shared deal which was/is cheaper than what was been spent by the BBC when they had every weekend live.

      As for Sky, They were offered a deal (From the BBC) that they saw value in so took it. They weren’t really that interested in F1 before that & had never made an offer for it. Had the BBC not gone to them with the shared coverage deal F1 wouldn’t be on Sky.
      Although it’s actually very likely it would have ended up on BT because they were very interested in it & would likely have gone for the same sort of live exclusivity deal Sky now have & actually there is some industry talk that BT will make an offer once Sky’s deal ends.

    11. If Lewis Hamilton thinks the UK paywall is “bloody expensive”, what hope do we have?!

      But in all seriousness, i’m sure a large number of UK fans would be happy to pay a small fee to watch F1 – what i’m not prepared to do (and i’m sure its the same for most people), is be forced to sign up for an expensive Sky Sports package, of which 90% will be wasted on me, just to watch 20 weekends of F1 a year.

      When it was included as part of the base HD package (which probably doesn’t exist anymore), it suited me fine, but £350+ per year (on top of the base Sky package that you’ll need) is just day light robbery… I would rather put that money into going to 1 live race a year than watch the rest on TV.

      1. @joeypropane You don’t need the full sports pack anymore, You can buy each channel individually with the F1 channel (Which now also includes Indycar) costing £10 a month.

        You do still need the base Sky package though the cheapest of which is £22 a month now.

        1. Adding IndyCar makes it better value.

    12. Well said Lewis, come on now the rest of you drivers, let’s hear your voices

    13. Before you have a go at my comment, please note the caveats—one here and one below. This is NOT a dig at Hamilton specifically (caveat 1), but at all drivers who say similar things about pay TV and viewership decline—as well as other massive issues for F1.

      I understand that the drivers are busy, but, so is everyone else. Most of us here are either working full time, going to school full time, or some combination, and yet we can stay on top of discussions ranging from political goings on in our own countries and other countries, sports and entertainment issues in areas of interest to us, technological breakthroughs, medicine, etc. My point is that the “I don’t currently understand that pay TV situation but it’s not my job to come up with the answers for that,” sort of response is nonsensical.

      You expect us to believe that one of, if not THE, largest sources of funding that allow you to be a rich, celebrity, game-playing adult is not something you have a grasp on? I don’t buy it. My guess is that (caveat 2) they are told not to talk about the issue by either the team, FIA, F1, or some combination. I think it would be better to say, “I have opinions but it is an F1/FIA matter and you need to get answers from them,” or similar. I doubt any of the drivers just don’t know what is going on or don’t care. If that is somehow the case, then I think F1 is in more trouble than I previously assumed.

      1. @hobo He’s contracted to drive the car. He’s not contracted to decide on FOM’s marketing or business strategy.

        1. @optimaximal – It’s almost as if you didn’t read what I wrote. This was not a dig at him specifically and I understand that there are a number of reasons why drivers might not want to comment. However, if drivers really have no idea that the underpinnings of his life are this shaky, then the likelihood of the failure of F1 seems higher to me.

          I’m paid to do my job but if something is threatening the agency/group/corporation/business that provides me with a job—and that information is reported and publicly available no less—I should be aware. If asked by a reporter I might demur as well. But I hope he is actually aware of the situation and has spoken up behind the scenes.

          1. Magnus Rubensson (@)
            3rd March 2019, 11:57

            I’m sure he is very aware of the situation.
            He is saying as much as he reasonably can say publicly. His statements are really quite clear – but at the same time he has to distance himself a bit from things like pay TV fees. He has zero control over those decisions after all.

            In principle I agree with you. If you read a little between the lines he is really saying: “I have opinions but it is an F1/FIA matter and you need to get answers from them“.

    14. IndyCar is now on Sky also, making it better value.

    15. “I didn’t know those numbers,” said Hamilton when RaceFans gave him the figures during a press conference at the Circuit de Catalunya today.

      Thank you for asking this on the right place, guys!

    16. Hamilton has arguably had the best of both worlds: exposure on free-to-air TV in his early career that helped him build up a huge fanbase, and more recently, one of the biggest driver contracts in the history of the sport, funded in part by Sky and other subscription-based broadcasters. I’m not blaming him, of course, I just think it’s just worth noting. It’s unlikely we’ll see another British driver reach his level of celebrity/popularity while the sport has only a fraction of the viewers.

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