Lance Stroll, Racing Point, Yas Marina, 2020

F1 audience figures “strong” in 2020 despite dip in television viewers

2020 F1 season

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Formula 1 says its audience during the 2020 season remained “strong” despite a drop in television viewership, which it blamed on disruption caused by the pandemic.

The series’ planned 22-race schedule was shortened to 17 rounds. Many events were relocated, with none taking place in the Americas and many Asian events cancelled. This had the effect of reducing the number of events which were broadcast live during favourable evening time slots in Europe.

The average television audience per grand prix therefore fell to 87.4 million in 2020. This was 4.5% down on 2019, but compares favourably with the 87m drawn in each of the previous three seasons.

“Last year was an unprecedented time for everyone and Formula 1 had to adapt to the challenges presented by the pandemic,” said president and CEO Stefano Domenicali. “We delivered 17 races, something many thought impossible earlier in the year. We did it safely and brought excitement and new races to our fans around the world.”

Formula 1 reported audience gains in several “key markets”, including China where year-on-year viewership rose 43% despite its race being among those cancelled. Audience figures climbed 28% in the Netherlands, a gain no doubt linked to the popularity of Max Verstappen, whose home event at Zandvoort also did not go ahead last year.

Further growth was also reported across F1’s social media presences, an area long neglected before its purchase by Liberty Media. Its total followers on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Tiktok, Snapchat, Twitch and Chinese social media platforms rose by 36% to 35m.

Domenicali said the television figures “show the strength and resilience” of the championship. “We had strong growth figures in China, the UK, Netherlands, Germany, and the USA, combined with the huge boost in our digital figures,” said Domenicali. “We saw only a marginal reduction in TV audiences, caused by multiple reasons but clearly driven but a shortened and limited geographical calendar compared to 2019, but something every major sport has experienced in 2020.

“We are proud of what we delivered in 2020 and know we have an incredibly strong fan base and audience platform to grow in the coming years. We are delighted our fans feel a strong satisfaction with the sport, our season, and the way we responded to the global pandemic. We are looking forward to the start of the 2021 season after the winter break and we know our fans are as excited as we are to get racing.”

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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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  • 29 comments on “F1 audience figures “strong” in 2020 despite dip in television viewers”

    1. This had the effect of reducing the number of events which were broadcast live during favourable evening time slots in Europe.

      I don’t buy that. It’s only 4 races that would have had that slot. We also missed out on 4 races that would be in the unfavourable early morning slots.

      You would hope that with a lot of people globally under lockdown restrictions, it would be more of a captive audience, but maybe it goes to show triple headers simply don’t work for the casual audience?

      1. @eurobrun Yes, the North American races + Brazil. Bahrain 2 was the only taking place entirely in the evening in parts of Europe. How are mornings unfavorable? I prefer races in the morning hours (Australia, China, and Japan, etc., for me) over the evening ones. Nothing from this category taking place last year was a pity. Super Formula was the only way of getting the morning feeling (I watched two races, one in Sugo between Nurburgring/Algarve and in Fuji on the weekend after Abu Dhabi). I intend to watch SF whenever it isn’t on the same weekend as F1.

        1. Same for me, a normal year i watch the Asian and American races, the Euro ones are rare to see, as a parent with small kids we are often away during weekend days. The current race times in Europe are the worst possible, bang on in the middle of the day when you are most likely doing other stuff (except for 2020 of course), and Im located in Europe :)

        2. @jerejj Sunday mornings tend to be bad for TV aimed at adults, as it is commonly the one time in the week they can have a lie-in. A lot of people resent having to miss that to watch TV, so early-morning races miss the “appointment TV” crowd. It was prominent enough that back when F1 typically got 4-6 million viewers in the UK, the early morning races got a full repeat in the lunch slot.

          This is why children’s TV (school-age children being used to waking up early for school) and programs which are cheap to make (thus not caring much about comparing their viewing figures to other shows so much) get priority on Sunday mornings.

          To get the full audience, at least part of the race would have to be scheduled during lunchtime (so, starting no sooner than 11 am, so that the last 15-30 minutes are after 12 noon, which is the earliest lunch happens in Europe).

          1. @alianora-la-canta I see what you mean, and it’s valid, but of course, people are different. Not everyone eats at the same specific times every day. For example, I don’t have a set ‘lunchtime’ I’d adhere to regularly, so I couldn’t care less if a race started before 11 am in my place or past it. Regarding eating, the only thing I care about is how late I eat at the latest. I tend to avoid eating in the evenings.

            1. @jerejj There’s a lot of variation in when lunchtime actually happens, but scheduling a race for Sunday mid-morning risks people missing the “appointment TV” crowd start of the race because they are still asleep (obviously early-morning does as well, but that’s a risk every day of the week). Of course, the “people who support F1 specifically” crowd will adjust schedules, but optimal viewing figures require both sets of people in front of the screen.

            2. @alianora-la-canta I see what you mean, and I belong to the “people who support F1 specifically” category. I don’t struggle to wake up early for the East Asian events + Australia and never have. I’m also used to waking up early for different things (work-related stuff, some early flights, etc.), so nothing new for me, LOL.

          2. So, it’s true … if you want to make your situation look and feel better, read about someone else’s that just might be worse.
            I actually like the afternoon European races for timing. Here on the Wet-Coast of N America, our (crummy) TV coverage starts at around 4.00 am with the pre-pre show, a Grid walk at 5:00 and the race at 6:10. Did I mention AM.?
            Just so long as you remember to set up the recording, you can rise after 6:00, get coffee, start breakfast and sit down to watch a 15 minute delayed start. Get up earlier and grab the above while the interminable Grid Walk is underway, and … everyone else in the house is still asleep.
            Those precious 15 minutes are GOLD, as it lets you fast-forward through the inevitable commercials.
            Bottom line, by 8:00 am, you have administered your Race-Fix, had Breakfast and are ready and pumped for the day. Not as I would have asked for it, but close to perfection.
            As you would expect, same schedule for Qualifying, just on Saturday.

        3. ‘the only one’

      2. @eurobrun well, firstly, there is the question of how much that would have been impacted by differences in lockdown regulations across different nations – not all countries would have had those lockdown effects occurring at the same time, so the impact would alter across the season.

        Secondly, whilst you suggest that there would be more of a captive audience, it seems that the effect of the lockdown regulations wasn’t especially long lasting. It is true that a number of sports series recorded an initial surge in interest when they broadcasted their first events after the long hiatus, but it seems that viewing figures actually went back to pre-pandemic levels pretty quickly.

        As one example, if you look at the Premier League, near the beginning of the season, programmes such as “Match of the Day” were reporting much stronger audiences than they’d had for years – albeit with a few questions over whether some broadcasters were possibly tweaking the figures to look even more favourable.

        However, when you look at the viewing figures for the year as a whole, the picture was actually much more mixed. Sky reported that the higher profile events did see a slight increase, but the smaller events actually saw viewing figures fall in 2020 when compared to 2019 – so, overall, they actually reported a small decline in the average viewing figures during the season.

        If you include the non-subscription services, as a whole the Premier League’s viewing figures for the whole of 2020 were actually pretty similar to 2019 – so, their experience suggests that there wasn’t actually much of a benefit from the lockdown on viewing figures.

    2. This is just what happens when half the world’s sporting events are cancelled…

      Just imagine the figures if the sport were remotely competitive!

    3. I got a lot of anecdontal feedback that people had got interested in F1 over the lockdown, tuned into F1 on TV at the start of the season, and stopped partway for one of 3 reasons:

      1) Season was too intense, especially given that as the year progressed, more people had to go back to work or homeschool during the week and had less energy to spare. These people, at least the ones I know, are still keeping track of F1 via social media and may well resume watching on TV when F1 goes back to its usual calendar arrangements.

      2) 2020 was too much like previous seasons. Either because Lewis and Mercedes won so much (there was a lot of “wow, Lewis really is that good – but it makes for bad TV”) or the hypocrisy regarding off-track positioning got too annoying (either because they felt F1 shouldn’t talk about non-sports issues and claim to be a sport at the same time – they turned off during or straight after the first 2 races – or because they felt F1 didn’t practise the social values it preached – the NHS clap on the grid seemed to be a turning point for the latter attitude).

      3) They discovered the pirate TV scene, and their views were lost that way.

      1. @alianora-la-canta Also note that I am in the UK, which Liberty reckons had large amounts of growth – there was a lot of churn involved, but apparently enough people stuck around that its total audience increased.

        We have to consider when looking at the global figures that Italy is never going to increase its viewing figures in a year where Ferrari has a major downturn! France no longer having a French driver in a win-pursuing team didn’t help there (Leclerc might have helped mitigate that, but see the previous sentence). Brazil’s audience will fade the longer there is no F1 driver hailing from Brazil to support and the other large audience sources not specifically cited by Liberty either don’t have a driver in the championship, or are in a similar situation in 2020 as they were in 2019.

    4. Dip in television viewers…

      Why?

      PayTV

      Given the circumstances last year, since so many will be at home watching TV, I am surprised Sky couldn’t afford to reduce the cost of the F1 season. I really hope they do a yearly deal this year for a more reasonable price. I still find it stupid that you have to pay for 11+ channels when 2 or 3 of them show the same thing and another is just news about all of them that you can look up for free. If all you want is F1, it seems way too expensive and is going up every year. F1 viewrs in the UK may well drop every year at this rate. I really hope that by 2026 when Sky’s deal ends that F1 will be on freeview live again. that is some time away….

      1. Yes, the numbers should go down over time, its what they want obviously, so they should be more open with it. Since F1 is only available behind very expensive paywalls in more and more countries there should be a decline in viewer numbers.

      2. @thegianthogweed Some people had to stop Sky services altogether as they could no longer afford them due to layoffs – something likely to continue into 2021 and early 2022 (depending on area). This would not have helped Sky make things any cheaper.

    5. So, here’s my opinion on this:

      I think that 2020 was the best season in Formula 1 for years. There wasn’t much of a championship battle, but there was genuine excitement in every race (with the possible exception of Abu Dhabi, but that was still better than lots of races earlier in the turbo-hybrid era; I’m thinking of 2015 and 2016 here). My favourite year in history was 2012, because there were always exciting races and there was a championship battle, but I think the individual races this year were nearly as good as 2012. The dominance of Mercedes and Verstappen was a bit of a problem, but I was perfectly content with a thrilling battle for fourth nearly every race, potentially becoming a podium if one of the top three had trouble (and there were often exciting battles between the top three too).

      Austria – a brilliant race. Albon nearly winning, Norris on the podium, plenty of overtakes, James telling off the Mercedes drivers, and best of all – the end of a seven month wait for an F1 race.
      Styria – Perez’s fight through the field was exciting, obviously wet qualifying was brilliant, and that final lap battle for fifth too. Not a classic, but still a good race.
      Hungary – seeing the Haas drivers in the podium places was good, and there were plenty of overtakes and battles in the top ten. This race was a bit of a disappointment because the rain never returned, but the race itself was still good.
      Britain – obviously, the last lap was one of the most exciting moments I have ever seen, with Hamilton doing a Lightning McQueen and winning with a puncture. Not every lap of the race has to be exciting for it to be a good race.
      Anniversary – this was good because of the interest of how far the tyres would go, and Verstappen winning was also a nice change. Again, plenty of action.
      Spain – one of the less good races, but there was still a lot of interest in the midfield, and for a while there was a long train of cars all battling for position.
      Belgium – again, not a classic, but I still really enjoyed this race. It is a shame none of the top three made an extra pitstop, as I think they would have battled through and won. And it’s always great watching cars drive around Spa-Francorchamps.
      Italy – Obviously, Gasly won in an Alpha Tauri. That in itself makes a race exciting. And the tension of Sainz closing on him was brilliant.
      Mugello – Lots of overtaking, lots of action, and a brilliant track.
      Russia – This is the worst track, but the race this year wasn’t bad, with lots of overtakes in midfield.
      Nurburgring – The late race safety car really spiced things up, but there was still plenty of action beforehand.
      Portugal – A brilliant race. The first few laps were thrilling, and there were many great battles in midfield; none better than Perez vs Ocon. I really hope this track is retained for next year, as cars can run side by side for multiple corners.
      Imola – there was a lead battle here, and the action after the safety car was really exciting.
      Turkey – wet races are always fantastic, and this was no exception
      Bahrain – overshadowed by Grosjean’s crash, but the restarted race had a lot of wheel-to-wheel action.
      Sakhir – Russell almost winning was really exciting, and Perez actually winning from last on lap one was even better.
      Abu Dhabi – not every race in a season can be a classic, and it wasn’t as though nothing happened at all.

      So I think it was a great season, and for ‘real’ F1 fans, it should be enough. There was no championship fight, but you can’t have one every year. There was a championship fight in 2018, 2017, 2016, 2012, 2010 etc.

      I think that the people who are saying that Formula 1 is not good at the moment are the ‘casual’ F1 fans, and these are the ones who are giving up on F1 because Hamilton dominated the overall championship. If money was not a problem, the best thing to do would be to say ‘good riddance’ to these casual F1 fans. If you want a close championship, watch a different series. The BTCC, for example, never fails to deliver a fantastic title battle, and the individual races are always brilliant too. However, Formula 1 needs these ‘casual fans’ for the extra money, and I think it is because of them that annoying ideas like sprint races are being considered. It is a real shame that money is so important in sports (and there’s no way of avoiding this), because it means that the opinions of the fans who will not watch F1 if they see one or two boring races may have to be considered more important, for financial reasons, than the real fans who will watch F1 whatever.

      1. @f1frog Although in 2017 and 2018, Hamilton eventually ran away with the WDC and started to do so quite early on, mainly thanks to Vettel’s unforced errors that cost him lots of points.

        1. They didn’t go to the final race, but they still went well past half-distance. I also missed off 2014 by mistake, which did go to the final round.

      2. @F1frog I’ve been saying F1 is not good at the moment, and I’ve been watching for more than 30 years. Not a ‘casual’ and not an ‘F1 fan.’ Just someone who wants to see good motorsport, which F1, sadly, rarely delivers on.
        I do want a close championship, and F1 could provide it every year if they stopped catering to the manufacturers and the purists.
        I think it is because of these manufacturers and purists that ideas such as sprint races are coming up, because they are blocking every other avenue for improvement.
        I think the day F1 stops considering the views of those who don’t watch every time regardless of what happens will be the final nail in its coffin, as no new viewers equate to no future.

        1. Fair enough, if you have been watching F1 for 30 years and you still don’t like it currently then I can accept that it’s not just the casual fans who think that.
          I don’t think F1 could necessarily provide a close championship every year, without becoming too extreme. They have been doing many things recently to stop Mercedes domination, such as banning qualifying mode, but Mercedes are still the clear best team. There are lots of new rules coming in 2022, as well, to stop Mercedes domination, but there were lots of new rules in 2017 too and that didn’t really stop Mercedes (it closed up the championship a bit, but it wasn’t too long before Mercedes became the dominant best team again. It is possible that the same thing could happen in 2022, of course, and if it does then we just have to accept that Mercedes is the best team, and can take whatever you throw at them. You can’t really just change the rules every year until Mercedes don’t dominate, because all the teams need time to prepare. The only way to make certain that Mercedes will not dominate the next year is to give them success ballast, or a boost reduction; the kind of things that the BTCC does, and I don’t think you have to be a purist to not want that to happen (and I love the BTCC, and don’t mind that it has success ballast. It’s just that F1 is meant to be the highest level of all, and I don’t think it should have gimmicks). So I don’t think F1 can realistically guarantee a close championship every year.
          I also disagree with your next statement. I would consider myself a purist, and, like I said, I don’t want sprint races. However, there are other changes that have been made that I don’t mind at all. For example, I think that the budget cap is a very good idea, and should actually be stricter, in my opinion. I also think DRS was a good addition, although it is often too strong, because it increases the excitement of the races without changing the ‘best driver/car/team combination wins,’ idea, or ruining the history books, as some versions of the Saturday sprint races idea would do. The change in points system was obviously annoying for ruining the history books, but it was necessary for improving entertainment (only having the top six scoring points in 2020 Formula 1 would make the exciting midfield scrap less interesting because there would effectively be no difference between finishing 7th and 10th). And some time in the future, it might become necessary to expand the points scoring again, maybe to 15th (we are not there yet). I still felt the need, though, to go back and find out how many points every driver would have overall if the current points system had always been in place, and am content with this ranking in terms of points scored. Back to the point about purists blocking other ideas for improvement, I can only think that you are referring to reverse grids here, and that was very unpopular. That means that purists have only refused more extreme changes so far than sprint races, and if you are against sprint races because you think it’s too extreme (as I am guessing you are from this section of the comment, but obviously there is no tone of voice in writing so I cannot be sure), then I assume you are against reverse grids too. Please could you reply with some areas of improvement that have been blocked by purists (I can’t think of any others) that you wanted to happen, as I’m not sure exactly what you’re arguing with this point.

          Your final point is entirely correct. I know that F1 would have to take those people into account even without the issue of money, as no viewers does equal no future. I do wonder though, how other people actually got into Formula 1. I started watching aged 6, and became a ‘watch every time regardless of what happens’ fan from my very first race. But maybe I wouldn’t have become one of those fans immediately if I had started watching in the current era. If every fan became a ‘watch every time’ fan from their very first race in 2020, then obviously we wouldn’t need to change F1 for the casual fans, because there would be enough new ‘watch every time’ fans coming through. But this is not, and never could be, the case. So it all depends on what percentage of fans become ‘watch every time’ fans from their first race in 2020 as to how far the ‘casual fans’ opinions should be taken into account relative to the ‘watch every time’ fans, so maybe this is a case study that Formula 1 should do. I still believe, however, that the ‘watch every time’ fans deserve a bit of a loyalty bonus in terms of how highly their opinions about how F1 is run should be valued, compared to the casual fans.

          1. @f1frog It depends on each viewer’s thresholds as to what they find ‘extreme.’
            You mention Success Ballast – while such a concept is effectively blasphemy for some F1 ‘purists’, I think it’s just another tool available to ensure a better final product for competitors, management, broadcasters and viewers alike. It’s totally scalable, can be used when needed and dropped when it is no longer required. Hardly the end of the world, and no worse than DRS (which I strongly dislike, btw.).
            Just put the ideals and principles aside for a moment, and think about how the racing and championships could play out under such a system.
            I don’t think of F1 as being a ‘higher level’ than other series. Each one has a different set of regulations which set a different challenge, that’s all. Formula 2, Super Formula and Indycar aren’t about the car, for example, they are (mostly) about the driver – so they are on the ‘same level’ but have different goals.
            It’s no easier to win in those series than it is in F1 – perhaps it is actually easier in F1, as the budget and resulting machinery define the potential for success more than individual performances on the day.
            I agree on the budget cap. It should be the same for all, or it doesn’t actually solve the problem it is supposed to.
            As for points systems – I’d prefer one that rewards all finishers so that actual season-long performance and results are accurately reflected. Why should any finishing position after 305km of racing be equal to crashing out on the first lap? And I think the weighting should be reduced significantly, to keep the championship fight on longer into the year. There’s often an argument that there should be a bigger points weighting as an incentive for the winner/s to fight harder – but I think that is nonsense. Winning is the incentive. Gaining more points (even if only 1 extra) is the incentive. Again, I feel this is not updated simply because it’s been done ‘the old way’ for so long, and many resist change for that very reason.
            Blocking of ideas – reverse grids is one. Reducing aero/downforce is another. Constantly choosing lowering laptimes rather than focusing on racing quality… Engine types and specifications, driver aides, DRS, amounts of data and telemetry, team/car communication, level of tech/relevance, total performance relationship between car/driver, tyre characteristics….. There are loads of things that come to mind that have been discussed over the years – that still get discussed because they didn’t choose the ideal solution or kept whatever they chose for too long until it was way overdue for replacement (and kept it because someone in particular was winning with it that way).
            And just on the final point. You suggest that the most loyal fans deserve something (a bonus) that exclusively satisfies their wishes even though other viewers may find it unappealing. I’d ask: “Is loyalty worth providing an inferior product? Is loyalty worth turning away a potentially larger audience and income?”
            The more attractive their show is to newcomers, the more likely they will stay on to become long-term viewers. If they don’t like what they are seeing, they may never return.
            Overall, the most constant aspect of F1 is change. Adapting to the current customer tastes of the time is the key to survival and growth in any business, and F1 is no different.
            F1 has changed almost entirely in its 70 years – but is it making the right decisions to last another 70?

    6. F1TV revised pricing in France (8€/month) and a compressed season of 6 month made me get a lot of savings.

      As a long-time petrolhead, I had less enthousiasm to follow my favourite sport after a tough spring lockdown last year, but as the season progresses I was conquered like no recent years before.

      Eventually, the Netflix documentary made people more eager to follow the sport and its characters.

      1. Interesting @jeff1s! I was wondering about how the F1TV numbers were stacking up. I guess that since it is not mentioned, they are still quite a bit lower than they would have hoped.

        1. Can’t find a proper figure for the F1TV only audience.

          1. @jeff1s No, I think they’re combining all outlets for a given country in the stats here. I could well imagine people transferring from Canal+ to F1TV, which would lead to a big increase in F1TV but not necessarily more viewers for Liberty. Then, there’s the matter that Pierre Gasly is no longer in a win-contending team (he won anyway, but for that to help subscription viewing figures, there needed to be advance warning – and there wasn’t any).

    7. Audience figures climbed 28% in the Netherlands, a gain no doubt linked to the popularity of Max Verstappen, whose home event at Zandvoort also did not go ahead last year.

      Doubt!

      For half of the Dutch viewers F1 is defacto Free To Air, because it’s part of the Ziggo TV subscription as standard.
      Given that other sports, like football were canceled, the football fans could easily find F1 as alternative entertainment in the weekends.

      The Max factor doesn’t necessarily have to enter into it, but more research is necessary to draw conclusions.

      1. Max does do something for the F1 popularity as without him Ziggo never would do F1 for free.

      2. It might, however, explain why those fans went to F1 rather than some other sport, if there was a prominent successful Dutch competitor in only one of the sports those football fans were considering…

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