Tuesday, 29 March 2011

How has the BBC doubled the TV audience for the Australian GP in only two years?

Earlier this afternoon Jake Humphrey, presenter of F1 race coverage on BBC television, tweeted about the viewing figures for the weekend's Australian Grand Prix:

You guys are amazing. In 2008 less than a million got up to watch the Australian GP live. On Sunday it was OVER 2 million at 6am! #bbcf1less than a minute ago via web

2008 was the last Championship that was covered by ITV, in 2009 the BBC took over, so the clear implication of Jake's tweet is "We've more than doubled the audience!!" Which would be something to shout about.

But with viewing figures it's never that simple. How can you be sure you're comparing like with like?

In 2008 the Austrailan GP started at 15:30 local time, meaning that British F1 fans had to be in front of the telly at 04:30 to catch the start. This year the red lights went out at 17:00 local, which meant viewers had to be up at 07:00 to see the start and 06:00 to see the build up to the race (although it would feel an hour earlier with the change to BST overnight).

For what it's worth I think the BBC coverage is better than ITV's was* but it's not so much better that it will have doubled the audience. There are only so many F1 fans and even if the programme is better now it can't create more fans from nowhere - although having had a good couple for years for British drivers and constructors in 2008 and 2009 won't have hurt.

Grands Prix used to start at 13:00 local time wherever they were held, and European viewers had to get up early or watch races into the evening. Now Bernie Ecclestone has done deals to get races on screen at better times for us in Europe, in order to get higher audiences and more sponsorship revenue.

If you're on telly at 04:30 you really are only going to get the die-hards, if you're gifted a more civilised start time you're going to get better figures.

*When ITV won the rights from the BBC in 1997 they too did a much better job. Programmes stagnate, teams get stale and ideas run out. A new contract should result in a better show, for a while at least.

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