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Formula One viewing figures drop by 5.1m in Britain due to Lewis Hamilton championship failure

The Independent logo The Independent 06-03-2017 Christian Sylt
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Formula One’s television audience in Britain crashed by 5.1m viewers last year, driven by Lewis Hamilton failing to win a fourth championship and coverage switching from the BBC to Channel 4.

Hamilton’s Mercedes team mate Nico Rosberg won the first four races and ended up with a total of nine victories in 2016. Although Hamilton won one more than that he lost the championship at the season-ender in Abu Dhabi to Rosberg who announced that he was retiring just five days later.

Even though the title battle went down to the wire, and the number of races hit a record 21, F1’s Global Media Report reveals that the number of viewers in Britain reversed to a 12-year low of 21.8m.

The Media Report says “there are several factors to take into account, one being the change in broadcaster the other potentially being the dip in fortune of Lewis Hamilton.”

It highlights F1’s struggle to appeal in Britain where its home Grand Prix is under threat after spectator numbers fell by 1,000 to 139,000 last year.

The drop in Britain comprised half of F1’s total fall of 10m viewers in 2016. The worldwide audience dropped to 390m marking the sixth straight year that the number of F1 viewers has declined. It has lost a total of 137m since 2010 driven by a move to Pay TV. Coverage is split between free-to-air and Pay TV in major markets such as Germany, Italy and Britain where Channel 4 only gets the live rights to 10 races whilst Sky Sports screens every session live.

The decline is on track to continue as Sky will become the exclusive broadcaster of F1 in Britain from 2019 in a deal estimated to be worth $150m annually. Pay TV broadcasters are prepared to outbid their free-to-air rivals for F1 as it fuels subscriber numbers. They tend to have smaller audiences than broadcasters which don’t charge to watch and this can dent the teams’ income from sponsors as rates are proportionate to the number of viewers. However, the increased fees from Pay TV broadcasters more than compensates for this as the teams share 63 per cent of F1’s profits as prize money.

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