NBC says best-ever F1 season ratings with 93% increase

According to NBC Sports, the rating for Formula 1 viewership in the US is up 93% versus last year’s numbers. This gives them a per-race average of 377,000 spread over 16 races thus far in the 2014 season.

No surprise that NBC’s commentary kicking sand in the face of SPEED rings true as NBC, overall, has larger viewership period:

“Combined, NBCSN and CNBC (three races) are averaging 348,000 viewers through 14 races, up 86% vs. 2013 (187,000), and up 29% vs. SPEED in 2012 (271,000).”

That’s fair enough given the large ratings NBC and CNBC typically enjoy on a per-hour basis. The numbers are provided by The Nielsen Company which tracks rating for US television.

Having said that, it does make one wonder if it is relevant in mentioning Nielsen’s recent press statement in which it revealed that a “technical error” resulted in incorrect data over the course of about seven months of this year. From March 2 to October 9. While Nielsen says the results were small in some cases and very large in other, I’ve not found any further information as to if NBC Sports were one of the ratings impacted. Nielsen seems to be slightly vague about which programs were directly affected.

For NBC Sports the ratings increase is terrific news. It is also great news for Formula 1 regarding a potential growing interest in F1 in America. It could be good news for the Circuit of the Americas as well because as the host of the USGP, it would stand to reason that more eyeballs could equal more tickets sales.

This is how NBC Sports see their ratings over the season so far:

“NBCSN has averaged 377,000 viewers for its first 11 races, up 93% vs. last year (195,000) and on-pace for the best-ever F1 season for a cable network (since 2002). Viewership is also up 39% vs. SPEED’s F1 coverage in 2012 (271,000).

Of the nine races that aired on NBCSN in both 2013 and 2014, five boasted triple-digit gains in viewership this season, including the Bahrain Grand Prix (April 6), which stands as NBCSN’s most-watched F1 race to date, averaging 594,000 viewers, up 197% from 2013 (200,000).

NBCSN’s presentation of the Russian Grand Prix this past Sunday (6:30-8:45 a.m. ET) averaged 402,000 viewers, the seventh of 11 races on NBCSN to exceed 400,000 viewers this year.

Following is a comparison of the nine F1 races that aired on NBCSN during both the 2013 and 2014 seasons: NOTE: Due to the global nature of F1, many races begin prior to 8 a.m. ET.”

NBCSN RaceStart Time (ET)2014 Viewership2013 Viewership% Difference
Australian Grand Prix1:30 a.m.248,000124,000+100%
Malaysian Grand Prix3:30 a.m.248,000121,000+105%
Bahrain Grand Prix10:30 a.m.594,000200,000+197%
Chinese Grand Prix2:30 a.m.301,000111,000+171%
Spanish Grand Prix7:30 a.m.455,000227,000+100%
Belgian Grand Prix7:30 a.m.435,000256,000+70%
Italian Grand Prix7:30 a.m.410,000245,000+67%
Singapore Grand Prix7:30 a.m.406,000257,000+58%
Japanese Grand Prix1:30 a.m.242,000162,000+49%

All that teeth-gnashing and robe-tearing US fans have been doing over the format of the program and the continued seeker-sensitive nature of the broadcast seems to be all for naught. Apparently the program, commentary and level of commercial breaks and insight is not only fine but prompting growth in what could be argued as a backseat sport in the US. They are doing the unthinkable—getting US fans to watch F1.

It seems the format is not only adequate, it is growth-spawningly good. Who can argue with numbers such as these? A 100% increase over the days at SPEED? Who knew producing seeker-sensitive programs each and every race would harvest such titanic viewership numbers? Using over-baked adjectives apparently appeals to those channel surfing numbskulls that are mindlessly scanning the channels at 6am.

The Formula that works

Each element in F1 has a series of talking points that can be written down and referred to when the occasion strikes. Take, for instance, Daniil Kvyat. Each time the world feed focuses on his car during the race, you turn to you “all things Danny” talking points and mention he’s 20 and he’s the youngest or will be until Verstappen joins him in 2015 and go on about his tidy job in 2014.

The camera then shows Nico Rosberg and you turn to the Rosberg talking points and say he’s been mentally beaten by Lewis, he was doing well but he’s making errors that Lewis simply doesn’t make and how he could win in Abu Dhabi with double points but that would be a crime against humanity not to mention Lewis.

When the world feed pans to Sebastian Vettel’s car, you turn the page and recant how he’s a 4-time champion and he said after he won the last title that the team should enjoy it because you never know how long it will last and then describe how he’s mentally checked out or imply that he’s not that great because Daniel Ricciardo, his teammate, is kicking his arse. Then launch into the Ricciardo talking points…you get the picture. Unfortunately Steve doesn’t have a talking points notebook and has to reduce himself to current and relevant information regarding any particular subject but don’t feel sorry for him, he’s just wired to be germane to a discussion and timely with information surrounding it. It’s not his fault…he was born that way.

This would all be fine if it was the first or third race but after 16 races, the narrative is the same. This implies that NBC Sports is broadcasting each race as it is a first for new eyes and according to their press release, it’s working! Either that or everyone is transfixed with Will Buxton and who wouldn’t be?

A half hour before the race and after the race, NBC Sports offers a pre-race and debrief in which we do get to hear many of the talking points repeated and this repetition is important because it’s a well-known fact that repeating something is the best way to get the information lodged in the brains of first-timers to the broadcast.

Imagine what the numbers would be like if they unchained Steve Matchett and allowed room for opinion and discussion and more in-depth research and insight into the teams, cars and details—the ratings might fall through the floor for us dullard Americans who can’t pay attention long enough to make it through the Pirelli tire facts segment let alone a nice recap of the 2014 Olympics from the Sanki Sliding center or a piece with B-roll and a VO featuring Lewis visiting Arsenal.

With numbers such as these, one would assume that NBC Sports is peeing on itself over their purchase of the broadcasting rights—I wonder if this still represents a 0.2 rating overall on average? One would think they would pay more for pit access and a camera and unchain the exuberant youth and panache of Will “the kill” Buxton in the pits and let him have Teddy Kravitz style access and airtime. If anyone could do post-race talking points in the format of a one-mans show, Will could. However, that wouldn’t be very seeker-sensitive to be honest and it may turn Americans off of F1…you know, learning too much about the series and such.

All hands on deck

Now the good news is when you get a race in the US, NBC Sports does an all-hands-on-deck broadcast with expansive coverage. They did do in with Monaco when they went there and spent most of their time on a jet ski with Lewis Hamilton. I was hoping for several Matchett and Buxton pieces exposing the sport but we Americans are more interested in Lewis it seems.

This year, NBC Sports will be on location at the USGP and will offer expansive coverage and that makes me very happy. More seeker-sensitive programming that covers the entire weekend offering talking points from June. Let’s hope that they can give Will the time he needs to get the in-depth interviews as well as getting Steve the access to really unpack the sport. This way, all those new eyeballs might actually get hooked and do something completely silly like watch all the races. The mission now is to move newbies to veteran status so we can move the programming to a more intelligent, expository broadcast of the sport with insight, detail discussion and opinion. See how it’s our mission?

Right or wrong, Will throws out opinion and he can rankle the nerves on a few subjects but I love his willingness to discuss, opine and speculate. That gives viewers something to ponder—same for Steve Matchett’s occasional diatribes. Telling me that Daniil is the youngest driver and Nico is mentally beat for the 16th time doesn’t.

I would be interested to know what the numbers are for overall per-hour viewership between NBC and SPEED. I suspect that NBC as a whole simply has more eyeballs watching at any given time and that this is part of the numbers as well. Let’s hope the Nielsen error is not part of the number or otherwise we’d all be bummed.

One thing that is very obvious about these numbers is the timing. Races that are on at humane hours seem to do very well and that has me wondering about the overall total viewers period. In fairness, that may be a red herring because at its height, there were nearly 600,000 people watching and to be honest, I think there are that many fans in the US.

I say good for NBC Sports and their earth-shaking increase in viewership. It’s all good and should be commended. There are a lot of folks working hard to bring F1 to US fans. These people work diligently to bring a broadcast that they feel is perfect for their market and you have to appreciate that. It’s not easy, what they do. Leigh, David and Steve are great guys. It is hard work and lots of hours so I say kudos NBC, you’re doing well and thanks for being there when the US needed you—and by US, I mean the youngest nation to watch F1 until you get a race in South Sudan. It’s also mentally beaten by Lewis Hamilton and said last year that we should enjoy this American broadcast because you never know how long it will last.

Hat Tip: NBC Sport and HuffPo

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