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According to our friend Christian Sylt, the reason for the much maligned “double points” decision for the final race of the 2014 Formula 1 season may have been born from a drop of some 50 million viewers in 2013.

Christian tells the Wall Street Journal:

“Formula One’s global television audience fell by 50 million to 450 million viewers in 2013 due to a noncompetitive end to the drivers’ championship and a switch from the national broadcasters in China and France, according to its annual global media report.”

According to the report, F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone said that “the less-than-competitive nature of the final few rounds” played a role in the drop in viewership. Formula 1 reached 450 million viewers in 2013, which was down from 500 million.

The double points idea was originally intended for the final few races of the calendar and Ecclestone lambasted the concept of only the final race being given the special distinction of a double-points haul.

While China and France made moves from national broadcasters to subscription or regional broadcasters, one market was decidedly up.

The US return of Formula 1 has helped viewership and last year the series moved from SPEED to NBC Sports. The move took F1 viewing from 1.7 million to 11.4 million! That’s a massive gain of the American market.

While some F1 fans in the US are struggling with NBC’s handling of the sport, the viewing numbers most likely justify the move to NBC Sports.

Television broadcast rights and viewership has been the key element to Formula 1 revenue for years. It is worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the owners and teams. This metric is closely measured and changes to the total viewership is like shutting off the spigot of life-giving nectar to the entire F1 machine.

If viewership is down, are double points the way to change that? Even if Ecclestone had got his way and the final three races were double points, would that be the change needed to regain TV viewers?

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An F1 fan since 1972, NC has spent over 25 years in the technology industry and as a CTO, he focuses on technology integration in commercial workspace design, AV systems integration, digital media strategies, technology planning, consulting, speaking, presenting, sales, content strategy, marketing and brand building.
  • kyle

    I don’t understand. If competitiveness is the the lacking factor why not address it? Handicap the car out in front (more weight, extra pit stop required,something….). But doubling points only seems to exacerbate the problem? Say Red Bull got double points for the last three Grand Prixs of 2013, they would have won by an even larger number of points leading to what exactly? Next year double points at 6 races, then in 2016 to 12 races?
    Again, I am sorry but I just don’t understand how this “fixes” anything.
    cheers

  • xorclitche

    Double points will only influence the last race or two so it seems like a bad idea to me to increase overall viewership. By the way, Is Lee Diffey on the Mercedes, or more accurately Lewis Hamilton’s, payroll, because all he ever talks about is Lewis. I quit listening and switched of NBC.

    • Brody

      Leigh Diffey isn’t on the Mercedes payroll, and gave much more commentary or coverage to Sebastian over Lewis, especially since Vettel was pursuing his fouth WDC, and 9 consecutive wins. How in the world could Diffey talk more about Hamilton over Vettel, just based on those 2 facts……he didn’t.

      • Mike Steck

        Agree, XORCLITCHE might be thinking of Silverstone? That was the only time that I remember Diffey going on and on about Lewis, and deservedly so. Lewis was about the only driver really stealing the RedBull/Vettel’s thunder in terms of speed, and LH pulled out all the stops at Silverstone. Amazing Qualy, one of the three 2013 F1 events i saved on my DVR to get me through till March!

    • FairTalk

      Hobbs may be on the Red Bull since all we heard for the last 2-years was Vettel Vettel.. Even when the spoiled Vettel ignored the rules and did donuts and disobeyed team orders, Hamilton and several other drivers are far more of a gentleman than Vettel. But Hobbs must have been on the Vettel payroll.

  • Heavyboots

    You can compare this to trying to impress a woman, the more you actively go out of your way to impress someone the more you water down who/what you are and the less attractive you become. Pull out every gimmick in the book then show her your big house and fancy car then take her to the best restaurants (DRS, KERS, Double points, unstable tyres). But if you can’t engage her on a real level because you are trying to be something you are not then she won’t stay around for you and neither will the fans.

    The show is the racing, everything is a distraction.

    • Heavyboots (Aust)

      Thanks Grace :)
      Been blown away to see that Todd has actually read and replied to every comment I’d made until this post then you bring this one up in the podcast. Awesome to know you guys are so accessible. Love it!

  • ALLAN

    water it down much more and it will be like watching any other formula

  • So do you believe that it is this very type of construct, double points, that is driving people away from the sport instead of bringing them to the sport? I know for myself, KERS, ERS, V6 turbos etc are a part of an evolutionary move and while my initial reaction is not 100% positive, I am willing to suspend that concern to see what F1 becomes but changing points per race or other silliness doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

    Perhaps the bigger question is, should F1 remain true to its DNA and if so, what is that? Should it evolve and chase a fickle consumer market using trendy constructs to amp up the show? Is this a realistic way of capturing more Gen Y marketshare or is it actually a sad narrative about what F1 thinks Gen Y is like? Attention spans like guppies? is that fair?

    • Tom

      At the end of the day, it’s about whether F1 draws more money as a show than a sport. What this stuff like double points is doing is that it alienates to core of the sports fans while possibly attracting people who are in for the show. But is that a good deal for F1? I doubt it. The old school sports fans are loyal. They’re in it for the sport after all, so they won’t turn away because someone deems a season “boring”. Rather, they like to see excellence. Just think about it, what happened when Nigel Mansell dominated the Championship 22 years ago? Was there an outcry? Did people turn their back to F1 because it was boring? Or did they rather enjoy watching the excellence they were presented?

      The audience that is in it for the show, obviously is more fickle. Vettel is winning by a landslide? BOOORING, let’s watch the re-run of “Dancing with the Stars” instead. So instead of sticking to your guns by playing to your strengths and to your core audience, now you’re in a much fiercer competition. The core F1 buffs can be a solid pillar to build around, while the rest is more like shifting sands. It can be massive, but it can also be gone tomorrow.

      The core fans are still there to a degree, but I feel as if they’re slowly moving away. And stuff like those double points can really be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Although in this particular case, it’s much more than a straw, it’s against everything a sport should stand for. Maybe the casual fans more than make up for the hardcore fans, but I fear that in the long term, it will spell doom for F1. Not only are these casual fans more fickle and therefore more likely to jump on the next bandwagon, leaving F1 in the dust, but they’re also probably more difficult to market to as they’re not as invested into F1. If you don’t identify with a team, you won’t care about its sponsors either. Simple as that.

    • Heavyboots

      I’ll just point out that if you believe Gen Y is a fickle then the concept of ‘capturing more Gen Y market share’ is a contradictory statement. With out getting to political here myself as a Gen X grew up under the cold war, you don’t ask questions, we trust Authority because of another governments threat against us. Gen Y (or Gen WHY?) on the other hand came in to maturity in an age of terrorism, which leads a Generation to ask why did that happen? How can we trust authority?
      If anything Gen Y isn’t fickle, it is looking for something deeper and more engaging. Put sprinklers on the track and you are sure to have their attention for 15 mins, but if you want them to have a lasting relationship they are looking for respect. Engage them at a deeper level than ‘this is how it is because I say so’ and they will invest themselves in what you offer. With all the deeper nuances that F1 COULD offer if they opened up a little more it could be really engaging to a Gen Y audience.

  • peterriva

    I have some experience in the issue of ratings and so-called evaluation of those ratings. I once had a rating for a TV special (primetime) of 22. If you got that nowadays, you’d be able to take over a network.

    The pundits have wrongly equated the drop off in ratings at the end of a Vettle-strong season being caused by a lack of anticipation. The real reason for the drop off in ratings is the abject failure of most broadcasters (French, German, UK, Dutch and US F1 shows are the ones I have seen) to entertain their viewers. Instead they follow F1 like an unfolding news event. If the news event outcome becomes predictable, then their coverage becomes predictable and they lose audience share. If, on the other hand, they stopped merely reporting news and instead reported dynamics, inter-relationships, technical involvement, race craft and above all character development (drivers and team alike) – they could broadcast a reality show which would never cease to hold the audience’s attention. Why? Because reality TV viewers become invested in the characters they follow – follow right to the end.
    Here’s an example: Where’s the access to and image of Alonso being consoled by the ferrari boss? Where’s his chagrin on view? Where’s Perez’s shock at being let go? where’s the follow up on that mechanic who got hit by someone’s F1 car skid in the pit lane? Why aren’t we at the hospital when Alonso get checked out?
    There are old-world, upper class, restrictions being put on coverage that simply do not belong. If Bernie wants to learn anything, it is that American football coverage of the players, owners, microphones on everyone, happy and sad, these are what keep that spectacle growing.
    Us die hard F1 fans are being left with diminishing returns based on news coverage production of these events. It should be a weekly show, it should be reality TV (and all that that implies).

    • You’re point is a good one Peter. The issue that many F1 fans that I have heard from is that the US broadcast is a typical format of covering the news and even its feature packages are not engaging. To have a talent like Steve Matchett and not use his connections, insight and ability to visit teams and create bespoke, US-centric, content is really unfortunate. UK fans get the benefit of Sky Sports F1 which caters to the F1 fan and while I’m not advocating a 24.7 F1 channel in the US, I do think they could do more with coverage.

      The question of that is the time they have to cover the race and how much revenue the F1 package delivers. is it enough to elbow out three hours surrounding a race? IS it enough to carry live coverage for all sessions? Perhaps not so that means they have to get even more creative with the content they do make for the limited time they have.

      • adaptable1

        If Cable/Satellite providers can have channels dedicated to sports like Tennis, Hunting, as well as the greater pay channels for MLB and NBA….surely there must be room for a dedicated F1 channel, even if it is rebranded SkySports or F1 World Feed content. I could watch archived F1 races/content ALL DAY LONG and would be willing to pay for it. 11 Million precisely segmented viewers is nothing to sneeze at.

      • peterriva

        Compare this to a fishing channel… they idea is not just the catch, not just the winner, but all the details and – this is the key element – the character development of the fisherman. The viewer has to be invested in the person, invested in the development of the world surrounding the person. Then that viewer becomes steadfast. Heck, this is not new to TV, this is standard practice. What’s wrong with F1 on TV – including Sky – is that they show it like a news/sporting event. It is so much more than that.
        Bernie needs to open up the access, force the car companies and drivers to understand the real world, allow the cameras in as reality programming, not talking head interviews.
        Look if TV can make more than NBC paid F1 for the TV rights with a show called Gold Rush, then surely Bernie can learn from them and make more $ for the teams! And keep us glued as well.

    • Brody

      I would welcome your great idea Peter, of a more expansive broadcasting of the sport, but that would mean CVC Capital Partners having to invest more into F1, which is totally the opposite with their current strategy of extraction.

  • dude

    You didn’t fully quote Bernie:
    “It is timely developments like these that keep Formula 1 at the forefront of sustainable and relevant technology,” explained Ecclestone. “One thing I am sure of is that this coming season will not only offer a heightened level of unpredictability but renewed excitement and fierce competition.”

    Exactly the opposite of what he said previously. He’s a wily fox.

  • TK

    If we really need to have double points, at least let the drivers to choose when they want to use it. Some might want to use it early in the season when they score points and some would use it to keep their championship alive.
    (Personally, I don’t want DRS, HDT and double points in F1, though. If double points stays, I will not watch F1 this season.)

    • cconf1

      Exactly. I hate double points, but if you have to use it, then do the following:

      Each race, you start at the top of the grid (based on the 2013 finish) and ask each driver, “Do you want to use your double points this race?” When two of the drivers have said yes, then that’s it for that race. The next race, you start at the top again, skipping anyone who has already used them. If you get to the final race and there are more than 2 who have yet to use them, then too bad — never more than two.

  • JTW

    Double points alone won’t bring the audience back, competitive, and non pre-determined, winners will. I turned off the last of the season because of the RBR/Vettel domination. It’s not a dislike of Vettel per se that was the cause, it was the lack of suspense over who would win either the race, or championship. Yes, Vettel is a very good driver, and the Red Bull was an extraordinary car, so it’s not their ‘fault’; they were victims of their own skills.

    Am i looking forward to this year (in spite of what the incredibly annoying Mr. E says)? Yes.

  • As peterriva alluded to, there are huge problems with taking TV ratings at face value. You’d be surprised in todays internet feedback and internet traffic monitoring how arcane TV ratings are calculated. You probably could say tough that ratings went down last year. But should a rule really be put in place based on one year of dubious data?

    The rule though doesn’t even really address the problem it’s trying to solve. Lets say for the sake of argument Vettle’s domination of the sport is what’s turning fans off. This rule helps him! Let’s just look at what we know about this year already and see how. So far it seems the Renault package is having serious problems. Red Bull in even worse than the other Renault teams. But with the resources RB has, if they get a handle on it by mid season and with double points at the end they do not loose as much from a poor performance at the start.

    It also exasperates the difference between the midfield teams and the top guys. If a mid team comes out with an innovative great car from the start, thier advantage for doing so is lessened since by the end of the season when the big teams have all developed their cars to the front like they usually do they will get double points for doing so.

  • Mike Steck

    Okay, it is hard for me to make concessions as cutting my teeth on F1 during the 70’s…Matra, Jackie Stewart, Lauda, Ferrari and McLaren..that was the bedrock of the racing era for me, so I guess everything is compared to that. And, Steve Mattchet is THE person to have on board with NBC, with Will’s enthusiasms as effervescent as always. I cringe at 2 things during NBC broadcasts now…the NBC team explaining the rules of ‘knock-out qualifying’ and Jenson and Tony soda-cookie commercials. One is over…hopefully the other will augment itself into deeper conversation and perspectives showcasing the talent the NBC has on board. But you also have to agree, that with Austin and NBC, F1 is beginning to increase its footing here in the USA which is wonderful. Hopefully, insight specials on NBC into the amazing world of F1 will be forthcoming…
    On another note…double points? I understand the issue, but loading the deck at the end of the season that could possibly discount all the hard work of other teams at the beginning…is that what we want? If Merc or Ferrari have a banner beginning, maybe even Williams…is it fair that all their work and insight is wiped out because another sports drink team (no names mentioned) catches up and passes the points awarded at the early races? Doesn’t that negate the whole point?
    Also, I want to be realistic about the costs. I know people will hate this…but the ‘one-off’ cost of a totally original design and specialized machine is a huge factor. Personally, I would be okay with a couple of engine manufactures, (which is current) and maybe even some choices among other areas of car design? What if the rules were such that teams had specific areas of the car or areas of the chassis, aero or suspension to come up with ideas..just not everything except the engine? I dont know…but I can tell you that when I was a kid in Boy Scout Pinewood derby competitions, the ‘spec’ bag with a block of wood and 4 wheels was about as plain and as boring as you can imagine. And there was not much you could do…you would think. The variations, the designs, the ingenuity, the speed differences and the directions in creations ended up being simply mind-blowing. So as much as i loath any ‘spec’ cars, another part of me wonders that if designers were given freedom in whatever areas of car design, for the sake of keeping costs down, there would still be a massive difference and individual approach to the same problem resulting in incredible variations. What I would want and optimal? Nope…not the 70’s for me. But, evolve the sport it must, and I need to keep an open mind….

  • Tom Firth

    NBC gets around 550,000 per race with the races on the main network heading towards a million ? That’s vastly improved on SPEED but still quite small.

    • john from ca

      So what exactly did nbc do? Same show same guys oh wait its diffey! Leigh diffey with his nasally high freaskish voice. He has stolen America’s hearts from smooth jazz varsha.

      Actually I think the few million they spent on commercials was the key. Speed only had monster jam style commercials that were only speed channel.

      So nbc, thanks, but you can do sooo much more.

      • Tom Firth

        A few things into account

        SPEED was in lets say 77 Million homes officially as a channel, of course its F1 figures where not even registering on the radar compared to that figure.

        NBC Sports Network is in roughly the same amount. Additionally CNBC which broadcast occasional F1 races in 2013 has a reach of around 97 million, again channel figures, not F1 figures.

        You had the NBC primary network broadcasts too and I know you used to get some of those with FOX but still these combined boost ratings.

        The notable improvement comes in what you pointed out that NBC have advertised F1 more. We get the Indycar shows over here direct from NBC and you occasionally get the F1 banners on screen at the top, It’s not alot of promotion as Indycar is in a poor state of viewing figures too but it does contribute having cross promotion of open wheel racing fans alongside other advertising portals. Combining it with the US grand prix so a percentage of the viewers can actually experience F1 in the country. It’s a good way to showing why things have improved, Viewing figure wise.

        NBC have a larger budget than SPEED did for F1 certainly but I agree I can do so much more when you think what the channel’s potential reach is relative to what it’s average viewing figures must be per race to get 11.4 million.

  • Healey6

    I don’t think the problem of Red Bull’s technical dominance needed to be addressed with such a gimmicky contrivance as extra points.

    The answer lay more in the FIA standing behind the rule book so that aero-elastic noses, off throttle blowing, traction control by mapping and bendy tea-trays could be detected and stopped, even if that meant changing the test in the middle of a weekend. The frustration of knowing that this team is clever enough to circumvent every rule because the tests come nowhere close to developing the force that the car develops at speed is only exceeded by the self congratulatory bleating of Mr Horner at the end of a race.

    If they wanted to address the problem of teams failing to keep developing the car throughout the year, they could do that through purse distribution counting for more each race.

  • Rik

    Everyone seems to keep saying “double points” when that will be an issue for the 2014′ season not the declined in ratings 2013′ season.

    F1 is boring.. There I said it. BORING. There is no passing, there is no drama, there are no arch enemies now that Webber is gone there is no drama amongst teammates even.

    Vettel won, but as he pointed out during the season that’s due to RB trying harder than the other teams and no one took him seriously. No one can blame Ferrari when Shumacher won, the other teams were so far off that Ferrari could race the previous years car and still win with it until their new car was ready to race. It required the other F1 teams to step it up in order to be competitive. RB didn’t pick their competitors but the competitors also didn’t choose to invest more in the team to win. McLaren proved it’s more than just a driver and Mercedes proved that the team is as powerful as the driver and maybe more so with their management heavy approach that paid dividends in 2013′.

    What will bring excitement to the 2014′ season is the real question. Unreliable cars? Ugly cars? Pay Drivers? Underfunded teams that should not be racing in F1? Double Points? Tires that will last about 4 laps before they need to be replaced? Restricting the fuel supply so low that the cars will have to slow down to finish rather than race to the end? A smaller engine? Less power? Slower race cars?

    Or maybe the opposite of all these things!

    Faster cars, more powerful V10 or V12 engines! Exotic fuels, TECHNOLOGY back in F1 rather than restrictive rules. etc..

  • Dave McBride

    Guys, read carefully and redo your article…

    From your article:

    “The US return of Formula 1 has helped viewership and last year the series moved from SPEED to NBC Sports. The move took F1 viewing from 1.7 million to 11.4 million! That’s a massive gain of the American market.”

    From the source article:

    “The US return of Formula 1 has helped viewership and last year the series moved from SPEED to NBC Sports. The move took F1 viewing from 1.7 million to 11.4 million! That’s a massive gain of the American market.”

    Major difference there. F1 isn’t doing Network prime-time numbers. We just went from 510,000 per race to 600,000.

    • David McBride

      Oops. Line from original article should be:

      “Coverage in the U.S. switched from Fox and the Speed Channel to NBC Sports in 2013 fueling a rise of 1.7 million viewers to 11.4 million.”