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Late last week Pitpass' business editor Christian Sylt had an exclusive world scoop in the Guardian which we had all feared for a long time. He revealed that the deal which split Formula One television coverage in the UK between the free-to-air BBC and subscription service Sky led to viewing figures falling by 3.8m to 28.6m in 2012. The figures were outlined in F1's annual broadcast report which also showed that audiences had fallen in China, Russia and the US whilst there had been significant boosts in markets such as Brazil and Spain. Overall, although total viewers reversed from 515m in 2011 to over 500m last year it still makes F1 the world's most-watched annual sports series. Take that NASCAR and MotoGP! Sadly this story doesn't end there.
Over the past few days some websites have started asking how the F1 Group, which runs the sport, calculates the viewing figures. In a nutshell, their question is how much F1 does someone have to watch to be counted as a viewer? At one end of the spectrum, if someone who watches 60 seconds of F1 is considered a viewer then the results could hardly be considered serious. On the other had, if viewers are only people who have watched an entire race then it would make the figure of half a billion viewers pretty much bulletproof. In fact, it could be argued that if someone needs to watch an entire race to be considered an F1 viewer the standard has possibly been set too high.
It isn't hard to find the measurement criteria which F1 uses to arrive at the number of viewers it had last year and the details were presented in Sylt's original Guardian report. Despite broadsheet newspapers having some of the highest levels of checks and balances, with teams of sub-editors, deputy editors and editors looking over material before it is printed, some websites think they know better.
One website did a review of the viewing figures data and stated that "if you have ever wondered how such numbers are calculated it is worth noting that the figures involved come from the broadcasters themselves." When pressed by a reader whether the author had actually seen the source material for the viewing figures the response was: "I do not have a copy of the report." The author then proceeded to throw their support behind one reader who insisted that a viewer is defined as someone who has watched all (calculated at 75% or more) of the race.
Getting data from a source of unknown quality is hardly credible and of course led to confusion from readers about what is the actual measurement criteria used to identify a viewer of F1. At Pitpass our conclusions aren't based on unsolicited information from readers so we asked Sylt to clear up the question of how F1 arrives at its figure of having half a billion viewers in 2012. Sylt has a copy of the broadcast report and the page which explains how F1 defines its viewers can be found here.
To be completely clear, it states that "The data is based on the industry norm of a minimum non-consecutive, 15 minute viewing experience. New viewers (who had not watched previous races) are identified for each new race, with an overall end of season total audience of unique individual viewers."
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