Despite this 2015 Formula 1 season being dominated by Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg, NBCSN still provided the most watched season for a cable channel since ESPN in 1995.
NBC Sports set high marks in both viewership on the NBC networks (NBC, NBCSN and CNBC) as well as on NBCSN. Viewership on all networks averaged 521,000 viewers, a 14% rise (457,000) in viewership compared to 2014 and up 42% (366,000) from 2013, NBC Sports’ first year with Formula 1 rights.
For the 13 of 19 races shown on NBCSN, Formula 1 races averaged 418,000 viewers in 2015, up 9% over 2014 (385,000) and the highest viewership for a Formula 1 season on a cable network since ESPN averaged 755,000 viewers in 1995. April’s Bahrain Grand Prix was the most watched race on NBCSN, averaging 630,000 viewers. Bahrain was the most watched non domestic race on cable since the thrilling 2007 Brazilian Grand Prix.
This is the latest in NBC Sports’ continuing viewership increases in motorsports. Just a couple months ago, NBC Sports saw their highest ratings for their coverage of the IndyCar Series and saw strong numbers on their end in their first season with NASCAR.
While NBC Sports is loving the increase in Formula 1 viewership, it is a constant struggle to bring in more viewers and much more difficult to gain Formula 1 viewers over time than in IndyCar and NASCAR. With races taking place all around the world, races can take place at all times of the day. For instance, only Bahrain and Brazil (starting at 11 AM et) have race times on NBCSN that would best satisfy the entire contiguous United States. Those on the West Coast tune in at 8 AM and that’s the best possible time for a maximum audience.
Races in Asia like Australia, Malaysia, China and Japan, take place between 1 and 3 AM et so many on the East Coast likely will not be tuning in while those in the West still have a late start time at 10 PM and midnight respectively. For the six European races (except Russia) as well as Singapore and Abu Dhabi which are night races, start at 8 AM et and 5 AM pt. Again, restricting the audience NBCSN can get. It’s tough to get new Formula 1 fans or even casual fans to tune in when races are at 5 AM on the West Coast. In Russia, the race starts at 6 AM et and 3 AM pt, which really hurts NBCSN.
This wasn’t a complete shock to NBC Sports when they took over Formula 1 rights from what was formerly SPEED (now FS1) in 2013. What NBC has tried to do was to capitalize by putting their four high profile or time zone friendly races on regular NBC and market those races to attract new fans. The prestigious Monaco Grand Prix, while shown at 8 AM et like other European races, is the most prestigious and popular Formula 1 race all season so that can attract casual viewers. The other three races on NBC all take place in North America. The Canada Grand Prix in June as well as the United States Grand Prix (October) and Mexico Grand Prix (November) all take place between 2 and 3 PM and if new or casual viewers were to tune in, these races would be their best chance.
Regardless of how difficult it can be, NBC Sports appears to have had solid consistent growth. With next year being an Olympic year and an opportunity to promote Formula 1 to bigger audiences as well as continuing promotion during NASCAR and IndyCar races, there is hope that next year can be even bigger for Formula 1 on the networks of NBC.