JANUARY 2, 2007

F1 shows rude health

The proliferation of choice that the digital age has brought to consumers has been a problem for many different activities. With a large number of TV channels available and the Internet, TV viewers no longer have to choose between four or five terrestrial channels and that means that audiences have been shrinking across the board. The average TV programme today has a much lower audience than it did 10 years ago, despite the fact that TV ownership continues to grow with each passing year.

The London-based Initiative Sports Marketing agency collects data only from official TV measurement suppliers and employs a system which it calls "programme average audiences", which means the average number of people who watched a show from start to finish, to produce figures which are probably rather more realistic than some of the claims that one sees from rights holders. Initiative's assessment of the audience for the World Cup Final soccer game last summer, for example, was around a quarter of that claimed by FIFA, the international soccer federation, which includes delayed footage, replays, highlights and news clips.

Initiative says that most sports are suffering but that some properties are booming. The biggest rating programmes in 2006 were the World Cup Final, the Super Bowl, the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics, the UEFA Champions' League soccer final and the Formula 1 Brazilian Grand Prix, the World Championship showdown between Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher. These events had all had bigger audiences than in previous years.

Initiative has concluded that the biggest live sporting events are thus becoming more valuable because they make it harder for audiences to skip advertising and thus increase the value of the slots available. That means that rights-holders can ask more money from TV stations.

Formula 1 is particularly well-placed as it delivers the same product 18 times a year while the World Cup is once every four years, the Olympic Games (of one form or another) is every two years and the UEFA Champions League and Super Bowl are only annual events.

This means that for sponsors F1 gives a very good return on investment.