Formula One’s Drive To Survive series has topped global Netflix viewing and its drivers have accumulated record-breaking Twitch audiences—that’s good news for a sport that’s struggled with declining popularity for years. Autosport reports a new study by statistics body Nielsen that says a new audience is finding F1, and that the series could be on track for a billion fans worldwide in 2022.
As recently as 2014, then F1-owner Bernie Ecclestone dismissed social media as “short-lived” and not a remedy to falling viewership figures for the sport. He said the series would only bother with trying to attract online viewers if they were paid by platforms to do so, like with television broadcast rights. Just three years later, Liberty Media took over F1 after a continued audience decline, unceremoniously removing Ecclestone and setting about trying to navigate its own, inherited rights tangle to get online and find newer, younger viewers.
One of the first things Liberty did was launch an esports series, the in-game graphics virtually indistinguishable from real-world racing with sponsors and tracks replicated. The cars were, of course, more competitive in a virtual setting and the series didn’t have to deal with TV tie-ups that restricted its options. That’s since expanded to include Drive To Survive and a concentrated effort to increase F1 and teams’ social media presence. There’s also plenty of YouTube content and the series experimented with broadcasting free-to-view coverage on Twitch during the 2019 season in some territories without TV deals.
Nielsen’s report says all of that has worked, reaching younger fans for the series to see a six percent increase in the share of its fans aged 16-35 (up to 46 percent from 40 percent). In total, 77 percent of new fans tuning into F1 fell into that age bracket. F1 has previously revealed its viewership was just 14 percent under 25 in 2019 but that 80 percent of its esports viewers were under 25, showing the difference in platforms for its audience that, now, seems to be changing its overall demographic.
Autosport reports Nielsen’s head of rights holders, Tom McCormack, as saying it wasn’t only the series’ efforts but those of its increasingly young, social-media-aware athletes.
“F1 continues to benefit from its strategy of expanding its content offering—through additional peripheral and story-telling programming—which appeals to that 16–35-year-old market,” McCormack explained. “The current grid of young, social media savvy drivers, like Lando Norris, is helping to reach new consumers through platforms such as Twitch and YouTube.”
Although seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton has by far the most social media followers of any driver, Lando is undoubtedly F1’s online star. He’s had more than 18.7 million views on his Twitch channel and frequently collaborates with big-name streamers that occupy a world previously inaccessible to a multi-billion-dollar sport that’s coverage is almost entirely paywalled by satellite television.
Nielsen says that F1 gained 73 million fans, a 20 percent increase, in ten of the territories it most wants to expand in last year—Brazil, China, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, South Korea, Spain, the U.K., and the U.S. Along with an overall 1.1 percent growth in audience per month, that puts the sport on track to hit 1 billion people taking an interest in it come 2022. Not bad for a series whose former owner still persists in predicting its death every few weeks.
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