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Motor racing: Formula One reports rise in TV and digital audiences

LONDON (Reuters) - Formula One saw a rise in worldwide audience figures across television and digital platforms in 2018, the Liberty media-owned sport reported on Friday.

FILE PHOTO: Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton and other F1 drivers at Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace, Interlagos, Sao Paulo, Brazil - Nov 11, 2018. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

It said Brazil, China and the United States represented the top three markets in terms of television reach -- largely a consequence of new or revised broadcast deals in those countries.

The global cumulative television audience was put at 1.758 billion, of which 1.59 billion were in the top 20 markets -- a rise of three percent compared to 2017 and the second consecutive year of growth.

The number of ‘unique viewers’, now defined by the industry standard of those who watched at least three consecutive minutes across the season, rose 10 percent to 490.2 million.

“In today’s world, just having a flat TV number is a strong performance,” the sport’s global research director Matt Roberts told Reuters.

“We’re really pleased that we’ve seen growth for the second year in a row after many years of decline for the longer term trend.”

The showcase Monaco Grand Prix in May returned the highest cumulative audience of the season, showing a rise of 10 percent year on year with 110 million viewers.

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Six other races -- Bahrain, France, Austria, Britain, Italy and Mexico -- also had more than 90 million viewers.

France returned to the calendar last season after a 10-year absence, with the races in Monaco and at Le Castellet’s Paul Ricard circuit broadcast free-to-air in France on the TF1 channel.

Formula One’s audience growth in China, a key strategic target, reflected the sport returning to state network CCTV.

“China is now the second largest market and the United States the third largest. They weren’t even in the top five before,” Formula One’s commercial managing director Sean Bratches told Reuters.

“We have a long term vision, we’re focusing on it and I think the numbers are reflective of where we are going.”

Formula One said the number of followers across the sport’s own social media platforms had shown a 53.7 percent rise in 2018 on 2017.

That also reflects a low starting point, with previous commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone having little interest in using social media to attract a younger demographic.

Liberty, who took control at the start of 2017, have given the 10 teams more freedom to post video and launched a television subscription streaming service last year.

Formula One said the fan base had grown by three million to 506 million, with 205 million under the age of 35. Almost two thirds were 45 or younger.

Of new fans acquired in the last two years, 61 percent were under 35 and 36 percent under 25, according to market research company IPSOS.

Formula One said the average viewer age of 40 was in line with other major global sports and leagues.

Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Christian Radnedge