Recently a couple of adverts caught my attention. The first from Chris James on RaceCarsDirect looking for a third driver, and the second from Richard Hawken on eBay trying to find a team sponsor. Both made some rather bold claims about the BTCC including one that the series attracts a global TV audience of 10.9 billion, a figure that’s difficult to believe given that there are only 7 billion people on the planet.

Far from being something that the teams have invented the figure actually comes from TOCA via their 2012 Brochure. Amongst the statistics quoted in the brochure is the “cumulative annual global households TV reach” of 10.93 billion. But what does that actually mean?

Here in the UK we get live coverage of every meeting plus a 1 hour highlights package (actually 47 minutes plus adverts). A version of that highlights package is broadcast around the world to approximately 500 million homes. First thing to note here is that this is not actual viewers but an indication of the number of households who are able to received the highlights package, either free-to-air or as part of a subscription package. For example coverage in the USA is on Speed2 who have around 15 million subscribers but that doesn’t mean all 15 million are watching at the same time.

In addition to the main highlights package, the BTCC is also featured in magazine programs such as ‘MAX Power‘, ‘Motorsport Mundial‘ and ‘Planet Speed‘. Add in all the subscribers to all the channels showing those programmes and we get a total of close to 1.1 billion. The series is run over 10 meetings, so multiple by 10 and you arrive at the stated 10.93bn.

However that’s complete nonsense, you’re not adding in more people but simply re-counting the people you have already included. Let me put this another way. Last year the BTCC ran over 10 meetings, with 3 races per meeting, and an average grid of 25 cars. Using the same logic you could claim that the series attracted 750 entries!

Why stop there though – every channel showing the highlights broadcasts each episode at least twice; in some countries each episode of ‘Planet Speed‘ is shown as many as 7 times. Take into account the repeats and you could just as easily claim 20, 30 or even 40 billion. If that sounds ridiculous, it’s no less so than counting every episode separately.

The single episode total of 1.1bn is still quite an impressive figure, except that that’s not entirely accurate either. In the UK for example we have ‘Planet Speed‘ on ESPN (1 million subscribers), ‘MAX Power‘ on Sky Sports (9m) and ‘Motorsport Mundial‘ on Channel 5 (17.5m) and BT Vision (0.5m). Channel 5 may not be available everywhere in the country but as a free-to-air channel the chances are if you able to subscribe to ESPN, Sky or BT then it’s almost certain you can receive C5 as well. I suspect a good portion of the ESPN subscribers also pay for a Sky subscription. The brochure makes no specific mention of figures for ITV4, or broadcast both live and highlights coverage, but that has a similar reach to C5 – again most people who receive ITV4 will get C5 as well. Potentially then some households are being counted 3, 4 or even 5 times over.

It’s a similar story elseswhere. In the USA Speed2 broadcasts both the highlights package and Motorsport Mundial, so that’s all of their 15 million subscribers double-counted. Figures for Asia (which make up the biggest proportion of potential viewers) are harder to analyse – there is only a region-wide total for the highlights package, but a breakdown by individual country for the magazine shows. However given that the both ESPN Aisa and Star Sport broadcast both highlights and one of the magazine shows, it’s not unreasonable to conclude that there’s yet more duplication of number.

In reality the “cumulative annual global households TV reach” is a meaningless number full of the sort of creative accounting that even Enron would consider excessive. The true figure for global reach is a little short of 500 million households, whilst the actual number of viewers will be only a small fraction of that.

Interesting the only reference in the brochure to actual viewer numbers is for the UK, with a audience of 19.4 million. This is a cumulative number representing the total number of viewers for the entire season not, as one of the two adverts claim, the audience for each round.

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