By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) - Formula One's global television viewing figures have levelled out but some races saw strong audience growth this year with the showcase Monaco Grand Prix leading the way, according to Nielsen Sports.
A review by the sports analytics company ahead of Sunday's season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix put the cumulative global audience after 15 of 21 races at an unchanged 1.3 billion compared to 2017.
Monaco, however, showed a 10 percent rise to 110 million viewers.
Nielsen said that was the sport's biggest overall television audience for a race since 112.2 million tuned in to the 2016 Mexican GP.
Britain (92.2 million) and Austria (90.6 million) both showed eight percent rises, with a five percent increase for Belgium and four percent for Canada.
Nielsen said the return of the French Grand Prix after a 10-year absence had been a boost, with the races in Monaco and at Le Castellet's Paul Ricard circuit broadcast free-to-air in France on the TF1 channel.
"In total across the first half of the year, TV viewing figures jumped 52 percent across the country (France)," said Nielsen's Nigel Geach, who said Canal+ had also seen a 43 percent rise due to increased coverage.
China, with the sport back on state network CCTV after a new deal, was the best performing market after 15 rounds even if the overall numbers (16.2 million) were tiny for the world's most populous nation.
Brazil saw a 21 percent rise in domestic Formula One television viewers thanks to scheduling changes and increased non-live coverage that fitted in better with the time differences.
Formula One, controlled by U.S.-based Liberty Media has faced declining global viewing figures, with the sport increasingly on pay television.
"Free to air is critically important to us," the sport's commercial managing director Sean Bratches said last year. "My vision as it relates to media rights is a hybrid of free-to-air and pay."
Liberty launched a television subscription streaming service this year targeting an estimated 500 million fans worldwide as part of the sport's digital transformation.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin; Editing by Toby Chopra)