The Race for TV Rights

January 22nd, 2016 | Marten Julian's Guest Contributor News

This month we are pleased to welcome Joshua Mason to our site. Joshua is an aspriring sports writer so feel free to offer any feedback on this article to which will be passed onto him.

The race to show horse racing in the UK is over, and it was an easy win down the final straight for ITV. Channel 4 had overseen a torrid period of racing on UK TV, with falling ratings ever since they acquired exclusive rights from the BBC in 2012. ITV will take over and will be hoping to revamp the stale media portrayal of the sport, and boost the numbers back to where they were, before Channel 4 took stewardship.

ITV is Britain’s second biggest broadcaster, and has bought the rights from Channel 4 to show racing in the UK for four years. The deal, which is reportedly worth £30m, will begin in 2017. December the 31st will be the last chance to see Channel 4 broadcast racing. The channel has been involved with the sport for 30 years, but on Challow Hurdle day at Newbury they will end their affiliation. Less than 24 hours later racing will start again, but this time it will be with ITV.

New Year’s Day racing at Cheltenham will let viewers see what ITV have got in store for racing fans. Presenters have already been gossiped about, as it is expected that Clare Balding and Nick Luck will be replaced. Ed Chamberlain of Sky Sports and John Inverdale, who has enjoyed close relations with ITV, are both topping the gossip columns as potential candidates. ITV will show 90 races every year though there are rumours they will be split up.

ITV1 will of course be better for the sport to attract more armchair viewers, but it is likely that races deemed too minor will be moved to ITV4. Fans are worried that this may mean lesser priority and lower budgets. Studio centred broadcasting rather than traditionally being at the side of the races. I would love to see a return to the more jovial and light-hearted broadcasting of the days with John McCririck running around like a madman. ITV should be looking to bring back the viewers that Channel 4 seemingly lost when they took over full broadcasting in 2012. There is so much potential in the sport and with advertising opportunities being expanded with major horse-racing, bookies allowed to advertise on TV ITV could have a cash cow for the future.

Where Did Channel 4 Go Wrong?

Channel 4 had won awards in their past for their racing coverage, and their history, plus the help of Highflyer Productions, helped them win the contract to show racing by themselves.

The first mistake was to inconceivably ditch the production team who got them the contract, and hand it to IMG Sports Media. Their decision to move away from the light-hearted production to a more serious brand of television did not pay off, and even Claire Balding could not bring in the viewers. The viewing figures did not look healthy. Royal Ascot lost half of the viewers it had had before, the Derby was at a record low and British Champions Day collapsed from 1.1m last year to just 367,000 in October. It may not be a mistake, but for the UK racing fans the recent acquisition of Formula 1 to Channel 4 would have meant a clashing of scheduling, and with Formula 1 a more lucrative product, Channel 4 almost forced themselves to drop racing.

ITV may have a bigger opportunity for viewers with ITV1 but at £30m expenditure, and dwindling numbers it will be a risk. Fans will hope that ITV will make the significant changes to attract the right ratings.

In the UK racing is healthy with many people still going to the courses, and on the TV side it is served with two dedicated channels, Racing UK and At The Races, outside of terrestrial viewing.

ITV will want to convert the popularity to hard numbers and hopefully bring in some new fans or those who have left.