Horse racing in the UK will have a new home on terrestrial television from 2017.
It is being reported that ITV have won the rights from Channel 4 in a new four-year deal.
This ends a 31-year link between Channel Four and racing.
It is thought that Channel Four decided not to renew its rights as a consequence of a haemorrhage of viewers away from Channel 4 Racing. Ratings have crashed and particular concern was aroused when the latest Derby was seen by a peak audience of 1.47m, less than half what was achieved in the final year of BBC coverage in 2012. This week it emerged that a thrilling afternoon’s action on Boxing Day had been watched by an average of 475,000, two-thirds of the figure from three years before.
ITV are believed to be paying a lot more than C4’s £15million over four years, but ITV’s greater exposure was seen as just as important as the money in growing the sport. A significant bid from Sky was turned down because their overall reach was not thought to be big enough.
The thinking of the rights-holders appears to be that ITV’s main channel should be able to achieve a much better audience for the most high-profile races, including the Derby, Royal Ascot and the Cheltenham Festival.
However, ITV1 is not expected to screen anything like the 91 days of live action which Channel 4 will host this year. Estimates suggest that 25 to 40 days will be screened on ITV1 with the remainder on ITV4, where the audience is likely to be smaller than Channel 4 could achieve.
While no official confirmation of the deal has been offered, Channel 4 nevertheless released a statement on Friday night, ending with the tongue-in-cheek words: “We wish racing all the best from 2017”.
“We are proud of the award-winning coverage we have given to racing over the last three decades,” the statement said, “and the 90 days of live terrestrial television exposure per year we have offered the sport, backed by significant editorial investment, marketing and programming across our schedules.”