RACING AHEAD: Is new TV deal good for the sport?

RACING AHEAD with Tony McCormick
RACING AHEAD with Tony McCormick

Racing pundit Tony McCormick from presents his weekly column, with the news ITV will have exclusive terrestrial rights to show horse racing from January 2017.

As Channel 4 Racing had just signed off from their first broadcast of the year from Cheltenham on New Year’s Day, news broke that ITV would become the sport’s new terrestrial partner and the next home of The Grand National, The Derby, Royal Ascot and the Cheltenham Festival.

ITV are said to be paying in the region of £30m over the next four years, twice as much as Channel 4 Racing paid for their four-year deal. As mentioned in this column months ago, Channel 4 Racing was, unfortunately, a sinking ship. Since acquiring the BBC’s flagship meetings, Channel 4 has managed to somehow lose half the viewers Royal Ascot used to command, figures for the Epsom Derby in 2015 fell to a record low, while British Champions Day at Ascot dropped from 1.1m in 2012 to 367,000 last year.

ITV will show at least 34 fixtures on ITV1, with a further 60 meetings switching to ITV4, with a magazine preview programme shown each Saturday morning on the same channel. Richard Fitzgerald, chief executive of Racecourse Media Group said ITV had shown unprecedented interest in screening the sport last seen on the channel 31 years ago.

The last time ITV showed racing was a wholly different challenge that will face the company in 2017. Back then the channel had the programme World Of Sport going head to head with BBC’s Grandstand. Racing had the ITV7 accumulator bet that brought together grandparents, parents, once-a-week punters and serious punters alike. It was not-to-be-missed TV and most of all fun.

Not many sports could go head-to-head with racing in those days. The 1,000 Guineas used to be up against the British Table Tennis Championships or the Giant Slalom on grainy film from Reykjavik.

As far as the presenters are concerned, only Tony McCoy, who has clearly being rushed through a whirlwind media training course, and Emma Spencer are expected to survive from Channel 4 Racing. At The Races Matt Chapman and Racing UK’s Oli Bell look to be vying for the lead presenter role.

Don’t rule out some bright spark at ITV suggesting apparent racing fan, Jeremy Kyle, being part of the team, God forbid. If ITV want to stick with their stable stars, they could do a lot worse than asking enthusiastic racing fans Ant and Dec to co-present their Grand National coverage – think of the ratings.

There has been no mention of Clare Balding for the new channel, but fans can be rest assured she can still be caught, no doubt, on various other TV shows, on radio, in newspapers, in magazines, on podcasts, in books and she was even rumoured to be seen delivering pizzas in Wetwang over Christmas.