Plenty has been said and written (including here at Geegeez) about the move of terrestrial television’s racing coverage from BBC to Channel 4. Last night, the sport hardly received a mention on the Sports Personality of the Year programme, as if the Beeb had decided it was no longer worthwhile if they had no involvement in it.
Now comes news of another change, certainly of less significance, but one that will disappoint the 30,000 plus viewers of At The races (ATR). They will lose coverage of racing from Ascot to subscription channel Racing UK in June 2014, meaning that next year’s Royal Ascot will be the last one they show. Financially, ATR says it won’t cost them much. A bigger concern must be that it leaves them without coverage of any of the major Festival meetings throughout the year.
Most of the racing shown on ATR comes from the 15 Arena Racing Company (ARC) tracks, and their managing director Tony Kelly claimed the Ascot switch would cost only around 4% of ATR’s income, and that international earnings would be unaffected. He pointed out the “ATR’s domestic platform is significantly stronger than Racing UK. ATR’s reach is 13 million homes, compared to RUK’s 42,000 subscribers. It doesn’t change because Ascot have moved.”
The difference between the two isn’t as great as he suggests: viewing figures released by the Broadcasting Audience Research Board show that the biggest audience for ATR during Royal Ascot this year was 145,000.
A statement released by ATR said they were naturally disappointed that Ascot was
not going to renew its 10-year association with the company. Matthew Imi, Chief Executive of At The Races went on to say, “We have greatly enjoyed working with all members of the Ascot team during what has been a hugely successful period for both ATR and Ascot Racecourse. Going forward, our focus will continue to be on ensuring that we maximise financial returns for our racecourse partners and we are very excited by the various growth initiatives we have in place across the business.”
The Chief Executive of RMG, parent company for RUK, Richard Fitzgerald, welcomed the move, saying, “We have a reputation for delivering the highest quality programmes from some of the biggest racing festivals, including at Cheltenham, Aintree, Epsom and Newmarket, and Ascot is a natural fit and addition to our portfolio of courses.”
Are we heading towards a monopoly of the top meetings on RUK?