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Kevin Smith

The Post-attheraces Landscape Is Taking Shape

4 June 2004

Just over two months after attheraces went off the air, a new player in the U.K. race broadcasting space has emerged. Racing UK launched the "The Horse Racing Channel" (THRC) Saturday.

The new "At The Races," meanwhile, is scheduled to go live June 11.

THRC carries races from 30 U.K. racecourses. All of them have an ownership stake in the venture, an arrangement THRC hopes will eliminate the prospect of tumultuous relationships between the broadcaster and the tracks (which was ultimately the downfall of the original attheraces).

Among the tracks comprising Racing UK are Aintree, Ayr, Cheltenham, Doncaster, Goodwood, Newmarket and Sandown, all of which host major British racing festivals.

The station, part of the BSkyB family package of programming, launched as a free service, but will eventually be available through a £20 a month subscription plan. For the time being, it's piggybacking on iSports TV.

The Horse Racing Channel will air for five to eight hours a day, depending on what live action is available from the participating tracks.

Goodwood GM Rod Fabricius, one of the prime movers behind Racing UK, is happy to see the new network get off the ground so quickly.

"We've had a lot of work to do in a very short space of time, pulling all the strands together," Fabricius said. "And I'm delighted with the quality of the production team that we are likely to attract."

Nevertheless, Racing UK faces several unanswered questions. Not least is the future of its relationship with iSports TV.

That channel, operated by the Digital Interactive Television Group (DITG), has a mix of 24-hour entertainment that ranges from Argentinean football and gerbil roulette to live U.S. greyhounds and virtual reality horseracing. It has also tapped bookmaker William Hill to take over the branding in October.

Racing UK's chief rival, At the Races, is a reincarnation of the original attheraces, a consortium comprised of BSkyB, Arena Leisure and Channel 4. BSkyB withdrew its interest in March after low turnover percentages created an out for the network; Channel 4 and Arena Leisure subsequently regrouped and put the new project together.

The new At The Races will offer racing from courses belonging to Arena, Northern Racing and GG-Media, as well as Ascot and Newton Abbot, and will be carried by Channel 4.

Regardless of which station gets the edge in the new race for viewers, betting action generated from the network will likely be a key. The original attheraces had an interactive betting option, along with a companion Web site, that was expected to fuel turnover for the company. Executives cited the rise in popularity of betting exchanges and the fierce competition from other online betting services as the main reason for closing down the operation as betting turnover struggled to reach expectations.

Experts feel that the online space is still a popular option for bettors but many believe there is still room for live racing on TV. They point to the dramatic rise in betting shop turnover in April, after attheraces coverage went dark, and punters were forced to leave their home to place wagers on live racing.

The Post-attheraces Landscape Is Taking Shape is republished from
Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith