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Kevin Smith

TV Betting Becoming Big Business for Industry

8 December 2003

As television becomes a bigger delivery channel for the interactive gaming industry, The Gaming Channel in the UK rolled out a new iTV gaming venture and is hoping to play an integral part in a growing segment of the industry.

With its new venture, iSportsTV, The Gaming Channel has a network devoted solely to sports and sports betting.

Unlike other interactive betting networks, like Attheraces, iSportsTV's efforts have been on building up user-friendly betting interfaces to add on to programming, instead of spending a lot of money to acquire broadcasting rights.

The new channel features a combination of horseracing, football, super-bikes and specialist Irish sports. Programming on iSportsTV also includes special shows like beauty pageants and other content aimed at a younger (18-30 year-old) viewing audience.

The Gaming Channel already operates Avago, a 24/7 live presenter-led interactive entertainment and betting channel that features the popular Avago Balls game.

iSportsTV is subscription-free and screens 24 hours a day, with a live two-hour broadcast show during the week. The introduction of the network shows the increased focus on the gaming and wagering for interactive TV operators, said The Gaming Channel's Managing Director Damien Cope.

"As advertising revenues continue to decline operators are looking at other ways to make up for those revenues," he said. "This is one easy way to do that." Offering the service to other networks is the biggest way TGC separates itself from the competition, according to Cope.

"Attheraces spent a significant amount of money on the rights to UK racing," he said. "Many outside of the company feel they spent too much money, but their strength is in the ownership of the rights and not their interactive features."

Horseracing looks to be a central part of programming for iSportsTV, but not in the traditional sense.

One of the original features found on the channel is I-Race, a virtual horseracing game that users can access through the channel.

I-Race is the brainchild of VIS iTV and Flextech. The game allows punters to take part in a fixed odds betting option through the network.

When tuning into I-Race, which airs nightly on the station, viewers see the racetrack, the crowd, and the start/finish line. Then the computer-generated race is run, with punters allowed to bet any horse in the field just like they would a real race. Similar features will be added to an enhanced version of I-Race next year, Cope said.

I-Race marks the first time virtual horseracing has made it way to television after gaining popularity for years in high-street betting shops. With Portman Park and Steeple Downs, virtual races today run on screens in about 8,000 betting shops across the UK.

The virtual racing concept gained popularity on the Internet as punters were allowed to invest in the horses and train and own them in addition to betting on them.

The system launched after three years of development at a cost of more than £6 million. Virtual horseracing has been big business online and in betting shops.

Inspired Broadcast Networks, which helped to develop the races and now distributes them, says virtual horse racing creates about £300 million in turnover a year for the bookmakers, with estimated profits of between £80 to £100 million.

The business has been so successful that Inspired Networks launched a virtual greyhound-racing program, and in September went online with a virtual horseracing product for Coral's Eurobet.

Inspired is using its experience in the virtual racing world to develop a rival system to I-Race that it hopes to roll out on TV early next year.

"TV is an obvious next channel," said Luke Alvarez, CEO of Inspired Broadcast Networks. "People enjoy betting, and TV is a more enjoyable betting experience for some people who are perhaps not the core bettor and who might find the betting shop experience quite intimidating. It's also a way to make fixed-odds numbers games exciting and more real."

For The Gaming Channel and BSkyB, a leading satellite TV provider, interactive betting through the television has become big business for operators. Cope has a great deal of experience in the industry, having previously worked for Rank, where he put together the UK's first fixed odds games site He also helped to launch an interactive TV gaming service Fancy a Flutter

Cope guessed that the market of betting done through iTV channels was in the hundreds of millions of pounds.

"The potential in the UK alone will be significantly more than that in just a few years," he said.

With Flextech, the programming unit of the cable company Telewest, co-developing I-Race the game could be offered by other channels.

Building the TV application of the race simulation software was difficult and expensive, according to Simon Grieve, the chief executive of VIS iTV. He said plans to launch an I-Race channel on Sky were stalled last year after a fire caused severe smoke damage to the company's computers.

The delay turned out to be a blessing in disguise, Grieve said, as the entire business had to re-evaluate its plans. After studying all aspects of the business the decision was made to white-label the service to others who could market it on their own channels like iSports.

"We decided to sell the product to TV channels, websites, and eventually do an SMS and a video-phone version," Grieve said.

Cope sees it as an easy sell for operators who are looking to increase their revenues.

"I think in the majority of cases they don't want to spend the money to develop a system on their own," he said. "They see this as a cheap way to fill a hole and make money at the same time."

TGC has developed technology that can be used for any channel, not just sports-related. He said a camera could be set up at a busy intersection and bets could be made on what color the next car to go through it would be.

Using that kind of mentality, Cope hopes to have betting services on a host of networks throughout the UK.

"We don't have any agreements in place, but there is no reason to think why we can't get 20 channels on board by the end of next year," he said.

If Cope has his way, the growing sector of betting through iTV is just hitting its stride and could become one of the largest segments of the interactive betting marketplace.

TV Betting Becoming Big Business for Industry is republished from
Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith