ITV vows to boost horse-racing audiences after snatching rights from Channel 4

ITV is promising to boost TV viewing of horse-racing beyond its "core audience" after snatching the rights from Channel 4 following a slump in viewing.

Britain’s biggest free-to-air commercial broadcaster’s swoop for the racing will offset the disappointment of losing out to Channel 4 on Formula One rights just before Christmas.

ITV takes over the racing exclusively from January 2017 in a four-year deal that will see it show 34 fixtures, including the Grand National and the Derby, on the main channel and another 60 race meetings on ITV4 annually.

ITV said: "No other sport in the UK will enjoy that level of live free-to-air coverage."

The broadcaster is reportedly paying £30 million – a move that will bring in "increased revenues" for racecourses as they claimed there was "unprecedented interest" in the bidding for the TV rights.

Channel 4 has aired racing for 31 years but ITV previously had a close association with the sport in the 1970s when the broadcaster would air seven races in a day – a feature known as the ITV Seven that was also a betting accumulator that allowed gamblers to win a big sum from a small stake.

An ITV spokesman said it was too soon to say whether it plans to generate revenue by setting up its own betting operation but the broadcaster has invested heavily in late-night casino programming since 2010 under chief executive Adam Crozier.

ITV’s Jackpot 247 show airs six days a week after midnight in a deal with online gaming firm NetPlay TV as part of Crozier’s strategy to increase online, pay and interactive revenues and reduce dependence on advertising.

Richard FitzGerald, chief executive of Racecourse Media Group, which represented UK racecourses in their negotiations, said: "ITV has made a strong and compelling four-year commitment to British horseracing. ITV places itself at the heart of popular culture and we look forward to working closely with the broadcaster in ensuring racing remains in this fantastic shop window.

"The unprecedented level of interest in the tender shows what an attractive proposition the sport is. This is reflected in the new deal, which will generate increased revenues for racing." 

Niall Sloane, ITV director of sport, said: "We want our coverage to reach not only its loyal, core audience, but beyond, by capturing the full enjoyment of this most wonderful of sports."

Broadcasters prize live sport because it brings in audiences and advertisers at a time when viewers are increasingly turning to on-demand TV for drama and other genres.

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