The ITV 7 looks like it will ride again after reports that the UK’s leading independent broadcaster has galloped past incumbent Channel 4 for rights to show horse racing.
Channel 4 had acquired rights for the sport in 2012, having pipped at the post other broadcasters, notably the BBC, for the rights to show the sport's premium events such as the Grand National, the Derby, the Cheltenham Festival, Royal Ascot, Glorious Goodwood and the entire Flat Season.
Yet despite boasting leading UK sports broadcaster Clare Balding as lead presenter and offering a number of innovations such as a second screen tracker app, the station had generally struggled with ratings for its output even in a country where the sport is hugely popular. Since it first gained rights coverage for the Royal Ascot festival — a staple of the UK cultural as well as sporting calendar, thanks to attendance by the Royal Family — it lost half its viewers, the Derby's 2015 ratings plummeted to a record low and British Champions Day has seen its audience fall from an average of 1.1 million in the BBC's final year to just 367,000 last October.
Now according to the racing industry’s leading news title, The Racing Post, UK TV racing sport will undergo a ‘seismic’ change with ITV in the saddle after a deal said to be worth £30 million. It is over 30 years since ITV last showed horse racing, its coverage being a fixture of Saturday afternoon sports broadcasting for many decades.
In its only comment to date on the issue, Channel 4 said: "2016 will be an unprecedented year for premium live sport on Channel 4 as it becomes the new terrestrial home of Formula One alongside the Rio 2016 Paralympics and horse racing. We are proud of the award-winning coverage we have given to horse racing over the last three decades — and the 90 days of live terrestrial television exposure per year we have offered the sport, backed by significant editorial investment, marketing and programming across our schedules."