With horse racing, as with virtually every other widely followed sport, there's often fierce competition over who gets the right to broadcast fixtures and provide analysis on TV. Over the past decade alone, the broadcast rights for major British horse races such as Royal Ascot and Cheltenham have passed between the hands of multiple channels, with the BBC, ITV, and Channel 4 all having held the main broadcasting rights at one point or another.
Today, the broadcasting contract for British horse racing is held by ITV, as part of a £20 million multi-year agreement. However, its future as the home for televised horse racing is far from assured. After all, renegotiations for the contract nearly collapsed late last year with Racehorse Media Group, which represents all of the major race events. It's clear that ITV is not able to see eye to eye with the organisation on multiple fronts.
As such, it seems well within the realm of possibility that ITV will no longer receive the broadcast rights once its current contract expires in 2023. But what happens after that? While it's possible that the game of musical chairs will continue and that the contact will go to one of the other big broadcasters, it's important to look at other trends at play in order to determine what the future of British horse racing will look like.
For one, it's possible that the ever-encroaching popularity of online sports broadcasts and analysis will erode the value of the TV contract. After all, some of the world's top horse racing betting sites like bet365 offer live broadcasts to all members, alongside daily news and analysis on all major British horse races. This is a service that members of bet365 do not have to pay extra for and it's a feature that is becoming increasingly common across the booming online sports betting industry.
As sports TV continues to see fierce competition from digital competitors, the broadcasters might find themselves less and less willing to shell out tens of millions of pounds for a contract in the near future. Meanwhile, it's also worth pondering whether the big three broadcasters will even be in the running for the contract by the time that it comes up for renewal.
Smaller, for-pay channels are increasingly asserting themselves within the sports broadcasting arena. Just take a look at the Olympics, for example. The International Olympic Committee decided to award the entire European broadcasting rights for Tokyo 2020 not to public broadcasters like the Beeb, but to the cable US network Discovery, which has put most of its Olympic content behind a paywall.
While this might result in fewer viewers overall, it's almost certainly a major boon to the network's profits. In the years to come, there is no reason why smaller, for-pay broadcasters won't begin seriously competing for the Racehorse Media Group contract. It's clear that the world of horse racing is currently in flux, and how we consume this great British pastime may change in the coming years. Stay tuned to find out.