Turf TV wins court challenge as judge welcomes competition

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The Independent Online

Turf TV, the broadcasting company launched earlier this year to break into the horse-racing industry's domination of televised racing, has defeated a High Court challenge from bookmakers that would have spelled its demise.

Mr Justice Morgan yesterday dismissed allegations made by Bookmakers Afternoon Greyhound Services (Bags), William Hill, Ladbrokes and Betfred that Turf TV was running a price-fixing operation that amounted to an illegal cartel.

Turf TV has deals with 31 of the UK's 60 racecourses to screen their racing exclusively. All racing coverage had previously been provided by Bags and its partner Satellite Information Services (SIS), with bookmakers screening the images in their shops.

After Turf TV's launch, the bookmakers had little choice but to buy pictures from the 31 racecourses at higher prices than they had been paying, prompting their decision to launch the High Court action. However, Mr Justice Morgan said yesterday that Turf TV's agreements did not pose a threat to competition – if anything, he ruled, the break-up of the previous monopoly would encourage competition.

He said: "It was commercially necessary to enter that market as a successful competitor to take exclusive rights to as many racecourses as were available."

Executives at Turf TV were jubilant. Alan Morcombe, the company's executive chairman, said that the judgment "maintains healthy competition in the supply of picture and data services to bookmakers".

Charles Barnett, chief executive of Ascot, which signed up with Turf TV, added: "Today's decision vindicates the view of us and other racecourses: that a new way of realising the value of our picture rights into betting shops was a perfectly fair one."

Shares in Alphameric, which provides data services to Turf TV and is also its biggest shareholder, rose 6.5p to 24.25p.

Mr Justice Morgan has not yet ruled on a counterclaim made by Turf TV, which accuses SIS and the bookmakers of operating a cartel that has tried to pressure racecourses with threats to withdraw sponsorship.