Arena and Sky buy C4's Attheraces stake

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The Independent Online

Arena Leisure and BSkyB yesterday announced the resurrection of Attheraces, their defunct racing channel, after buying out Channel 4.

Screens taking the old Attheraces service went blank last month after it failed to generate the betting revenues anticipated by the three partners. The episode caused Arena, which owns six courses, to post a £42m loss for the past year.

BSkyB and Arena yesterday said they had bought out Channel 4 from the consortium for £1.25m, and would launch a new channel in early June.

Unlike the old channel, it will not offer betting services itself, but will join up with established bookmakers to take bets from viewers. Bookmakers such as William Hill and Ladbrokes have seen their telephone betting revenues fall as much as 20 per cent in the weeks that racing has been off air.

The new channel has also learnt from its past mistakes and will not pay for broadcasting rights up front, as it did under the old deal. Racecourses will become equity holders in the channel and revenues will be passed on to the course owners as they are generated. Of the first £27.5m generated by the channel, £17.5m will go to Arena and £10m to BSkyB.

"We have eliminated most of the costs, such as our own bookmaking facilities, and this will ensure that racing goes in to 9 million homes free of charge. " Ian Penrose, the chief executive of Arena Leisure, said yesterday.

But the new channel so far has only 25 of the 59 courses on board, including Ascot and Chepstow. The remainder have signed up to The Horseracing Channel, a rival consortium.