Armchair punters due to be asked to pay a monthly subscription for the new Racing UK television channel could yet find an unlikely saviour from the ranks of bookmakers.
Racing UK took the initiative in the propaganda battle between the two television channels dedicated to horseracing as it outlined its aims and objectives in London yesterday. And it confirmed that talks are taking place with the betting industry to find partners to help finance the channel.
Simon Bazalgette, the former chief executive of Music Choice Europe, was unveiled as Racing UK's executive chairman, with the former BBC director Will Wyatt joining as a director.
Racing UK also confirmed that it had signed deals for the sale of pictures from its 30 tracks to six countries, through its rights arrangement with the South African betting operator Phumelela. Revenues raised from the sale of the pictures will provide an essential plank to the funding of the channel, and the completion of these deals at an early stage in the channel's life represents an achievement.
However, the bad news for the viewers is that the introduction of a monthly subscription charge, believed to be between £20 and £25, is an equally important component of the business plan and could be introduced by the end of the year.
Against the free-to-air offerings of rival At The Races, which is part-owned by Sky, the ability to attract the necessary number of subscribers to Racing UK is vital to its future. Exact details of the number of subscribers required remain vague.
Bazalgette would speak only of a figure "in the lows tens of thousands", but emphasised that in contrast to the business model of the ill-fated attheraces channel which closed earlier this year, Racing UK had "very realistic expectations which take into effect the impact of competing with another channel".
A charge could be avoided, though, through the intervention of a bookmaking sponsor. "We have a very identifiable target market and it would surely be in the interest of betting operators to ensure that their customers are gaining access to pictures," Bazalgette said.
"We are in talks with all the major bookmakers to discuss ways in which we can work together. If enough of them decided that they would put money behind a free-to-air channel, then that is something we could look at. But we are not going to subsidise a free-to-air channel and if we have to take the subscription route, then that is what we will do."
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