Attheraces, the dedicated racing broadcasting channel in Britain, is set to go off the air on Monday, March 29 and the prospect is that it will never return.
Negotiations are still going on with the 49 British racecourses involved, but most observers rate the chances of a deal satisfactory to both parties as low while time is also very short.
Attheraces, originally made up of racecourse owners Arena Leisure, Sky Television and Channel 4 Television, negotiated a 10-year-deal worth £307-million to the racecourses in 2001, with the free-to-air channel starting operation in May the following year.
The business model was based on attracting a very significant part of Britain's betting turnover through interactive television, by telephone and on the Internet. This has failed to materialize, with people watching the channel but staying mostly loyal to their existing betting outlets.
A clause in the contract referring to profit margins for Tote betting has allowed Attheraces to serve notice on the initial deal and, while publicly expressing optimism over the new negotiations, the fact that Channel 4 has withdrawn from the consortium is ominous.
If Attheraces disappears, there could be others willing to provide a daily racing channel. Satellite Information Services, which offers a similar service to bookmakers, has shown some interest while other parties are known to be examining the situation.
Whatever happens, it looks like a new channel would be a subscription one, with the regular audience of under 100,000 unable to sustain a free model.
Racecourses are set to suffer whatever happens -- there are repayments due if Attheraces ceases operating while the new deal being offered does not guarantee the rights payments as in the past. Any new channel would also expect to pay less for the rights while no daily broadcasts mean a decrease in betting turnover, also hitting courses' pockets.