ITV chief happy with figures but looking for more from Opening Show
ITV's head of sports production Mark Demuth told racecourse representatives on Thursday more people were watching televised racing in 2017 and he was happy with the channel's position as it approaches the first full year of its deal to broadcast the sport.
However, Demuth said more work needed to be done on The Opening Show programme, whose viewing figures have been disappointing, and there needed to be better integration with ITV's other shows.
Speaking at the RCA showcase seminar at Newbury, he also said he would like ITV4's viewing figures to match those of Channel 4 by the end of the four-year contract.
ITV has in the past said it did not want to give a running commentary on viewing figures for racing on the channel. However, overall figures combined for live racing on ITV and ITV4 have this year shown an average of 499,000, a six per cent increase on Channel 4, while audience share of 6.2 per cent was up 17 per cent on Channel 4's share.
"We're happy where we are a year in," Demuth later told the Racing Post. "There's more we can do but we are happy with the position – to have more people watching racing this year is good news and gives us something to build on next year as well."
ITV is set to show 94 days of racing this year, 42 on the main channel.
The average viewing figure on the main channel is up 44 per cent at 710,000, while audience share of nine per cent is up 62 per cent on Channel 4.
However, the average viewing figure on ITV4 this year has been 273,000, down 45 per cent on Channel 4, although Demuth pointed out that it was not a like-for-like comparison with Channel 4's figures including meetings such as the Grand National and the Cheltenham Festival.
Demuth also said he was encouraged by last Saturday's coverage from Wincanton and Doncaster attracting an average audience of 335,000.
He added: "If over the course of the next three years we could get the ITV4 figure up to where Channel 4 was that would be fantastic."
Demuth said he expected to maintain the number of meetings on the main channel next year but while he would like to have more racing on ITV it was unrealistic to expect a major increase.
"The number of 42 on the main channel this year is tremendous," Demuth said. "It's great to have, we are pleased with that number. Being realistic, we are not going to get 94 days on the main channel.
"There are too many other competing shows, that's the blunt reality of it. We would love to have more but there are other factors at play with the network."
Demuth also said he would like to have more cross promotion on racing with other programming. "It would be great to get more involvement next year across ITV regions and the big shows as well," he added. "So that will be something else to target in year two."
Demuth said the average audience for The Opening Show had increased from 114,000 to 124,000 since it had moved to a regular slot, but he admitted it was a figure they wanted to improve.
"Now it has had a regular run, people know where to see it," he said.
Viewing figures for nearly all the major meetings and festivals this year have increased with the obvious exception of Grand National day "which sticks out like a sore thumb", with the viewing figure down six per cent.
Demuth blamed that on the warm, sunny weather which meant 3.3 million fewer people were watching television that Saturday afternoon compared to the previous year.
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