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ITV's Cheltenham Festival numbers slip but 11 races draw a million-plus viewers

Francesca Cumani, pictured on duty for ITV at the Cheltenham Festival
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ITV has released the final viewing figures for its second Cheltenham Festival and pointed to 11 of the 20 races shown live having been watched by more than a million people, counterbalancing a year-on-year drop that was most marked on Gold Cup day.

Across the four afternoons ITV attracted a combined average audience of 3,423,000 viewers, just under four per cent down on the broadcaster's debut in 2017.

However, the 2018 total was still 29 per cent up on Channel 4's meeting aggregate 12 months earlier in the final year of its coverage.

Native River's Gold Cup triumph was seen by 1.635m viewers

As is traditionally the case, the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup was the festival's most popular race, with a peak ITV audience of 1.635 million for Native River's defeat of Might Bite.

That was well shy of 2017's 1.903m peak, while Friday's average rating of 994,000 represented a clear fall from the 1.175m posted in 2017, although in both years the numbers equated to a 15 per cent audience share. In 2016 Channel 4 secured a figure of 836,000 for the festival's closing day.

The Tuesday and Thursday afternoon programmes were also seen by marginally fewer people than last year but the Wednesday increased in popularity, with the average rating, which had risen from Channel 4's 574,000 in 2016 to 750,000 last year, going up again to 864,000.

Comparisons with Channel 4 were not so favourable for ITV4's The Opening Show, which despite making significant progress still attracted only around half as many viewers as The Morning Line in 2016.

It performed best on Gold Cup day, with 147,000 people watching, compared to 107,000 last year.

The limitations of ITV's contract with Racecourse Media Group prevent the network showing more than five live races from any Cheltenham Festival card, but of the 20 contests televised, 11 pulled in a seven-figure audience.

CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL AVERAGE AFTERNOON AUDIENCES
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  2016 (C4) 2017 (ITV) 2018 (ITV)
Tuesday 691,000 814,000 781,000
Wednesday 574,000 750,000 864,000
Thursday 540,000 813,000 784,000
Friday 836,000 1.175m 994,000

THE OPENING SHOW vs THE MORNING LINE

  2016 (C4) 2017 (ITV4) 2018 (ITV4)
Tuesday 196,000 84,000 91,000
Wednesday 211,000 71,000 107,000
Thursday 249,000 96,000 123,000
Friday 218,000 107,000 147,000

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The Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup was the festival's most popular race, with a peak audience of 1.635 million
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