BBC red button cuts: a threat to equestrian sport *H&H VIP*

  • Equestrian sport on television could be further reduced if the BBC closes its red button service.

    The organisation is exploring options as part of £150m of cuts, which also include a £35m reduction in sports rights spending.

    The plans are to address a shortfall in funding due to more people using BBC iPlayer, mobiles and other online catch-up — meaning the proportion of households owning a television is falling, as a loophole allows viewers to watch catch-up TV without a licence.

    The BBC announced it is “exploring a phased exit from the broadcast red button service and focusing our interactive TV offer on connected televisions and iPlayer”.

    The BBC could not confirm to H&H how exactly the process would affect equestrian sport. Currently events including Badminton, Burghley, Olympia and the European Championships are shown through the red button service.

    Judy Harvey, who provides commentary on the red button, told H&H it would be a “great loss” to dressage should it be cut.

    “Nearly all our coverage is on the red button,” she said. “It’s hard to say whether it would be scheduled onto normal programming should it be cut, but the red button is a great thing for die-hard fans of sport and it would be a shame to lose it.”

    Horse sport suffered a blow earlier this year when Sky announced in April it would no longer cover Horse of the Year Show.

    At the same time Hickstead revealed that it was to move away from Sky Sports for the Derby meeting due to production costs, and use the broadcaster only for the Royal International.

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    “We always said that cuts to programmes or services would be unavoidable,” read a BBC statement. “Even after the new measures announced on 17 November, the BBC faces a long-term challenge to identify a further £550m of savings by 2021/22 and we will set out broad plans for this in the spring. We will inevitably have either to close or reduce some services.”

    BBC director-general Tony Hall said: “The BBC has and is doing everything possible to make sure the impact on the public is minimised. Wherever possible we’re targeting savings by creating a simpler, leaner BBC.

    “But cuts to budgets for programmes and services are unavoidable. No director-general wants to announce reduced spending on services that the public love. This is very tough, but the BBC’s financial position means there is no alternative.”

    The £150m is part of the £700m overall savings the BBC must find due to the flat licence fee agreed in the summer and the need to fund the transformation the BBC must undertake for the future.

    The importance of TV coverage

    Part of the International Olympic Committee’s Agenda 2020 is based on attracting a new audience to the sport, and one way is through media coverage.

    Since the last Olympics, equestrianism has been demoted from category C to D (with the bottom level being E), despite its popularity at London 2012.

    When asked about whether the BBC cuts would affect the sport’s ratings, the IOC told H&H it was “hard to say”. The category was determined by the coverage during the Olympic period, however a spokesman said that sports provide data throughout the year, one part of which is coverage.

    In April at the FEI sport forum Stefan Kurten from the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) said “ratings are king” but sports are expensive to air compared to other programming, due to rights hire, production costs, and there is “fierce competition” between sports events to secure a spot.

    At London showjumping received a maximum TV audience of 37,069,919, dressage 17,738,025 and eventing 12,825,000

    The sport was shown on 525 channels for London 2012, up from 388 at Beijing 2008. The broadcast hours were 99,982, up from 61,700, though the audience stayed fairly steady (3.7bn 2012 and 3.5bn 2008).