Up Creek, No Paddle: ITV Dumps Boat Race

By Kevin Hilton
SVG Europe Editor
The Boat Race, an annual clash in the UK between Oxford and Cambridge, has hit some rough water
following ITV’s decision not to renew its
contract for coverage. The UK commercial broadcaster has been under financial pressure over
the past year and has spent its financial resources building its
football offerings, so the annual clash between Oxford and Cambridge
has paid the price for being expensive to cover technically and

The March 29 race will be the 155th meeting
between the two universities and will be the last broadcast on
ITV, which has held the rights since 2004. Before that, the event had
been a key part of the BBC’s sports schedule, but the organisers had
wanted to increase sponsorship and commercial opportunities and so
entered into discussions with ITV.

ITV picked up its biggest-ever audience for the Boat Race last year, with 7.6 million, but it is an expensive and difficult event to cover, and the broadcaster is now concentrating its sports resources on football. Coverage of the 2008 race involved several facilities companies — notably, O21 Television, Camera Corps, and Omni TV — plus a lot of hardware.

were 46 cameras in total: 12 for presentation, 25 on the
river bank, seven on boats (including remote heads on the racers and
two gyro heads on chasing vessels), and two in helicopters. Five OB
vehicles were used, with one at the start, one at the finish, and
another three along the route, supported by five BT links trucks. All
radio cameras were fed directly to the OB unit at the start as ASI
streams using dark fibre, with everything connected by approximately
60km of cable. Power came from five twin-set generators, and more than 190
technical staffers put the broadcast together.

TV coverage of the Boat Race is no
longer a “crown jewels” event, so it is open for satellite
and cable broadcasters to bid for the rights, but the organisers are
said to be keen to keep it on a terrestrial channel to get the maximum
audience possible. Channel 4 is a possible contender but has also been
under financial pressure this year. A return to the BBC would seem a
logical move, but a spokeswoman for the BBC says the network does not
comment on rights at this stage in proceedings.

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