FOR better (Alastair Down) or for worse (Derek Thompson) it will be Channel 4 covering the Grand National next year after the final BBC broadcast from Aintree last Saturday.
At least the Corporation could say it went out on a high with a viewing figure of 10 million viewers – few sports events will surpass that in the remainder of 2012.
It shows the pulling power of the National, and the figure was the best for several years.
But it is a racing certainty that the figure will be much lower than that when the National moves to Channel 4, and that reduction will not be because of public outrage at equine deaths.
Channel 4 will be lucky to get five million – it is a fact of television life that if events are taken off the premier channel, BBC1, then there is a big dip.
That is a gamble that the racing authorities are clearly prepared to take, but it is one of considerable magnitude, rather like Super League getting a new sponsor, as they did this season, and not getting any hard cash for the privilege.
The cuts at BBC Sport will get worse – it didn’t take a tooled-up, savvy soothsayer to predict, as this column did a few weeks ago, that a reduction in golf coverage was on the way.
Sure enough, live coverage of the PGA Championship and the Scottish Open was lost.
Sir Paul Fox, once a heavy-hitter in tv sport, has predicted this year’s London Olympics could be the last televised by the BBC, and that pleading poverty could be the excuse for pulling out of Brazil 2016.
Fox said: “Sport used to be part of the BBC’s culture. But in some corners of the Corporation, it is now regarded as below the salt, and the big events might just as well be scheduled by the BBC’s competitors.”
It was little short of scandalous that the BBC did not find space in their schedules on either BBC1 or BBC2 to screen the recent world indoor cycling championships live when there were a host of British successes – it was not as if this came as a shock as medal wins were well signposted.
Instead of showcasing such a major event properly, the championships were hidden behind the red button on the interactive service, almost as an after-thought.
The BBC will be quick enough to latch on to the cycling bandwagon if, as expected, the British team bring home a big haul of gold medals at this year’s summer Olympics.
You could imagine that if Sky had the rights, they would have marathon broadcasts, while the independent channel would have found the space for it on ITV4.
Either way, the BBC continue to short-change sport – and in a short-sighted manner.
Meantime, the heavy hand of television has played a part in changing the kick-off time of next month’s FA Cup final, from the once-sacrosanct 3pm to 5.15pm.
That is not to fulfil the needs of the Liverpool and Chelsea fans, but to accommodate tv – pure and simple.
Long gone are the days when the FA Cup final was the must-watch match of the season – if it was there would be no need to change.
But by putting it out at 5.15pm, the tv companies know that by force of habit more people will be at home at teatime than in mid-afternoon and therefore more likely to watch.
But we shouldn’t be altogether surprised by the switchover.
The BBC have had the major say in the format of the new-look, tv-friendly Six Nations Rugby Championship, and that’s why many Andy Murray matches at Wimbledon are put on around 5pm to 6pm.
Watch out, coming to a tv screen near you, a 7pm Grand National and Derby.