Determining the appropriate content for horse racing telecasts is not a cut-and-dried matter. The difficulty lies in striking the right mix for an audience that runs the gamut from channel surfers to ardent fans.

Steve Byk of SiriusXM and Randy Moss of ABC Sports/ESPN were recently discussing this balancing act on Byk’s program “At the Races and Beyond.” Moss said that racing telecasts get roundly criticized on horse-racing forums and blogs for being too elementary. Byk replied that he often watches races on the portals of advance deposit wagering companies rather than on cable or network television.

Any teacher, particularly in complex subjects, has experienced the ongoing challenge of delivering material that is within the grasp of less knowledgeable or less capable students, while not turning off more advanced members of a class. The same dexterity is required on horse-racing telecasts.

Racing enthusiasts and handicappers usually prefer in-depth television coverage of the entrants and how the race may transpire, whereas most viewers appreciate background stories, and some desire primers on the sport.

The task of crafting content is especially perplexing in the Triple Crown telecasts because the audience is so large and diverse. Some people who tune in to the Kentucky Derby may only watch one race a year, while at the other extreme are close followers of racing, and the vast majority of viewers are somewhere in between.

NBC-TV to some degree tackles this issue by supplementing its telecasts with online resources and programs on its cable television channel NBC Sports Network. Specialized website content enables NBC to cater to everyone from beginners to seasoned fans. NBC states: “We dig deep to offer rich, exclusive content.” The NBC Sports Network is the outlet for fans wanting to keep up with key races leading up to the Triple Crown, though many viewers do not have access to it.

Another approach to addressing the wide disparity in both audience expertise and degree of interest in horse racing would be for NBC-TV to alter the present format for the Saturday telecasts of the Triple Crown races. A 30-minute segment prior to each of the main race telecasts could be dedicated to informing and educating new and casual racing fans; it might focus, for example, on the basics of horse racing, human interest vignettes, and the history of the race being run. A subsequent 30-minute segment could be customized for viewers whose foremost interest is in handicapping the race. Thereafter, a condensed (by 60 minutes) and faster-paced version of the principal race telecast would revert to the normal fare for a mass audience.

This tinkering would leave the substance of the normal Triple Crown telecasts largely unchanged, while offering more concentrated subjects for viewers, ranging from neophytes about racing to experts.

Copyright © 2012 Horse Racing Business

Originally published in the Blood-Horse. Used with permission.


The 2012 Kentucky Derby telecast had an estimated 14.8 million viewers, according to Neilsen Company. This was the third highest-rated Kentucky Derby in 23 years. In addition, the 2012 telecast had the third highest rating for a sports program in the first four-plus months of 2012, behind the Super Bowl and the NCAA men’s basketball championship game.

The Derby telecast had a rating of 9 and a share of 20, which was a 6% increase over 2011. This means that 9% of all American TV households were tuned in to the Kentucky Derby. Moreover, 20% of the American households that actually had their televisions turned on were watching the Kentucky Derby.

There is a high probability that the audience for the Kentucky Derby is underestimated because of so many people watching at parties and sports bars. For instance, I watched the race with approximately 100 people on a single big-screen TV.


  1. norm vance says

    Another approach would be to critically examine the triple crown telecasts. They lack quality. They are too chopped up. People like Randy Moss and Jerry Bailey, in particular, mouth platitudes and are fearful of expressing opinions. Gary Stevens is a slight cut above. Lafitt Pincay might be okay but his role is just to be the announcer. Tom Hammond is okay but has been reduced to the role of an interlocutor. Jeannine is good but virtually invisible of late. Donna Brothers is a bore. Mike Battaglia is the company hack. Niemeyer is a buffoon. NBC doesn’t know how to do human interest stories. Human disinterest, yes. The TC shows need top talents in the producer and director chairs. It’s not a question of type of content. Quality talent in all departments is needed.

  2. Bob Costas is as good as they get.