The Cheltenham Festival 2021 has attracted record viewership on only its first day, with both the average and peak audience up significantly on the previous year.
ITV Racing drew in an average of 1.1 million viewers, with a total of 1.5 million tuning in to watch the Champions Hurdle, won by Rachel Blackmore, riding the hugely anticipated Irish racehorse Honeysuckle.
The viewership spike has been largely attributed to the number of people working from home or on furlough due to the ongoing pandemic, in addition to the absence of spectators at the actual racecourse.
Nielsen Sports went as far as to predict that the festival would see its biggest television figures for over a decade, pointing to a general 250,000 increase in television viewership due to people working from home and furlough schemes.
According to the Racing Post, the average audience increased by 12% on last year’s figures, with the peak viewing figures rising by 7%, the highest since records began in 2003.
ITV’s expansion of its televised coverage of the festival may have also contributed to the record-breaking figures.
The free-to-air broadcaster struck an agreement with the Racecourse Media Group (RMG), which holds the rights to the four-day event, securing greater exposure for the races.
As a result of the announcement, ITV’s usual schedule of five races per day was extended to six, with the time between each race reduced from 40 minutes to 35 minutes to accommodate, and the main event set to be broadcast at 3:05pm every day.