Fears over future of snooker on BBC as Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins drama to be screened only on iPlayer
Concerns that snooker could disappear from the BBC have been raised ahead of a new drama charting the rivalry between Belfast snooker legend Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins and Steve Davis.
The chair of World Snooker, Barry Hearn, who criticised the BBC's decision to release The Rack Pack drama exclusively on the iPlayer instead of a mainstream terrestrial channel, said the World Championships could ultimately move to Sky or BT Sport.
Mr Hearn, a promoter and manager of Steve Davis, who helped turn snooker into a major TV attraction in the 1980s, said: "We've got a long-term deal with the BBC and snooker is staying on the BBC for the next few years.
"But the fact is the world has changed and the BBC has to adjust to a frozen licence fee. Sports fans are now served by a host of broadcasters.
"The BBC has to make cutbacks yet they still manage to spend millions on Sports Personality of the Year, which I can't get my head around."
At the peak of its popularity, snooker drew 18.5 million viewers, and the personality clash between the cool and collected Davis, played by Will Merrick, and maverick Higgins, played by Luke Treadaway, is depicted in the new film.
It also shows how Mr Hearn, played by Kevin Bishop, used the pair's rivalry to transform snooker into big business.
However, the drama, which premieres on January 17, arrives as snooker's place at the BBC is under question.
The corporation has already dispensed with Formula 1 rights as part of its bid to find £700m in savings, and insiders warn that snooker is next.
Mr Hearn said: "I'd like to see snooker stay on terrestrial television as the game belongs to the nation but maybe in the long-term it will go somewhere else."
On the BBC's decision to release the film exclusively on the iPlayer instead of a mainstream terrestrial channel, Mr Hearn said it was not the appropriate outlet.
"This film should be commercialised, it should be syndicated globally," he said.
"If something is good, don't let it be a secret, shout about it."
Victoria Jaye, head of TV content at BBC iPlayer, said: "The iPlayer promises a revolution in the way we can entertain audiences. It's an opportunity to pioneer new forms of programming."
The Rack Pack is directed by Black Mirror's Brian Welsh and written by Shaun Pye, Mark Chappell and Alan Connor, the team behind A Young Doctor's Notebook.
The drama includes a scene where world champion Davis, bitter over his rival's superior commercial appeal, confronts Belfast-born Higgins about the alcoholism which fuelled his self-destructive behaviour.
"I'm not your enemy. Drink is," he tells Higgins, who died in 2010 after years of illness.