It has been nearly a year since ITV first broadcasted racing after surprisingly securing a £30 million four-year deal for the rights, but how has that year gone?
NUMBERS VS OPINION
The numbers are fairly self-explanatory, ITV has as expected done reasonably well considering it is their first year as the main provider of the big horse racing events. Their viewership numbers were released after the Grand National, which was a disappointment, and largely showed a trend of slightly lower numbers than Channel4 with the potential for improvement.
Most punters, horse racing fans and regular viewers are not particularly interested in the figures which ITV are managing but rather whether or not the programme they are providing is an enjoyable watch; or more accurately whether it is an upgrade on the coverage put on by the likes of the BBC and Channel4. It is hard to definitively or confidently say whether or not I have enjoyed ITV’s coverage this year more or less than I did Channel4’s in 2016 but there are certain areas where I feel ITV have done well, others where Channel4 did better.
ALL OUT OF LUCK
I am a big fan of Oli Bell, he is young and charismatic and a natural presenter but the shoes of Nick Luck are not easy ones to fill. The Morning Line has largely been a disappointment not just in terms of the lack of viewers but the content itself, Nick’s brilliance left a big hole and one that I feel will be almost impossible to fill. Ed Chamberlin is a capable and competent presenter but Nick’s presence on ITV was, although I didn’t know it before he was gone, a key aspect in why I enjoyed Channel4’s coverage so much.
As a regular watcher of RacingUK and ‘Luck on Sunday’ I am of the opinion that any racing show without Nick Luck can be improved by Nick Luck. Ed Chamberlin has done an admirable job in his first year and Oli Bell has the potential to be brilliant already at such a young age but I’d be lying if I said they had yet reached the presence of Luck and that may be something ITV continue to struggle with.
I enjoyed the Cheltenham Festival immensely in 2016. Brilliant performances from the likes of the late Vautour, the now retired Sprinter Sacre and Annie Power are hard to match and it was out of ITV’s hands that many of these flag bearers for the sport failed to make it to the Festival in 2017.
“One of the great racing comebacks, the impossible dream coming true, and he regains his title, Sprinter Sacre wins the Queen Mother Champion Chase for the second time.”
Moments like these are why we all love racing, Simon Holt’s commentary was spine tingling and brought a tear to many a racing fan’s eye, not just Nicky Henderson’s. ITV can consider themselves somewhat unlucky that the Festival in 2017 had less brilliant stars and captivating moments than they might have expected, and certainly less than in 2016. The cheer that erupted when Annie Power won the Champion Hurdle was in a different galaxy to that of Buveur D’Air but that is not down to who is broadcasting the races, that’s just how racing can be sometimes.
ITV did a good job with what they had. The interaction with racegoers from Oli Bell were always entertaining and Matt Chapman, love him or hate him, brings a personality to the betting ring which can’t be ignored. There was plenty of disappointment that ITV didn’t have the rights to broadcast all races at Cheltenham but with the hand they were given it is fair to say that they put on a good show, I enjoyed it.
The Grand National meeting, by all accounts, was a disappointment for ITV. The numbers were poor to say the least with One For Arthur’s victory viewed by 1.8 million less people than that of Rule The World and although this is not something that will concern most viewers it probably should, horse racing needs viewership and ITV in no uncertain terms have at times during this year failed to deliver it.
The show however was interesting and had plenty of features which I approved of, racing is a sport which can be difficult to get to grips with and ITV have done a good job in attempting to break down the barrier between casual and hardcore viewership. The jargon busting segment which was done mainly by Luke Harvey was a good idea despite a few complaints that ITV were catering too heavily to new viewers and ignoring ‘real’ racing fans.
So, how did they do?
ITV have had, at the very least, an acceptable first year covering horse racing for mainstream TV. Channel4 excelled in certain areas where ITV have yet to come into their own but there has been plenty of innovation and rousing moments such as Cracksman’s Champion Stakes and Sizing John’s Gold Cup are more than enough to keep me tuning in. The show isn’t perfect but it would be unfair to expect it to be at this stage and all in all the coverage has been solid if not spectacular, not a ten out of ten but certainly not a zero. Maybe a six.