The Channel 4 coverage of the 2015 Grand National has rightly received a BAFTA nomination for the best live coverage of a sports event. It’s not the first time the efforts of the production company at IMG have been recognised. Indeed, the team have won awards since being awarded the contract to produce racing on free-to-air television back in 2013.
Sadly, after 30 years as the broadcaster of racing on terrestrial television, the sport of racing has decided to ditch Channel 4.
I thoroughly enjoyed filming with the IMG team over one week late in 2015. It was a little odd for me being the ‘fly on the wall.’ From January 1980 until I left the UK in the summer of 2005, I had often been the person others approached to watch me and colleagues at work. Thanks to Channel 4 and the team at IMG, the roles were reversed. I am grateful to all those who assisted me.
Across the space of one week I filmed the on and off screen team as they produced live racing from Newbury and Sandown, and the Saturday breakfast preview programme, the Morning Line. The films were shot by me between four and five weeks before the team got the bad news that they had lost the rights to produce racing on Channel 4. Those who run the sport had grown impatient of falling viewing figures and had awarded the contract to ITV from 2017.
So my fun, frank and informative interviews now take on an air of poignancy.
Part 1 was with the talented steadicam operator Adrian Camm, who has worked on racing for twenty years.
In part 2 I had a full and frank conversation with presenters Nick Luck and Rishi Persad. We talked about those viewing figures.
In part 3 I watched as the team rehearsed and produced the Morning Line, live from Newbury racecourse on Hennessy Gold Cup day, in late November 2015.
In this, the fourth and final part of my series of exclusive films with Channel 4 Racing, I sit down for a lengthy chat with the Executive Producer, Carl Hicks.
I can only imagine how deflated he felt a month after our chat. On New Year’s Day, of all days, he found himself having to lift the morale of the production team after they had learned the news that is certain to effect the future employment of many of them.
I make no apology for cutting very little out of my lengthy conversation with Carl Hicks. There are obvious edits I could have made. Answers I might have edited out, or cut in length. But I happen to think he deserves the right to reply to the critics of the Channel 4 Racing coverage. He should be given the opportunity to discuss how the Racing Post and The Guardian constantly wrote about falling viewing figures.
And, perhaps for the last time, the Executive Producer deserves the chance to explain to people what he set out to do back in 2013 and, importantly, remind viewers of the achievements of the IMG production team and of how they most definitely advanced the quality of racing coverage on terrestrial TV. I think he makes several valid points.
The racing authorities toyed with the idea of awarding the new contract to Sky Sports. They opted to give free-to-air television one more chance. I have no doubt that the producers at ITV will cover the sport in a professional manner, albeit the programming may have a more light entertainment feel to it. Time will tell.
And time will also reveal if there is a big enough demand for racing on terrestrial television. I hope there is. Racing as a sport will become ever more marginalised should the sport sell out to Sky.
My message to those who love to pay extra to watch sport on television is this. Be careful what you wish for. The day may yet come when you wish racing was back on Channel 4.