Channel 4 Racing, the first 6 months. Part 6e

Channel 4 Racing, the first 6 months. Part 6e

The Last Word

Kauto Star, retiring steeplechaser, made punters profit

Vernon Grant, with an old friend

I know only too well that, as a television producer, you cannot please all of the people any of the time. And it’s foolish to try.

If you’ve been watching Twitter since January you will know that there are differences of opinion among those who like to watch racing on free to air television. People like me.

It was inevitable that the initial reaction from long term viewers would not be a good one.

But, I ask you, how many of us remember the first 6 months of the original Channel 4 Racing?

I don’t and I’m the fella who has ancient editions of ‘The Morning Line’ collecting dust on VHS!

Let me suggest the following possibility. That the service we largely grew to love over the years was not a great watch in its formative years.

And that there were plenty of broadcasts over the past years that were instantly forgettable. ‘Francs’ wasn’t on top form every week. ‘Thommo’ was painful to watch at times.

In earlier posts on the website I have paid tribute to Andrew Franklin and John Fairley, the men behind Highflyer Productions. They ensured race meetings were covered on television from less glamorous locations than Royal Ascot. They fought long and hard, and worked tirelessly, to keep everyday racing on terrestrial television.

good old boy lukey great action shot by channel 4 racing Last year, when he knew he had lost the contract to keep producing Channel 4 Racing, I thanked Andrew for all he had done. Purely as a viewer.

Like his friend John Francome, I think Franklin had earned the chance to produce the high profile race meetings that Channel 4 won the rights to when the BBC decided to throw money at management payouts and the Olympics, rather than in the direction of racing.

But IMG got the contract. I once worked for the company. The right programme at totally the wrong time in my life, sadly. But a company with plenty of experience and some talented employees. And I always enjoyed working with the professional crews hired to work on Channel 4 programmes.
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Carl Hicks

Carl Hicks

Fresh from winning plaudits for the coverage of the London Olympics, Carl Hicks became the producer of Channel 4 Racing. I’ve never met the man, but only ever hear good things about his ability as a producer of live television. So, as one who has been there and done that for countless hours of broadcasting, I doff my cap in his direction!

Hicks has plenty of ideas for how the racing coverage can improve in the remaining years of the IMG contract. He was keen on having sectional timings on screen during the racing and I see they made their first appearance recently.

Hicks had earlier told Mihir Bose of the London Evening Standard: “One of my major innovations for racing will be to put a bloody clock on it. I won’t be happy until every race that is run will have a clock on the screen throughout the race and that clock gives you sectional timings every furlong through the race.”

Hicks recalls the days when clocks first appeared on the Sky Sports coverage of football.

“I was at the BBC at that time and I remember people having long debates about whether the viewer actually wanted a clock on the screen. Now you would not imagine watching a football match without it there, would you? Racing has to provide clocks showing sectional timings, to take the analysis of the sport further. As in athletics it can be sponsored. It is absolutely fundamental for the sport to improve over our contract.

“A super loop camera which we have already introduced, and that hasn’t been done before, shows the definition of the horse, the mechanics of it. We’ve had cameras on the jockey, we will have more of that, and cameras in the jockeys’ room. We’re obviously pushing the boundaries.

“We’re here to tell stories, to my mum as well as to Tom Segal of the Racing Post, the best tipster around. We want to reach the dedicated fan who has a bet on a Saturday down at the bookies and watches the races live on Channel 4. And my mother who wants to be introduced to the backdrop, why she would fancy watching that race and support that nice jockey.”

That is the dilemma faced by Hicks. To keep the long serving viewers while also attracting new followers of televised racing.

pissed punter at bookies stall aintree

[symple_heading type=”h2″ title=”Over age viewing” margin_top=”10px;” margin_bottom=”5px” text_align=”left”]

Those who run the sport of racing itself have become obsessed with attracting younger spectators. The ones I only ever see spewing up at racecourses because, while they may have already had their first pint in life, they are not up to having six!

Racing has tried an array of gimmicks to attract new people to the sport. The worst was the short lived experiment with cavalry charge like music being played during the race itself. An innovation summed up perfectly by jockey Ryan Moore as…”crap.”

What I do not want to see Channel 4 Racing do is to turn the coverage into something aimed solely at the young who have grown up in the whizz, bang world of soccer on Sky Sports.

If they do this they will alienate me and many over 40’s who are the core viewers. We ain’t dead yet Carl, but if you go down the Sky Sports route, I for one will switch off.

Glitzy, gimmicky, graphic dominated coverage of the sport on TV may attract some twenty and thirty somethings whose attention TV bosses so crave. But it will not attract a greater number of those people than the number of older viewers who will be lost. Forever.

Sectional timings is an innovation I support, especially for those of us into studying form (by the way Carl, Tom is not the best tipster… I am!)

I am all for new ideas. But, I beg you, do not forget the main attraction we tune in for. Do not let anything get in the way of the racing itself.


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jamie aitchison is head of sport at channel 4 and talks about racing on television

Jamie Aitchison

Jamie Aitchison is the Head of Sport at C4 and a man keen to respond to viewers via Twitter. Good for him that he sometimes responds to and interacts with viewers on social media sites. Many in his position would not.

While the official Channel 4 Racing Twitter feed is wrong to only retweet or respond to positive comments, Aitchison is not afraid to take on those with complaints.

He told Mihir Bose: “We haven’t, contrary to some people’s opinions, thrown the baby out with the bathwater. I’m not going to apologise for trying to do a few things differently. You’re not going to get it all right the first time round.

“Racing has been pretty much the same product for a long time and we’ve taken away some people’s comfy slippers. People can see that the channel is absolutely throwing the kitchen sink at being racing’s broadcast partner. But we couldn’t go into this contract for four years without trying to inject a few different things.”

On that point I am fully behind what Jamie is trying to do. I do though have concerns about the following quote from him to the Evening Standard.

He enthuses: “We’re just trying to make the product look akin to Premiership football, Formula One and make people who believe racing is not really for them think,‘0h gosh, this is really top stuff’. Some people don’t like that.”

I guess I am one of those people.

Why does all sport on TV have to be dressed up like Premiership football?

Since I ceased working on a freelance basis for the demon in the living room that is Sky Sports (I have washed my hands every day since), I have not watched Premiership football coverage. Not least because the product itself, and how it is covered on TV, is a triumph of style over substance.

I don’t want gimmicks galore. I want top quality racing shot superbly and supported by informative and entertaining discussion between people who know their stuff and can tell even me, a man who has watched racing since he was a child, things I did not know.

Adrian Camm, senior cameraman, Channel 4 Racing

Adrian Camm, senior cameraman, Channel 4 Racing

I place my trust in Channel 4 Racing and those who run the coverage because, while those of us in the Twittersphere may disagree about the merits of this or that presenter, none of us can dispute that the broadcaster has proved its commitment to showing live racing on a regular basis.

I do so because Hicks has a track record I admire, and director Denise Large knows what she is doing in the hot seat. Working with her she has a crew on the ground that always go that extra mile. I should know. I’ve worked with some of them on other projects in the past.

Adrian Camm (photographed above by Nick Luck) is on first name terms with thoroughbred horses the world over. He’ll be capturing some of the best shots of horses in action you will ever see until his back or knees give out (my money is on the back winning). As long as solid professionals like Adrian are filming the action, racing will be worth watching.

[symple_heading type=”h2″ title=”My plea” margin_top=”10px;” margin_bottom=”5px” text_align=”left”]

Those in charge of racing, and those who broadcast it on TV, need to make sure they do not so annoy long term, loyal supporters of the sport that we go elsewhere. 

I hope I don’t live to see the day when racing is only on pay for satellite outlets. When televised racing from Redcar or Ripon is but a distant memory.

For such a long time those of us who have supported racing have been the silent majority.
With the advent of Twitter, we are no longer mute.

For decades television executives have too often ignored the opinion of those holding the remote control. A ‘we know best’ attitude was rife at many companies I worked for.

I hope those in charge of Channel 4 Racing do listen.

That is my last word on the matter. Now you have your say…

Feel free to leave your comments below.

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