Last week the Racing Post published the viewing figures for ITV Racing’s first stint of terrestrial programming and by doing so opened a whole can of worms. Many were quick to jump on board the blame train and bought straight into the foreseen criticism by the Post.
It’s too simplistic to just blame ITV Racing for this decline in viewing figures. The powers that be decided to place their brand new and exciting product on their fourth channel on a regular basis. This in combination with a general declining interest in the sport leads to an obvious and now published result. The Post have praised much of ITV’s work and in publishing these statistics they did not attack ITV Racing as was quickly decided.
ITV Racing has been made a scapegoat and their actual coverage of the racing they’ve shown has on the whole been of a good standard, forgetting the creaky start. The cogs have been oiled and through Cheltenham and Aintree their work was professional and appealing. They know they’re not going to please everyone and have by their own admission tried to open up the sport to a new audience with less interest than your regular viewer. A bad thing? Don’t be daft.
Racing UK and Attheraces cater for you if you feel that strongly against ITV and there is nothing wrong with feeling inclined to go that route, it’s what they are there for. But just ease of the bandwagon and allow ITV a chance to spread the sport. We seem to be going in circles with this, with the media kicking up a fuss when news is slow to come by.
There’s no point judging them on their flat coverage yet. They’ve had Musselburgh, the Lincoln and All-weather day at Lingfield. It’s hardly going to be Bafta winning whatever they do. Hayley Turner aside (I’m not going into that) um.. um.. um.. the ball is starting to roll and Jason Weaver already looks at home. The coverage will pick up as the flat splutters into life over the coming weeks.
So, the figures are concerning – there’s no denying that. But the simple reasoning behind this was made when the upper echelons of ITV put racing on ITV4. Only Cheltenham, Aintree and the odd Saturday have been lucky enough to push Inspector Morse, Noddy and Jeremy Kyle off ITV1. What do you therefore expect? It’s two pages down on the majority of TV sets and very unlikely to be stumbled across by someone throwing up whether they fancy Soccer Saturday or Come Dine With Me.
It’s a huge problem and ITV bosses have admitted defeat without ever rolling their dice. They know the sport is in decline and in their four years they obviously don’t believe they can fix that. Skys’ bid to take all rights must have thrown them and the announcement of ‘Sky Racing’ coming to the fore, has further hit home that a heftier, more realistic bid will be coming when the contracts up for grabs. It’s a shame they seem to be treating it as a stop gap, but blaming Chamberlain, Bell and Chapman is missing the point entirely.
Thirty thousand viewers for the Opening Show on the day of the Grand National is hugely disappointing, but had this been on channel 103 would have attracted at least 200,000 more and with it further exposure to the events ahead. Guests have been good on the whole and definitely no worse than Channel 4. It’s easy for outlets such as the RP to throw out figures and invite angry opinions but they’ve sung their praises regularly.
Reports, arguments and articles on parts of racing like ITV and dress codes are not helping – they are simply papering over the cracks. The NH season was very average and will have attracted little mainstream attention or interest from new followers. Field sizes have been the worst on average for decades. Stars have been missing, some through injury, but there has been a real lack of competition at the top. Even the trainers title is fizzling out into nothing. Betting companies have lots to answer for, as gamblers slowly move to other avenues just to get a bet on. Gates are going up, but take away the festivals and they’re in decline too. Accessibility to the exclusivity of the sport is as distant as ever and yet we still wish to blame the presenters trying their best to portray the sport we live by to as many homes as possible. Changes are needed; not moving the Opening Show to 9am or Chamberlain wearing a blue tie, but right at the top.