Are racing’s viewing figures in terminal decline?

The new C4 Racing line up

The new C4 Racing line up

Last weekend saw the third and fourth Classics of the British flat season run at Epsom, with both the Oaks and Derby winners making headlines with their successes. But the TV audience was lower - strikingly lower - than for the same pair of races last year, and just half of the figures of a few years ago.

So what has happened to strangle the interest of the British watching public to such a degree and, more materially perhaps, what can be done to revive the dwindling audience?

A spot of context

Let's start with a bit of historical context. The year is 2008, and New Approach wins the Derby for Jim Bolger and 'Mrs Sheikh Mohammed'. BBC TV reports viewing figures of three million, and a spokesperson is quoted as saying, "We are very pleased the figures remained consistent on such a busy weekend of sport."

The figures were in line with the 2007 renewal, when Authorized gave Frankie Dettori his Derby win.

On the Friday of the 2008 Derby Festival, viewing figures for the Oaks and Coronation Cup (which has since moved to Saturday) were 900,000.

In the same year, Channel 4's coverage of the Gold Cup attracted two million viewers, and the BBC's coverage of the Grand National commanded a whopping 10.1 million peak viewers.

Six years have passed since those very strong viewing figures were recorded, and much has changed. The global economic crisis has struck and the ripple effect of its shock waves are still being felt in terms of disposable income and, therefore in available punting pounds.

Competition for that wagering pound is increasingly fierce, with everything from FOBT's in betting shops to virtual racing to saturation coverage of sport across the airwaves, both terrestrial and satellite. And, to that end, the transition from analogue to digital TV has expanded the number of viewing options on the average gogglebox.

In the microcosm of racing's TV coverage, two earthquakes have struck, and they too have generated significant aftershocks. First, BBC Sport limped in to the bidding process  to continue to host horse racing, essentially surrendering its right to cover Royal Ascot, the Derby, and other top meetings. Then, upon winning the bidding (phoney) war, Channel 4 announced dramatic changes both behind and in front of the cameras.

That was 2012, and C4 now has two Derby meetings under its belt, as well as continued coverage of the Cheltenham Festival.

At the time of the deal, Richard Fitzgerald, chief exec of Racecourse Media Group, the company that spearheaded C4's bid, was quoted as saying:

"This new deal will not only deliver increased revenues for British racing, but with all of our sport's crown jewels in its portfolio, Channel 4 offers a compelling vision to innovate the way racing is broadcast."

Now, two years on, it is right and proper that those splashing the cash, and expounding grand visions, are held to account against their prophetic (or not) sound bites.

The state of the racing broadcasting nation

As the ink dried on the contract, so the axe swung on the - granted, somewhat legacy - broadcast team which had been in situ on the Channel 4 sofas since day one of its racing coverage. Old school stalwarts such as John McCririck, Derek Thompson, and John Francome were mothballed in favour of fresher-faced frontmen and women. Nick Luck, Rishi Persad, Graham Cunningham, and notably Clare Balding were recruited, along with Mick Fitzgerald.

The proof of the pudding is always in the eating and, having dined on this menu for two years, the British viewing public has considered it less appetizing than its heartier predecessor. At least, that's what the bare figures imply.

Let's look at those figures.

The Derby of this week drew a peak audience of 1.55 million, and the Oaks coverage on Friday was shared with just 558,000 viewers. Those figures are awful. There really is no other way of putting it.

Whilst it's unfair to compare them with the BBC viewing figures of 2008, it's entirely reasonable to compare them directly with the Channel 4 viewing figures of a year ago. Then, the Derby was watched by a peak of nigh on two million, and the Oaks by pushing 800,000.

That represents a year on year drop of almost a quarter for the Derby, and even more than that for the Oaks.

Channel 4's head of sport, Jamie Aitchison, was quoted in The Guardian as saying:

“I’m pleased with the high-quality coverage from the Channel 4 Racing team over two glorious days at the Investec Derby Festival.

“Despite there being live sport across all four main terrestrial channels yesterday afternoon, Australia’s win in the Derby was watched by a bigger peak audience than the French Open Ladies’ Final, the Challenge Cup Rugby and the Formula 1 practice session.”

As head-burying ostriches go, Aitchison has found himself a pretty big sandpit in which to shield his eyes from the (mixed metaphorical) reality of a sinking ship. And, to some observers, it is a sign of the lack of alternative leadership at C4 that there has yet to be whispers of mutiny amongst the ailing crew.

Let's be clear: references to alternative sport don't really wash. Remember that quote from 2008?

"We are very pleased the figures remained consistent on such a busy weekend of sport."

The beeb was able to maintain its viewing figure in the face of sports broadcasting competition.

And, last year, on Derby Day - 1st June - competing sports on TV included French Open tennis, and British Lions vs Barbarians rugby. The fact that Aitchison references the practice session from a Grand Prix implies how far racing has fallen in the public affections. Or has it?

Channel 4's Cheltenham coverage recorded a viewing figure of 1.53 million for the 2014 Gold Cup, a race run on a Friday, as opposed to the Derby on a Saturday. This was actually up marginally on 2013.

And C4's Grand National coverage has plateaued the past two years at over eight million, an impressive figure when compared with Auntie's ten million, given the additional reach BBC1 has over C4 generally.

So what's the difference?

So far all I've achieved is to aggregate a whole bunch of numbers, and try to flag a couple of meaningful historical punctuation marks in racing broadcasting's current chapter.

It's high time we tried to pull all this together, and figure out what's working and what's not working.

Based on the empirical evidence, and on my own (admittedly somewhat myopic) inspection, here are some points to consider...

1. Racing gets its biggest audiences when it touts for them

The viewing figures for the Grand National and Cheltenham have very little to do with production values and the quality of the presenting team, despite what Aitchison would have us believe. Rather, they are a product of the amount of peripheral marketing that goes on around the main events.

The Grand National had a fantastic billboard campaign, some excellent TV ads, and plenty of cross-promotion on more mainstream shows, such as Alan Carr, Chatty Man.

Whatever racing's suits think, this is what works. It brings people to the sport who otherwise would not engage. Channel 4 - and racing as a whole - needs to do more of this. It's not a boy's club any more, it's an ecumenical church (small 'e', small 'c') where every man and woman can have an opinion and put their money where their tweet is.

After all, isn't that the society in which we currently reside? In the land of 'me, me, me', why isn't racing - and Channel 4 Racing - tapping in to that sentiment?

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Broaden the appeal with cross-promotion, tout for opinions, and people will engage. It's the most basic marketing message of all time.

2. Shades of grey do not appeal beyond racing's own

The team of presenters on the Channel 4 roster currently almost all share a professionalism that was occasionally lacking in the pre-2012 squad. And, if you're a perfectionist or a racing form enthusiast, you probably value that. (I do). But let's face it, if you're that sort of person, you probably have at least one of the two satellite racing channels.

Channel 4's job, as I've alluded to in point 1 above, is to broaden the appeal of the sport. As the sole terrestrial broadcaster, they have an obligation to hold the torch for British racing.

The presenters have very little chance of broadening the appeal as things stand, in my opinion. They are too similar, too pedagogic, too... aloof, almost.

Here's how I'd shape a team if I was charged with such matters.

Anchor - Amiable, charismatic. The lead presenter needs to be able to take one long arm and embrace both the racing personalities at the heart of the sport, and an audience which drifts far beyond racing aficionados. The ideal for me is a person that might actually keep you watching even if you didn't care two hoots for horses.

Matt Chapman can overcook it on occasion (Frankel's Champions Day 2012, for instance). But there's little doubt he has a personality, a breadth of knowledge, and an easy way with all-comers that is both engaging and entertaining.

Racing broadcasting needs to entertain in the bits between the races, and it's kind of forgotten how to do that to some degree.

Foil - Quirky, occasionally insightful, occasionally irritating. Willie Carson had many detractors when paired with Clare Balding, but there's no doubt they had an on-screen chemistry which is missing from the sterile laboratory environment of the C4 broadcast bus.

They were an OB duo - outside broadcasters, in all weather. Balding has been isolated since her move to C4, and she doesn't operate nearly as well in the sole anchor role. I liked Willie Carson, though I sometimes had enough of him; and I respect Clare Balding, though I don't especially enjoy her presentation work these days.

I often had enough of Big Mac, but he represented a viewing demographic that is no longer represented, and has long since switched off, or over. The two goons who do the betting now are uninteresting, and at least one resource too many, in my view. But they are better than Wiltshire and Parrott who were on the other side, who were in turn far better as bookies and snooker players.

Face facts: the two satellite channels cover betting with a bloke (or lass) in a booth, and a graphic on the screen. It just doesn't need any more than that.

Ex-Pro - It is always insightful to get a view from someone who has done things you never will. I've read form; I've written about racing; I've made bets. But I've never ridden or trained a horse. John Francome has. And he was extremely adept at articulating those ethereal imponderables that go into ensuring a horse is right for the job on the day.

Mick Fitzgerald is, I'm afraid, a pale shadow of Francome, and has none of his wit or charisma. Good horseman though he was, he's not an especially good presenter, and he's been at it a fair few years now.

There are any amount of ex-pro's looking for work. Surely somewhere in their midst is a diamond in the rough. And that's exactly what's needed for this role, which is why Francome excelled in it. His departure - out of loyalty to the former production team - was a shame at the time, and he has been a big miss pretty much ever since.

Punter - Racing is about punting for most people. In my opinion, C4 has done well to understand that and to bring in the likes of Paul Kealy and Tom Segal for The Morning Line. Both are excellent judges and, while the smoke blown up them from Lucky and co is a little misplaced, they are definitely 'value add' for me on the early shift.

Form Boffin - A form boffin, who also likes to bet and doesn't mind sharing as much, is a staple. C4 has two, which is one too many... unless they approach the puzzle from different angles. They don't. Both Jim McGrath and Graham Cunningham are fine judges, and extremely professional presenters. But they are 99.9999% from the same gene pool, and entirely interchangeable to my eye, and ear.

Personally, I'd marginally prefer Cunningham, but there's very little in it, as I've alluded.

3. Let's re-format this disk...

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result. We now know that Janus Jamie Aitchison will be crowing in April after the Grand National figures; and crying in June at the Epsom / Royal Ascot numbers.

He, his programmes, and his presenters, are currently products of their environment: so much driftwood at the whim of the wider marketing push. That they are losing their core audience is extremely disconcerting, though, and something that requires a change of format, regardless of the pointless positing about professionalism from Aitchison.

What I'd really like to see is someone - and some time - dedicated to the shape of the race: what it normally takes to win a race like this; how the pace shapes up; the liveliest outsiders (that could turn out to be heroes or, perfectly possibly, zeroes).

Perhaps some - most, in fact - of that could be visualized. We live in a world of infographics, tweets, and status updates. Bite size chunks of data: information plankton for us hungry knowledge-gathering whales.

Attention spans are shortening as a consequence. "Just tell me what's going to win". That's the cowards' way out. The single smartest move I ever made (and, highly likely, ever will make) at geegeez was to 'visualize' races with the Race Analysis Reports.

Can you colour de-code this?!

Can you colour de-code this?!

In that one view, anyone - and I mean anyone, with the possible exception of those who are both short-sighted and colour blind, or just blind (apologies) - can see in an instant which horses are best suited to today's race conditions.

It's a blunt instrument. There's no finesse to it, no inference about horses ahead of the handicapper, whatever. But it's remarkably effective, and can be interpreted in different ways to suit different punters' tastes. And can be colour-decoded by anyone.

Bloke off the street? Instant awareness. He could tell you that Horse A has placed in three of his six runs on this ground, but has a doubt about the distance. And so on. That's real power to the peripheral punters' elbow.

It is e-x-t-r-e-m-e-l-y simple. And it works. It is a form tool for our time. And it is exactly the sort of thing that takes the dark art of form reading out of the hands of one or two judges and shares the wealth, to some degree at least, with every(wo)man.

That, for me, is the job of the production team at C4. It's time for them to break down the barriers between a newbie and the payout window; to expand the knowledge horizons of the transient viewer; to convert that viewing transience into a more committed tuner-in.

It can be done. It just takes a shift of focus. And a wider marketing push.

4. The Morning Line. 9 o'clock.

Finally, move The Morning Line back to a more sociable hour. I have daddy duties on Saturday morning. I used to have hangovers on Saturday morning. 8am is the graveyard shift, and Channel 4 know it. If Aitchison has any clout, he'd be on to the guv'nors to move that back an hour.

**

So that's what I think, but what do you reckon? What do you think works, and doesn't work with Channel 4 currently? Who do you like to see/listen to? And who not so much? What would you like to see added to the shows to make them more appealing?

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59 replies
  1. colzoss says:

    happy to leave morning line at 8.00 but otherwise agree with your summary wholeheartedly

    • Singgooner says:

      Quite simple.

      Clare Balding just patronizes you all the time and seems to think her audience are all 7 year olds.

      Also, horse racing has shot itself in the foot with getting into bed with the bookies.

      How do BHA earn money – from bookies profits.

      How do Channel 4 racing make money – from bookies using their profits for in-programme and during commercials adverts.

      But, C4′s business model & income will dramatically decrease when the bookies realise they are paying for expensive packages with no-one actually seeing them !

      So, the punter, racing fan and viewer are not stupid – they can see the BHA, C4 Racing and the Bookies are all now just 1 BIG Bullshit PR mafia – C4 Racing allow spiv Bookies Reps spouting fictitious and fraudulent promotions to get people into their betting shops – but when punters go in – they are shafted. I give you 2 examples: –

      Derby Morning Line last Saturday – Kate Miller, William Hill Rep said – Australia 5/2 – MAXIMUM bet 50 quid. I walked into my locals W Hill could only get 10 quid on !

      And who can forget – Tarnya’s “phenomenal” Ladbrokes St Leger offer – which was basically fake !

      So, when viewers can see through the PR BS and the presenters are just p poor – what do you expect – give you a couple of examples : –

      1. Tarnya – when has she ever completed a sentence !
      2. Mick Fitz – what C4 a-hole thought the viewers want to see and respect what a Grand National winning jockey has to say about a) riding around Chester, b) riding in the Derby c) trying to win a Royal Ascot race !
      3. Token – Rishi – what is the point of this lad – so lightweight asking stupid questions – viewers can see he is there for 1 reason and that is why within the industry – his nickname is “Token”
      4. AGAIN Clare Balding – when she fronted BBC Racing – TV Viewing figures hit the floor – now she joined C4 Racing – TV viewing figures hit the floor – go figure – she had 1 good Olympics and then every a-hole in TV Land thinks she can walk on water ! The only thing in the water at the moment is C4 Racing viewing figures and they are drowning every year ! Go figure !

      So, it is quite simple – all of the above – give them P45 – cut down on the budget.

      Old days – Racing TV had 5 guys who knew their stuff.

      So, C4 racing – back to basics – Nick Luck presenter, Simon Holt.Richard Hoiles commentators, Jim McGrath and Graham Cunningham form experts – some non-entity in the betting ring is extinct now as you can only get a bet on the exchanges – so just put the betting show up and have Nick Luck or commentator give the betting show !

      Sadly, this will never happen – as the a-holes in TV Land believe their own BS and nothing will happen as the Racing Gravy Train will carry on – until it hit the buffers and it will big time when this contract finishes !

      I love racing – totally passionate for the sport – but I cannot watch C4 Racing – what other programme covering a sport is embarrassed to actually show the very thing they are there for – the HORSES !

      How can you take it seriously when you only see the horses 2 minutes before the off – then they chuck in a fraudulent bookie offer for 30 seconds within that time – you are just getting interested in the upcoming race !

      Oh and now – how is Channel 4 Racing going to increase Royal Ascot viewing figures – yes, patronising Clare Balding alienating the real racing fan and now Gok Wan – can you hear that noise ladies and gentleman – sshhh – listen – did you hear that – that is the sound of the last nail going into Channel 4 Racing’s coffin !

      Singgooner
      June 10, 2014 at 12:03 pm
      Reply

  2. ynwajim says:

    Fascinating read… individually I dont mind any of the C4 team, but collectively they just do not work as a bunch. At present I dont subscribe to RUK (but will as soon as possble) but from watching their coverage online,when streaming through a bookie, I nromally get more from the 2 mins before a race than you get from C4 in an afternoon! The ‘form’ analysis is the same old tired analysis, and you rarely learn anything you didnt know or dodnt think of – some video analysis of a horses last run,the odd bit of collateral form discussion – discussions about race times, with Jim’s timeform exprience etc are always ok, but never enough. For big races – they rarely discuss trends/stats, draw up a shortlist, rarely discuss pace etc. When you add that with a lack of personality on screen, then you have a poor, uninteresting mix. Agree that Chapman should be on there – engaging, entertaining and thought provoking – and if sometimes he irritates you it means he is doing a good job – you have to be engaged to be irritated!

    You also want to learn about the bits you cannot see,outside of just reading a race – how horses are trained etc – i like the feature films they use, but they are stale as well – reporter going to a yard,speaking to trainer etc. That film that the vet did (forget his name) two years ago before grand national – ‘how the national is won’ or something,looking at teaforthree,and how he was built etc – that was fascinating, and doing more of that kind of thing, in smaller snippets during programming would be interesting for me.

    C4 racing is rarely engaging,lacks personality and never sheds much light on anything new. It isnt engaging for anyone new to the sport and needs a rethink – but at least we have Gok Wan to look forward to at Ascot – god help us!

  3. Eric McMinn says:

    You have, as usual, covered succinctly all the main points. I could only add the word “boring”. Jim McGrath and Graham Cunningham are, as you say, of the same mould. I do not find them engaging. Even details like Mick Fitzgerald’s voice, it grates on me. I do like Nick Luck, he makes things more interesting. They should have left the old team in place.
    I often turn the sound down and go over to William Hill commentary and punditry. Ross Brierley, Chris Pimlott, Darren Own e.t.c.,are entertaining as well as being informative Channel 4 is not entertaining in my view.

  4. Steve says:

    I think your first point about touting the product is the key one. There will always be a drop in figures when any programme switches from BBC1 to Channel 4. So, racing now has to work that bit harder to raise the profile of the bigger meetings. The BBC had the advantage of trailing the likes of the Derby across its TV and radio family. Since racing has moved from the BBC the chances of hearing about upcoming events has dropped considerably. Racing needs to promote itself as a vital and exciting sport. There are some great younger jockeys and trainers who should be given a platform to show racing isn’t just old boys in flat caps or top hats.

    In terms of the Channel 4 coverage I don’t think they are that far off in terms of personnel. Removing McCririck was a really positive step in dragging racing coverage into the 21st century and appealing to a broader demographic. Nick Luck is one of the best sports anchors out there.

    The real issue of the coverage is an editorial one. They seem afraid to cover racing properly as a sport, and primarily as a sport as betting medium. Human interest stories aren’t that interesting, nor are sychophantic features about rich owners and trainers. Racing is a fantastically exciting and complex sport – there is enough there to talk about without resorting to puff pieces. They need the current team to more readily state their opinions, be willing to critique racing and ultimately show off their expertise. If they can’t do it, get someone new in.

    It isn’t an easy job appealing to both dyed-in-the-wool racing fans (who are hard to please as it is, and don’t like change) and a wider audience (who tend to be fickle anyway). But there are a lot of simple things that could be done. More promotion of the product, and a greater focus on actual racing and they might make some progress.

  5. Anthony says:

    I used to follow Channel 4 Racing most weekends and watch the whole programme as I found it enjoyable, entertaining, interesting and informative. The change in production team and presentation team has made it more technical and less entertaining i.e. one for the racing purists, whilst Clare Balding trying to overhear conversations in the parade ring and join in has made it more magazine style; neither approach interests me. So now I only tune in occasionally to watch a specific race I have bet on.

  6. Billp64 says:

    My opinion is that there is too much racing and no longer any seasons, in the past it was jumps for the winter and flat for the summer now we have all of it all the time. Also with the internet people use that to watch races as well so more competition for TV. The other problem which brought on by the internet is too many people selling a load of rubbish for monthly fees which again detracts. people do attend meetings where they want to in very large numbers so not a lot wrong there really. From TV point of view certain sports attract bigger viewers and always will.

  7. Malcolm Boyle
    Malcolm Boyle says:

    I don’t think the general racing issue much different to ‘church’ to a fashion, in that powers that be were too slow to realise that the public had options–options which are still growing week on week. Our climate, the people in power looking down their noses at people paying serious money for a day out are other issues in the broader sense, whilst C4 went the ‘twee route’, much to their cost in terms of broadcasting. I worked on the programme at the Cheltenham Festival some time ago and the system/team worked. Mal.

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      Good to hear from you, Mal, and many thanks for your thoughts. I’d certainly agree there seems to be a desire to maintain ‘production standards’ above audience figures.

      Hope you’re keeping well.

      Matt

  8. Kenneth Brehaut says:

    I still have small bets on the Cheltenham Festival , Grand National , and Derby but they have become a business and NOT a sport ,and unfortunately this has resulted in some unpallatable occurences ( I will not insinuate any form of corruption ) but there are numerous inquiries throughout the sports world and they seem to be of a VERY WEAK standard ( for what reason you must make up your own mind ) but as an average joe public I am of a mind to think many sports fans are of the same mind.

  9. john says:

    can’t watch C4 racing anymore, i record it, skip any presenter speak and just watch the races. Nick Luck seems like a good ‘un and Simon Holt is a good commentator (although I hate hearing ‘under the mccoy drive’… ‘in the hands of the 17 times champ’… or lots of other similar i love you APMcCoy type phrases). Bring back Francome and McCririck and lets have a programme for punters.

  10. Ken King says:

    agree in general with your comments.
    Grahame Cunningham is Im sorry to say totally useless and generally too smug.
    All my betting friends and everybody i meet who has an interest in racing say the same thing.We need people with personality something sadly missing, and theres no humour.
    We have the odd horse mentioned before each race, they appear to consider anything outside the first six in the race as no hopers.
    Also agree with your comments about Clare who at times seems totally lost. At times her knowledge about the game seems to have disappeared.
    Keep up your good work I really look forward to reading your regular intelligent comments.
    Perhaps you could get |a job at Channnel 4 racing.
    Mind however that might be a step down!!!!

  11. Keith Eckstein says:

    Hi Matt

    As you know, I’m not really a punter (although I live & breath horse racing) but, I think that, with the option to bet on Football & Tennis (and other sports) on BetFair, the younger generation is more attracted to those sports than to Horse Racing?

    And, to be honest, a lot of TV Racing is dead boring (I have vowed never to watch another All Weather race on TV ever again – I’d rather eat my toenails!)

    Perhaps if something could be done to “Sex Up” normal TV coverage of horse racing then more people (especially younger ones) would watch?

    TV did that with Snooker and Darts in the 70’s?

    My real bugbear with UK & Irish horse racing is Non-Runners; way too many of them and the quantity of non runners (as a percentage of declared runners) makes a mockery of anyone who studies form.

    Yesterday, in one race, there were 4 non-runners from an initial field of 13.

    As a non-punter I just don’t understand how real punters put up with this?

    Imagine if Bjorn Borg (I know, I’m showing my age there) decided that he was too tired to turn up for Wimbledon?

    Or, if it was raining and he decided that he played better on a dry tennis court?

    It’d be front page news – he’d be ripped to shreds by the critics.

    Perhaps the real problem is that, 20 years ago, if you wanted to make a few quid (or, at least, try to), you’ll go down the bookies and put your wages on Dennis the Donkey.

    Nowadays, there’s on-line Poker & Blackjack (and many other games) and, with our laptops/computers/tablets & smartphones, we don’t even have to wander down the street (in the rain) to be able to blow our wages?

    I’m not sure that the “Less Racing but Better Racing” argument really works either – all we really need is better media coverage of what we have now?

    In the eighties everyone knew who Ray Readon/Alex Higgens was; if you asked a hundred people (in a typical street in the UK) who Kirsty Milkshake (or, whatever her name is) was, how many people could tell you?

    I bet most people would say “Was she one of the Spice Girls?”

    And she’s a well known jockey!

    Better TV and general media coverage of racing (in a “Sexed Up” way) is what we need to entice the younger generation; otherwise Horse Racing will go the way of Billiards – an Old Man’s game?

    After all, can you tell me the name (without cheating and using Google) who the British Billiards champion is?

    Or who he/she beat to become champion?

    All the best

    Keith

  12. Ian says:

    I think you sum up very well many of the problems. Racing has 2 dedicated TV Channels that “sweep up” many of the most fanatical racing fans and Channel 4 therefore (or whoever has terrestrial coverage) have to appeal to the more “interested” in racing person as opposed to total “anoraks”.

    The problem with C4 is largely down to “presentation”. Claire Balding is over-hyped and as an “occasional” figure-head gives absolutely no continuity and frankly bores people. Nick Luck is absolutely no replacement for the excellent Alastair Down and Mick Fitzgerald is simply awful, full of favourites and low on humour. Analyse Balding/Luck/Fitzgerald v Thompson/Down and Francome and it is crystal clear where the problems lie. I am sure the constant bleating of the likes of Cunningham and Willougby about “sectional timing” is also a complete and utter turn off.

    The other inherent problem with C4 is their failure under the new governance to properly analyse racing both before and after the event and to feature far too many irrelevant features.

    Terrestrial racing needs a could of BIG BRIGHT new Presenters to headline the show and to present it to a new audience in a simpler more populist way – they are there if you merely look at those discarded or never considered – Mike Cattermole; Matt Chapman; Jason Weaver and in place of Balding for a proper feminine touch someone like Gina Bryce.

    I would bring back Big Mac on a (very) occasional basis and ditch Gleeson (awful); Stephenson (past her best) and look for someone/something a bit different…

    As for “The Morning Line” – I’d ditch it but start the actual live racing 30 mins earlier and incorporate bits of it as a “preview” to the live action.

  13. Iain says:

    Interesting piece – I agree with most of your points re the presenters although anything that keeps Willie Carson off the small screen has to be a bonus. Bring back John Francome ASAP, he was one of the few worth listening to. There are far too many presenters with precious little to say – get rid! I like Tom Segal and do think Paul Kealy has been a breath of fresh air. I also like Matt Chapman but he would not fit into the current set up. That said, not sure changing TML is going to make much difference to the overall interest in racing – it is designed for enthusiasts which is how I think it should remain – forget all the fluff. Not sure you will ever be able to return to the viewing figures of old – perhaps we should consider moving the Derby back to the middle of the week – it then has less competition and might give the marketing experts more to work with – after all the Melbourne Cup is run mid week. I think the Gold Cup and National capture the imagination of the non racing enthusiasts far more than a race where the horses run 3 or 4 times and then disappear off to stud – the public only engaged with the Frankel story because he was around for a few years. Final point – I wonder how many people now watch racing on bookmakers live screening – I accept that is likely to be your committed punter rather than an occasional viewer but it must have had some effect.

  14. David Brent says:

    The problem with channel 4 racing was highlighted when Clare Balding was heard to say that “we spend too much time on the prices of runners and not enough on interviewing the only people that matter, trainers and owners.” Without punters there would be no racing. Also the time taken to put the result up sometimes takes ages, they have even gone for a commercial break without giving the result.

  15. William Napier says:

    I like a bet. I also love my Saturday afternoons with my mates in the pub, watching Channel 4’s racing programme. However, like yourself and, I reckon, thousands of little punters, we are getting extremely tee’d off with their presentation. As you rightly say, Mick Fitzgerald is no John Francome, and the others on that panel have a distinctly patronising way of treating us, the paying public. And don’t get me started about that lass that sticks her microphone up the noses of jockeys who have just given their all, are breathless, and, I think, just want to make their way to the winners’ enclosure. ( The same thing applies to athletics, by the way ) I presume that the jockeys are under orders to be nice to her, but you can tell that some of them would like to tell her where to put her mike. You should start a petition to get something done about the way the punting public are being treated. Channel 4 doesn’t even provide a “Ceefax” type of results board any more, and trying to get the betting forecast shortly before a race is all a bit of a last minute rush in most cases. Keep up your good work, Matt.

  16. Kemal says:

    Well Matt..I agree with a lot of what you say….Channel 4 is far TOO professional nowadays! What they need is more of the blokey,ordinary punter type of person….McCririck,Francome…even Luke Harvey. Nick Luck and Cunningham are just too eloquent and Claire is too earnest I think. Racing and betting are not exact sciences and the presenters over analyse in my opinion…both before…and definitely after the race! We don’t want to see endless reruns and replays of each race…the trouble is they have too much time to fill between races and therefore have to fill it by doing each race to death. If you remember the days of the old ITV seven there was coverage of at least two meetings so that as soon as a race was over they went to the next meeting meaning that they didn’t have endless repetition. I personally think the ATR and Racing UK formats work well especially when they are covering at least two meetings each. Kemal

  17. heavypaul says:

    The last Morning Line I watched was 2nd August 2003, I tuned in to get the opinions for the Group 1 Nassau Stakes but because the race was shown on BBC it only got a mention from guest tipster Mike Atherton who tipped in the race, as a program dedicated to promoting racing not to even briefly cover such a high class race was nothing short of criminal.

    • Patrick Weaver says:

      I totally agree that C4s lack of coverage of BBC’s feature races was a huge mistake. Similarly ignoring the Scoop6 because Betfred would not pay them to promote it is of no help to those who like that particular bet. Patrick Weaver, Daily Star and Daily Express

  18. Lucky says:

    Another insightful piece of writing, Matt. I’m not sure I agree with all of your points but generally you are speaking for the majority of the betting public.
    I too was disappointed by the change of presenting team at C4. Too many people’s favourites got the axe in favour of more ‘expert’ presenters, which definitely lost viewers. The rot started to set in then.
    As mentioned above the rise in race viewers using mobile devices to watch, ties up with lifestyle choices which no longer include going to the pub with mates to watch big races. People now bet online and watch the event without stopping what they are doing with their friends and family. I can only see this trend growing and C4 viewing numbers decline further as we all become more ‘mobile’.
    I, for one, quite like the changes which have brought us more in-depth knowledge of the racing game, because I personally don’t enjoy all the unnecessary razzmatazz that retains and attracts some viewers. However I’m getting on in years now and am not the type of person who will keep the transmission of racing alive.
    C4 needs some fresh ideas and I think you have shown that there are people who can work a way out of their dilemma, however I think they will leave it till it’s too late again because once you’ve lost a customer it’s very, very hard to get them back.
    Great article once again. Never seen such long replies… just shows how much people care.

  19. Paul Williamson says:

    Great piece Matt! and i agree with all your comments. I have watched channel 4 Racing for some years now and it does lack something. I personally would bring back John Francome as i agree with you about Mick Fitzgerald, i would also try to bring in Stewart Machin a lot more as he doesn’t seem to be on channel 4 Racing much, and would also bring in Matt Chapman in place of Claire Balding. I also like Graham Cunningham and Jim McGrath(wish he would stop smirking all the time though!) Even Thommo wasn’t so bad(as long as you ignored his rubbish tips!), and even John McCririck! i do think they ought to make a few changes before it’s too late and unless you have ATR or Racing UK you’ll be stuck for racing coverage, best regards Paul

  20. Blokeshead says:

    Without in any way taking sides, how reliable are those numbers?

    Living overseas, I don’t have access to Channel 4 (although I’ve no doubt I could find it if I so wished, somehow). However, if I’m anywhere near my computer at the off in a race where I have an interest, I watch it on Betfair or Bet365. I doubt if this activity shows up in the numbers, does it? I’d guess a lot of British punters are doing the same as me.

    I’ve even been known to put the minimum bet on a horse on Bet365 so that I can watch a race where I don’t have a financial interest otherwise. It currently costs me 2 Swedish kronor to do so, or about 20p. Sometimes it even pays out! In the past, I would have popped up as a TV viewer. Today, my life wouldn’t change a bit if I didn’t have a TV.

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      That’s perfectly fair, Stuart, but are you suggesting this migration from TV to other media is responsible for a more than 25% slump in overall numbers?

      I know what you mean, and the digital effect cannot be dismissed lightly. But it is not responsible exclusively for such a huge drift… At least, I don’t believe it is.

      Best,
      Matt

  21. Andy says:

    Francome is the biggest miss, and I expect despite me watching for his horse comments, many of the ladies just liked to “watch Francome”. Nobody matches his sarcastic wit, and he brought the best out of Jim McGrath. Nice piece Matt, would be great if the C4 admin team chipped into the debate

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      Thanks Andy. I have invited them to, though alas I’m not holding my breath. Would love to be pleasantly surprised on that score, all the same.

      Matt

  22. Kev L says:

    Hi Matt
    Great piece as always. For my own two penn’orth, you may have partly uncovered a reason in your analysis. Cheltenham – solid viewings (National Hunt), Grand National – a good transition to C4 (National Hunt), the Derby – figures down (Flat).
    I am probably a bit biased as mainly an NH fan but I speak to a lot of people that enjoy racing and the vast majority find flat racing pretty boring with the exception of the big Saturday and championship races. Some of the dross served up at Yarmouth and Redcar midweek is simply awful (yes, I know that Sedgefield and Plumpton has its share of rubbish too) and of little interest to the average partially interested viewer. And don’t even get me started on the AW!
    I rarely watch C4 racing these days (other than to watch the big races in HD) as I sub to RUK and ATR and I am only an occasional viewer of the Morning Line as its just tedious. I recall that they tried yet another gimmick for the Cheltenham Festival this spring by getting a pig to chose a bowl of food with a horse’s name on it to find the winner (in the footsteps of Paul the German octopus) of the big race but on day one it shuffled across to the bowl with Our Conor (RIP) on it and after the awful events of that race, thankfully never repeated it.
    I hated Big Mac and I am glad to see him gone and certainly wouldn’t want Jason Weaver or Luke Harvey who I also find irritating. However, losing John Francome and Alistair Down was careless in the extreme and some of the others (Stevenson, Persad) are no longer good viewing. I quite like Jonathon Neesom on RUK on jumps form but I know he isn’t everyone’s cuppa, and I like Lydia Hislop too. I am sure we all have our favourites.
    The one question I get asked more than any other, and which I think C4 should do more on, is understanding racing. I am always being asked things like ‘what does well-in mean’, what is ‘ahead of the handicapper’, ‘why is he running in a novice chase when he won last time’, ‘what does badly off at the weights mean in this seller’, and ‘what is a group race penalty’?
    I think that they could do a fabulous series running over several weeks taking a small group of horses from each code and show them from maidens, through nurseries, novice races, into handicaps and then group/graded contests. They could show how the trainer initially places them on pedigree and homework, how they get an official mark, how they go up and down the weights with results and how the cream get to run off level weights in the top contests etc.
    I think that those of us who love racing often forget about understanding the basics and I am sure this is just one of those things that could help engage the audience.

  23. Dion says:

    Totally agree with you and as for the morning line I watch it on C4 plus at 9-00 so that’s not an issue. I personally like Nick Luck as he does have a good knowledge of the sport as for the rest of them I can take them or leave them. As an aside any news on the Irish tote syndicates as I have joined the Tote with a tenner and just waiting to see if you have any further ideas on this.
    cheers and keep up the good work

  24. Kay Kent says:

    Agree with many of your opinions of C4 racing & lookied at other opinions as well with regard to their diminishing viewing figures & have come to the conclusion that they can’t see what they are doing wrong!!! They don’t want to see or hear opinion,never change format of programming & can’t deal with humour…and I think these three things are needed

    On a Friday night I set myself with supper,drink & iPad up for @atr, generally Wolves & Dundalk & every Friday Jason & Luke have made me laugh,given me one or two very good tips,engaged with their ‘live’ tweeters, had someone of relevance as guest (love Mattie Batchelor) & live phone connections to owners trainers & jockeys…

    C4’s live coverage of racing is inadequate & sometimes to me personally embarrassing..you sometimes feel owners,trainers etc want to run for it…I know many agree to be approached to be questioned but you can tell the ones who haven’t. Lady Cecil,last year,had a horrid time with it..& this year fancy asking a trainer about her ‘lame’ horse when she doesn’t even know herself,straight after the race.

    Lot of work to be done to make me get out of bed for ‘Morning Line’ again.. Might watch C4 +1 if twitter timeline says it’s exciting but than that no.. I find the techy things the presenters use with their sticky fingers childish..get rid !!

    Shame, really because there is a good programme just waiting to be hatched..

  25. Phil Eadie says:

    Another excellent piece Matt and a question that’s very worthwhile addressing . Admirable that your prepared to dedicate time and effort to contributing to the solution and I for one wish that someone smarter than me would solve it. However the answer is as complex as the sport itself. By definition all contributers and readers here are enthusiasts and like me most are pretty unsatisfied with the terrestrial tv coverage, but that coverage to a certain extent is moulded by the image racing presents and its failure to appeal to the wider public. Too smart, too clever and too aloof for the most part for the likes of an informed viewer and completely off-putting for the casual viewer who has the potential to become an enthusiast.
    We then have to contend with the do gooders who believe the sport to be cruel and of course the stigma attached to gambling.

    There is public interest as a packed Derby Grandstand will testify but how many of those people even know that horse racing takes place in this country weather permitting 360 days of the year. I am often astonished when talking about horseracing with some people that are “interested” to hear them say is there horse racing on a Thursday then, I thought it was just Saturdays

    Its horse racing, a competition between horses, riders and trainers. One of the reasons its so difficult to cultivate new interest is that there simply is no structure or purpose to the competition that the casual viewer can discern. At the end of the season there is no champion horse and as we all know the Derby winner may never be seen again in public. The Grand National winner may only appear two or three times in a season and in all probability never win any other race.

    The champion jockey is rarely the best jockey, in fact the best jockey may not even be interested in becoming the champion jockey, as he simply doesn’t need to.

    The Champion trainer can be decided on the outcome of a single race due to the huge disparity in prize money on offer.

    When trying to gain someones interest, they want to know, whos the best horse, who’s the best jockey and of course who’s going to win. Even if those questions can be answered the potential convert swiftly loses interest when he cant get 10/1 about an odds on favourite. Which probably in my view brings us to the crux of the matter. The stigma of gambling, the uninformed automatically presume that to have an interest in horse racing is that you are someone prepared to lose this weeks wages or fritter away the mortgage money on the outcome of a horserace. I know people that spend more money on the lottery and the bingo than I spend backing a horse but they don’t believe they are the gambler that they presume I am.

    We may just have to accept that the sport as we know it is in decline and just not appealing to a wider audience who in this modern age have so many other avenues of entertainment to follow that are less complex and less controversial.

    Yours, ever the pessimist
    Phil

  26. terry says:

    Hi,
    Channel four has lost all its charisma;
    Get Rid of that dreadful Clare Balding, unload, Luck and Rishi, Tanya Stevenson has zero personality,i did not like McCririck, but at least he gave the show some personality Good or Bad,Bring back Francome excellent knowledge, good communicator,sense of humour he and Jim McGrath were great together. Emma Spencer, not really necessary, Alternative close it down and just have ATT!
    Terry

  27. Lucky says:

    Don’t know if I’m allowed a second crack at replying, Matt, but here goes.
    I do think the switch to other media tools is responsible for a 25% decline in TV numbers, and as I said before I think it’ll get worse.
    In the sports club I use on a Saturday, the numbers watching racing on telly has declined year on year for at least the last three. The younger gang now arrive way after the racing is over with tales of where they’ve been, what they’ve been doing, etc. and none of it was watching the TV, although they have seen all the races and have won or lost accordingly.
    We used to sit in a room full of people watching the races but for Saturdays Derby there was four of us!
    It’s a sign of the times, I fear.

  28. Dave says:

    I agree with much of your analysis Matt, I do miss a few of the ‘old team’ like Francome, Tommo and Down, but not McCrirrick and Leslie Graham. I was also horrified to read that C4 are adding the awful Gok Wan to their Royal Ascot team! What are they thinking?

  29. William Napier says:

    Gok Wan to be at Ascot! I didn’t know that! Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!

  30. Steve (@Kavismate) says:

    Agree with some and disagree with some, as will most people. I tend to think that C4 is losing sight of it’s core audience. That is people who like racing and like to have a punt. I do and, for boring reasons, I do not have access to satelite TV so apart from the internet this is the only racing I see.
    We all have our favourite and unfavourite presenters, for what it’s worth a bit less deference to the owners, trainers and jockeys would not come amiss. for all I disliked Big mac he would sometimes hit them in the right area.
    Quality of racing, outside the Classics, GN and Cheltenham doesn’t really matter in my opinion.
    So to sum up, they need to concentrate more on racing and less on fashion or what Ryan Moore had for breakfast. Have presenters who know their stuff but are not from too close to the Racing Professionals. A bit of humour might not come amiss either

  31. Matt P says:

    It’s just all a bit ‘meh’ isn’t it? Luck is a great host, find Cunningham pretty good, but after that it just ambles along. So where can it be improved:

    – more detailed pre-race analysis: gets too bogged down in how horses did LTO, or cliches (a Hannon horse will win every 2yo race, Venetia Williams will win every race in the mud, Fahey wins every race north of Watford, and so on). With modern day horse profiling, detailed RELEVANT trends analysis, dosage, historic draw/pace bias etc (not just harping on about it at races at Chester and Beverley), there is so much they could do and explore. And they should be banned from tipping favs up (!) – or at least have to suggest an e/w poke to go with it 😀

    – truly critical post-race analysis: now this may be a problem of the tight-knit nature of racing, but very rarely do we hear about jockey errors, poor strategies etc. But if Sky football and cricket coverage has shown anything, its that the viewers don’t want to be treated like idiots. They need thorough, sometimes damning (if needs be) analysis of what went wrong or right. We can often see it, so why won’t C4 articulate and explore it for us?

    – better in-between race segments: these are the killers. C4 has no idea what to do between races, and I’d guess this is when people switch off. We may occasionally get some trite fashion segments at the big festivals (normally poorly done but at least its something different), but after that it is as others have said earlier on (visit a yard, talk about current horses, reminisce, all in some whimsy context of nostalgia, a lolloping piano…) – its BORING. You could have racing review segments where they look at good rides from the previous week; real, gritty, ‘day in the life’ segments following a whole range of people in the game; features with people who have crossover appeal from outside the world of racing about why they get involved in ownership for example (there are plenty more footballers and celebrities out there who love the game who aren’t called Michael Owen or Jimmy Nesbitt too…); maybe a competition called ‘punters corner’ – C4 invite 3 or 4 different people who fancy themselves as tipsters to come on every week, make selections for every race, the winner to SP level stakes gets a luxury day out at the races the week after etc. Ask people to tweet in lucky 15s before racing starts, and follow the progress of successful ones, something to engage the everyday small stakes punter. Whoever gets the highest return gets to come on the show next week to talk about it for a couple of minutes and have an all expenses day out? These are just quick ideas off the top of my head, but what they are doing at the minute does not work in-between races.

    – there needs to be a personality on there. Chapman is the only one who could do this I think at present. Maybe not as a lead if they want a more serious figure there (tbh Luck does this role very well), but as a roving reporter maybe. He has the charisma where you could send him out amongst the punters to really strike a rapport and could some interesting convos going.

    Sorry for the long post, good to vent though! In a nutshell, its just all too serious and dull.

  32. Andrew says:

    There are so many competing sports on TV now that it is difficult to maintain and increase an audience unless you constantly evolve and keep attuned to what the viewer wants. Channel 4 have attempted to do this but failed because they have not got the mixture of content and presenter right. They need someone with the ability to convey horse racing in a positive light but in an affable manner with charisma so I would brig back Francome but lose McGrath who has now gone past his sell by date. I’m not a fan of Nick Luck who I consider pompous and somewhat pretentious and they need someone more down to earth and spontaneous as a front man and in this regard Matt Chapman would be ideal – a bit wacky but I think his manner would appeal to a younger generation and yet would still maintain a hold of the core audience who would preferably simply want to watch for thoughts on the upcoming televised races as the centre of the programme content.

    Why not ask the viewer what they want – create a blank canvass and introduce features based on the concept that the people who watch the programme know best. I personally think an idea to follow say 6 horses throughout a season and to send the cameras to the stables (assuming this is permissible) to watch them on the gallops and to see them when they attend the racecourse (similar to the documentaries we see so often) but instead of following people it is the horse which features as the star – at least this concept has the horse at the centre of the programme.

  33. don says:

    bring back mc cririck and francombe then I might tune in again morning line has always been to late some of us have to work

  34. Rob Pacitto says:

    Very interesting Matt. I am moved to comment! Exploring your presenter roles, and your proposals for improving the C4 team…

    Anchor
    C4 had four excellent anchors in Mike Cattermole and Emma Spencer on the flat, and Alistair Down and Alice Plunkett for the jumps. They were engaging and relaxed. Are Luck and Balding any better? No. Balding, nice person though I’m sure she is, has a really irritating habit of speaking in slightly hushed tones about how very important everything is…when actually it’s just some horse racing. Your choice of Matt Chapman…Matt Chapman? Really? I’ve always found him rather irritating, and consider him an apprentice McCricrick. It always makes me laugh when he takes the rise out of old John…he hasn’t noticed yet that he is turning into him, all he needs is the mutton chops and a hat. If the old team are not coming back to the anchor roles, then I would nominate Lydia Hislop and Oli Bell from Racing UK to move to C4…articulate, knowledgeable and enthusiastic, but relaxed about it all.

    Foil/Ex Pro
    They lost the best one, Francome, who was knowledgeable, funny and right a lot of the time. Mick Fitzgerald…hmmm…again clearly a lovely chap, but he is no Francome.

    Form Boffin
    You can’t beat Jim McGrath. At least they kept him. Dave Yates would be a good apprentice, more amusing than McGrath, and doesn’t over-analyse, and has a bit of Alan Partridge about him.

    Punter
    Saw Tom Segal and James Willoughby chewing the cud over value and betting strategies on Racing UK on Derby day…good grief, you can keep all that claptrap. And they were talking rubbish anyway. This is value, that isn’t value, you have to follow the market. Do you Tom, really? Yaaawwwwn. It has its place on Racing UK, fair enough, but you don’t want that sort of thing on C4. There simply has to be something better to fill the time with. Just a video of a horse chwing grass would be more entertaining that another Segal masterclass. Willoughby is a brilliant boffin on the flat though, you have to give him credit for knowing his onions and backing his views up with facts and stats, good on him. Not for C4 though!

    Thommo
    You didn’t have a section called Thommo, but he needs a mention. He is a really good bloke, has character and a bit of wit, and he’s a good commentator. Terrible decision to leave him out, if indeed it was their decision.

    In summary, if you brought back the old lot (I would not even object to an occasional appearance from McCririck) it would be a better team. I suspect the viewing figures would be about the same, but at least it would be a bit of fun.

  35. Liam says:

    Channel 4 was heading for trouble as soon as Alastair Down was sidelined. He had the knack of communicating with the working man and women, who make up the majority of the racing audience. John Francome was another huge loss. Should Ruby Walsh decide against a training career when he packs in riding, he should be signed up as a pundit. He is excellent on Racing UK, very insightful and articulate. On the subject of Racing UK, Steve Mellish is an excellent pundit. Doesn’t fit the Channel 4 brief, but talks sense and, crucially, doesn’t patronise the viewer. Simon Holt, though, is spectacularly good. One of the best commentators in sport.

  36. Wanderin says:

    I enjoyed reading your points regarding horse racing coverage on TV. BBC dumped horse racing and let C4 take it over.

    BBC then had popular coverage and better viewing figures as in the past. This was because of less media competition and on TV at the time. Concentrating on good quality graded meeting like Derby, Ascot, Cheltenham and Grand Nat ect ect. As a viewer we where all used to their programs.

    Now C 4 has taking over, I not a big fan, watching them trying to bring over the horse racing product and The Morning Line I not interested at getting up that early listening to there bland insight, definitely gone downhill as viewing figures has clearly shown.

    Presenters like Clare Balding, who I like, would be better with a trainer or someone to share with her, to add some knowledge and humour with the program, and not to been seen trying juggler her way to stage an interview, like at Epsom on Friday and Saturday . Why can’t C 4 just move camera when Ms Balding is ready for interview.

    Graham Cunningham, Jim McGrath and Mick Fitzgerald are very boring together, not a good mix.

    Nick Luck is too bland; Rishi Persad is a fresh face.

    Tanya Stephenson taken over from John McCririck. I only miss the Stats and history of the race, which McCrirck was very good, giving that info.

    Definitely miss John Francome who also gave good insight into racing.

    I like to see Tom Segal and Hugh Taylor do a preview 30 minutes before racing starts and ditch The Morning Line.

    I have listen to William Hill radio from time to time Rory Delargy, and enjoyed the humour of Chris Pimlott and Ken Pitterson, whilst pitting their tips together, having a good laugh.

    Now we have more choices with 2 Satellite channels, Betfair and Bet365 and our computer, mobiles to watch any high graded horse race anywhere around the world.

    This is the age where we are paying more if we want to watch. If we had more access say on free view TV, there may be more interest. After all horse racing is simple about betting, horses, owners, trainers, jockeys, bookmakers ect ect.

    I enjoy watching horse racing. I am a very small punter. I like doing the major meeting like Ascot, Cheltenham ect ect. I have no interest in low quality racing. I rather switch on my computer and watch The Breeders Cup or the Melbourne Cup.

    So we have RUK and ATTHERACES one you pay a monthly fee the other comes with Sky. I do not watch RUK, but I do enjoy ATTHERACES , they do a very good job.

    The presenters they have that I like Matt Chapman has a personality, (John Berry great coverage of the Melbourne Cup) Sean ‘Boycie’ Boyce, Alex Hammond, Zoey Bird, Liz Price’s, Mick Fitzgerald is good with another presenter, Jason Weaver, Steve Millar excellent coverage of American racing, Gina Bryce, Jim McGrath and John McCririck good double act when together from time to time, just to mention a few.

    They all have one thing in common, they love horse racing and bring it across very well.

    C4 need to have a fresh look at how to bring horse racing to their channel to compete, they sure could check out RUK and ATTHERACES bring in fresh new young knowledgeable people. If C4 do not improve their rating will go down and if we want to watch good quality racing, we can go else were. As this is the age of plenty of choices either radio, satellite TV or our computers to pick from.

    3. Let’s re-format this disk

    Matt I like that simple idea of showing people a different way of presenting the form say Tom Segal and Hugh Taylor do a preview 30 minute show, even thought I do not assess this part of the web page, as it for paying customers. As I said I do not bet all the time and when I do it is for small stakes.

    Well Matt yet another very good article you have wrote about, look forward to reading your views on Royal Ascot and turn the sound down when Gok Wan comes on 🙂

    Alex

  37. Doshtosh says:

    An interesting debate, and pretty clear that C4 need a clear out. There are many that could do the job, but, surely, the way to select them is to deselect a few in the queue. Thompson, McCririck, Fitzgerald, Cunningham, Cattermole, Spencer/Ramsden, Weaver, Cooper, McGrath, Balding, Mapletoft, Naughton, Bryce, Persad and Harvey are at the top of the list to be relegated to the bottom of the list, but, it’s all about opinions, and they are some of mine.

  38. debeers says:

    Your article certainly stirred a few thoughts. I seldom now watch C4. RUK has most of the top courses and gives a better presentation. Last saturday, I just watched RUK with odd tweak to Bet365. I would stop the interviews with the jockeys just after the race. At that point the jockey has not spoken to trainer/owner probably high on adrenalin and should be left alone. RUK will interview the jockey post weigh-in and much more interesting comments. I don’t enjoy Graham Cunningham and on C4 he seems to want to peddle his own views e.g.the doping affair at Godolphin he seemed to want to go on and on about it whereas the rest of the world was bored/uninterested and wanted to move on.

  39. pmumulgrew says:

    Good to see someone other than the “establishment” picking up the debate on this!

    First point: What and who are C4’s target audience? If they intended to go beyond the pre “new deal” era, then they appear to have failed, according to viewing figures. More worryingly, they appear to have lost the support of a large part of the audience they already had. If it is a new, wider audience, then the whole of racing has to behind it, and quite frankly the only thing being pushed by the marketing folks is either betting or “come for a day out”. There is no introduction to racing, it’s players, it’s ways of working, highlights, (Saturday evening!), and so on. At it’s heart racing can be complex, and as such those who are not interested find it hard to get interested. C4 are doing nothing to change that view.

    Next: On the basis of the above answer being, “not clear” then it is no wonder they are struggling. As they are unable to determine who they are going after, their marketing and presentation is muddled to say the least. Most of this you have already picked up on, but for someone like myself who was brought up on the C4/ITV racing diet, the new format is, well hopeless. To see fingers shuffling about video boards, and a nice new mobile studio, along with the same old faces, only this time brought together doesn’t work. Clare Balding now sees this as part of her portfolio of roles, (Radio, TV presenter, writer) and as such has lost her connection to the grass roots racing public. (My view only of course) Jim Mcgrath? Has become too aloof and pomp, and gives the impression of being better than anyone else, which he isn’t. Graham Cunningham..nice chap, but Who is he? Nick Luck does a sterling job but is not well backed up. I might be the only one, but I miss McCririck. Loud, funny, pain in the arse, but gave his views strongly. (I still recall him being ridiculed by all for opposing Carlton House in the Derby. Who were the fools then?)

    Finally: Having awarded C4 a new contract they have taken the old format, gave it a lick of paint and hoped that would make things better. Well it hasn’t worked, and it will continue to fail in my view unless a dramatic change in approach is taken. Re-vamp the schedule, (Morning line only on a Saturday at 8.00am and on big race meetings?. Why not every day, even if only for 20-30 minutes, different format?
    Get rid of that stupid point your finger graphics and get back to technicians providing pictures, and presenters and pundits giving insight and advice.
    As for the presenters, all I would say is “horse for courses” and if you haven’t worked out your course, in this case your audience, then who you have delivering the format will ultimately fail, as the horses are doing so here.

  40. William Kent says:

    In the past, I would NEVER miss the Morning Line (ermmm you want a 9am start? Try C4+1 – simples…) – but now I’m not bothered. Original format / presenters definitely missed, especially J Francombe. BUT – my main criticism / bitterness is that no-one has criticised the Abdulla multi-zillionairre for retiring Frankel. Possibly the Greatest Flat Racehorse EVER – but unfortunately we will never know. ‘Fraid that’s spoiled my enjoyment of flat racing (to an extent anyway) – hate to see his once-admired colours on another winner. grrrrrrrrrrrr

  41. Robert Grimes says:

    Hello Matty,
    Hit several nails on the head, damned good article.

    Now, today, I only ever watch races on which I have made a wager, the TV coverage is absolute tripe, full of know alls, wanna be`s and has beens, and C4 ……..yuk.

    Francombe was superb, and even the irritating `mutton chops` was better value
    than the present load of smarmy condescending rubbish they put out now.

    Keep kicking them Matty.

    Best Regards

    Bob

  42. oliverc says:

    A great and incisive write up Matt.

    I think Morning Line should remain at 8am for early bird prices etc but otrherwise agree with most of this.Sadly alot of the fun of both the Morning Line and C4 coverage has gone.

    John Francome a great loss not only a knowledgeable ex-pro but came out with some great on-liners. Also McCricrick although contrversial, always had an opinion and so managed to bait and animate the others.I also miss Alistair Down, Mike Catt and Tommo.

    Agree with you re Matt Chapman

    Other unsung heroes from the other channels arew Jonathan Neesom who is really knowledgeable about the jumps and Stuart Machin who seems to go completely under the radar but is really professional.

    (I have no Conflicts of Interest !

  43. Roy says:

    Brilliant article Matt. It seems that the one thing everyone is agreed with is John Francome has been a great loss. Any chance at all that he could be tempted back?

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      I suspect the bridges are burned, Roy. Francome was very tight with the ‘old’ production company, and the new one seems to have a fairly divisive top man.

      So, while the production team is as it is, I fear very little will change toward what the viewer might want. Which is obviously a real shame, and I seriously hope I’m proved terribly wrong about that.

      Best,
      Matt

  44. Fetlock55 says:

    Hi Matt,

    Bit of a delayed reply, but can only agree with most of the comments about J Francome (thought he and Jim Mcgrath made an interesting team to listen to). I think maybe part of the trouble with C4’s coverage is that in trying to appeal to both the ” dyed in the wool” racing fan and the more casual viewer is that they’re falling between the two stools and possibly not really appealing to either!

    Would definitely have liked to see Alistair Down retained too, as while Claire Balding is clearly knowledgeable, It seems to me she panders to much to the “establishment”. Not a great fan of most of the trainer/jockey interviews pre and post race either. It’s usually the same old rehearsed replies, with maybe the exception of John Gosden who often has something interesting to say.

    Wish i had a definitive answer but i suspect that there are a number of factors at play here.

    On a lighter note, i have a tip from my mole for the 2.00pm at Ascot on Tuesday.

    THE QUEENS HAT STAKES (FILLIES & MARES ONLY). LADY RIDERS.

    I’m told to expect a back to front baseball cap with Ipod accessory!

  45. Kit says:

    I find it interesting that nobody has mentioned the amount of bad publicity that the racing industry has gathered over recent years. The animal welfare issues associated with racing have been increasingly widely reported and the racing industry has done precisely nothing to address them. Unless it does it’s going to continue to lose supporters, particularly amongst the young, whom it needs to attract.

  46. Peter says:

    I think BetRacingNation on SKY 212 do very good on a small budget. in depth analysis on races from people who know about form. Channel 4 miss the fact people bet on horses & its become more a magazine style programme

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      Hi Peter,

      Yes, I absolutely agree. You guys are doing a brilliant job with limited resources, and I think C4 could take a leaf out of your ‘deeper analysis before the race’ book. And perhaps also your ‘no holds barred’ discussion of major racing topics.

      Keep up the good work,
      Matt

  47. Steve says:

    To understand why Channel 4’s horse racing coverage is in its present incarnation I feel it
    would be useful to take a step back and examine all the factors involved, some of which have
    little or nothing to do with racing.

    As an observer of the workings of the television broadcasting industry for many years, I long
    ago realised that politics – and not always with a small ‘p’ – has much to do with what makes it to air. In the not so distant past said politics would only affect drama and news programming but nowadays no sphere of a television channel’s output is exempt from what a pompous TV producer might call ‘wider considerations’, and sport is no exception.

    Having watched Channel 4 since its inception in 1982, I suspect the station’s bosses felt they were being, like, totally hip and cool by employing a woman – gasp! – to replace crusty old chauvinist John McCririck as the lead presenter of their flagship racing programme, however I don’t feel this particular gamble was landed.

    For all McCririck’s faults, which no doubt his detractors would list in meticulous detail, his animated delivery and banter promoted debate and interest in horse racing whereas I find Clare Balding to be a bland presenter who is unable to transmit the enthusiasm she has for horse racing to the armchair viewer. If the intention of hiring Clare was to attract a wider audience – and more specifically a female audience – to horse racing, I doubt this strategy will succeed.

    It will undoubtedly be heresy to some, but most women just aren’t interested in horse racing. In my many years in the workplace working in different sectors alongside large groups of women (I’m the chatty type so I get to know colleagues of both sexes fairly well), not one of my female co-workers has shown the slightest interest in horse racing and ditto my female friends. This has been in stark contrast to male friends and colleagues, some of whom could natter on endlessly about racing and punting generally, sometimes to the point of my reaching for the paracetamol.

    This isn’t the most scientific of surveys I admit and perhaps I ought to widen my social circle, but it’s possibly a reasonable snapshot of the average woman’s (dis)interest in racing or punting, as I suppose is the almost all-male preserve of bookie’s shops. Certainly, online punting has been a boon for those women who do have an interest in horse racing and like having a bet but find a bookie’s shop not particularly welcoming or pleasant. And the more supporters – male and female – which racing attracts obviously the better this is for the sport.

    Now I’m not saying Channel 4 or anyone else should ignore female racing fans, however I feel female interest in horse racing just isn’t there for it to be successfully cultivated. I don’t consider this to be a generational issue either as in my experience you can’t keep a lot of young blokes out of the bookies or away from betting sites on their mobile but young women choose to spend their disposable income on other things. It’s not about taking a jaundiced point of view but realising that men and women often have different interests, both in leisure and career terms, and despite what social engineers would have you believe.

    Back to Clare Balding, and although she seems a pleasant enough person (since she dropped the mickey-taking anyway), I feel Clare’s only a competent presenter and not the titan of broadcasting which some claim her to be, not that she is unique in this respect. Adrian Chiles, for example, is someone whom I’d consider to be an inferior presenter to Clare Balding as he doesn’t give the impression that he’s an unflappable presenter who reassures the viewer that he’s extremely knowledgeable and is very much at ease in the anchor’s chair.

    Having an interest in or connection to a sport isn’t really enough to front a programme on a popular sport on a terrestrial channel. Telly execs would deny it until they’re blue in the face of course (see Jamie Aitchison’s comments on viewing figures), but I feel there are other reasons why Clare Balding is being employed to present high-profile sporting events.

    I certainly don’t intend my opinion here to undermine or denigrate Clare’s professionalism as a broadcaster, and by no means do I consider her to be the only weak link in C4’s racing coverage, however if the channel is to improve its racing output then some cold hard facts will have to be faced, i.e. the racing team has to feature those who are there on merit and merit alone and C4 must be honest with themselves as to who their audience for horse racing is likely to be.

    Man City or England (don’t mention the World Cup for Gawd’s sake) wouldn’t pick their team based on any other factor except ability, and although the analogy is imperfect, a TV boss should also only recruit the best people available. I mean, can anyone seriously suggest that C4’s motley racing crew is a top team firing on all cylinders? Again the viewing figures would suggest not.

    Television nowadays – and as I mentioned above sports programmes are no exception – is in thrall to political correctness, partly because it’s the zeitgeist and partly because television tends to recruit from a stratum of society which finds the PC factor very appealing.

    This is all very noble and worthy, but whilst the aim with this approach in television and elsewhere is to promote inclusiveness it can also alienate those who form the lion’s share of the audience (with no alternative audience ready and willing to replace it) and also exclude those presenters who may have something to offer the broadcaster in question.

    You won’t find many working class people holding senior posts in tellyland yet working class folks arguably comprise the largest share of TV audiences and working class men are undoubtedly the largest group amongst horse racing punters. What I’m getting at here is that too many TV executives live in ivory towers and give the viewer what they (the TV boss) thinks they should have and not what the viewer actually wants.

    So, given that C4, like the BBC and ITV, tend to employ a certain type of person as a head of department, someone – and I’m not thinking of one journalist in particular – who doesn’t tick any diversity boxes is perhaps unlikely to be offered the gig of C4’s face of racing, even if they possessed a sound knowledge of the sport and an engaging personality which effortlessly conveyed this knowledge and enthusiasm to viewers.

    I mean, can you imagine another McCririck or a posh-sounding middle aged bloke such as the late Julian Wilson being handed the role of presenting major sporting events in 2014? Whether or not you were a fan of either pundit this just wouldn’t happen these days but ironically there are plenty of public school-educated people behind the camera making key decisions. Not all of C4’s racing team tick one of the aforesaid boxes, but (some of) these folks can only be there because their face fits and that’s even less of a reason to employ them.

    Affirmative action aside (ain’t alliteration awfully annoying), I agree with those who believe C4 should drop the flippant element of their racing coverage as I can’t see that this will attract many casual viewers, which is presumably the intention, and it may well have the unwanted effect of ‘proper’ racing fans switching off.

    Other than some viewers tuning in to gawp at the hats at Royal Ascot and unlike, say, tennis, I doubt horse racing on TV draws many casual viewers, therefore I feel C4’s best strategy would be to beef up its racing content – using features such as those which Matt has suggested – to appeal to the maximum number of its core audience. I won’t be surprised though if telly execs, who are notorious as a breed for refusing to admit they got it wrong, continue on their current path until the situation becomes untenable.

    PS
    Although Gok Wan’s a nice lad and was only there temporarily, to me it’s a measure of the production company’s incompetence when they can find a place for Gok on their racing team but not John Francome.

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