Big test for Channel 4 racing

Channel 4 team - up to the mark?

Channel 4 team - up to the mark?

Channel 4 faces its first major test today with its first Festival coverage – assuming Cheltenham passes its 1030 inspection. The broadcaster and its new production company IMG have come in for a fair bit of criticism since launching its new look racing coverage on 1 January.

Sports editor Jamie Aitchison isn’t surprised at that, but says the broadcaster is well able to ride that, and has already taken on board some of the issues raised and made changes accordingly. He specifically referred to the graphics they use, perhaps just a cosmetic matter, but important nonetheless.

As yet, however, this is the first on air day when they will have the opportunity to demonstrate that they can capture and convey the big event atmosphere, excitement and tension. Of course, for the presenters it is nothing new, and with the admirable Clare Balding heading up the team, what Aitchison called “the most ambitious” Cheltenham Festival coverage in Channel 4’s history couldn’t be in better hands.

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The broadcaster has 39 cameras around the course, one of which, the Movie Bird Crane, is an import from the film studios. They haven’t used this before, so it is a new piece of technology – the very area that has drawn most complaints from viewers. But if the shots from the inside of the final fence up to the finishing line from this new camera are anything like as good as the team hope, it will be a welcome addition.

Aitchison recognised the particular challenge faced today, saying, “This is the first big test for us and we know that. The essential elements, namely great race coverage and quality features, will be the same.” I’ll leave you to make up your own mind whether Russell Brand and Alan Carr represent quality features once you’ve seen what they come up with.

He was quick to defend the new team, and called for viewers to give them time to gel. He recognised that as yet they were not showing the same sparkle that we had become used to, but did not see that as a major problem, emphasising that each brought a detailed knowledge and passion about racing into the broadcasts. True, but the old gang had that as well, and one of them, Alastair Down, returns this week. He won’t be back in the studio, but has recorded a series of essays, which will be slotted into the coverage.

“We understand what people want from Cheltenham, but the IMG coverage will look and feel slightly different, which it has to. Channel 4 did not win the rights to all racing’s crown jewels on a manifesto of status quo.” Come Friday we’ll have a good idea whether, having thrown out McCririck, Cattermole, Francome and others as the bath water, the baby has gone as well.

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1 reply
  1. Tony says:

    Think they have missed people like big mac, thommo and John Francome. It seems like any Saturday Meeting which is a real shame.

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