It's just a year now since Channel 4 updated and relaunched its Saturday morning racing programme The Morning Line. It was probably due for a revamp, as the format had been virtually unchanged since it began 20 years ago.
The core features – preview of the day’s key races with the focus on those to be televised in the afternoon; highlighting The Racing Post's Pricewise selection; charity bets from the presenters; and interviews with a jockey, trainer or occasional celebrity, remain unchanged. Alongside the new set and refreshed logo there are a number of lighter touches aimed at making the programme more popular. Thus, we have viewer tweets scrolling across the bottom of the screen, music and captions to introduce the leading contenders for the main race, and a racing version of Top Gear’s "star in a reasonably priced car." In this, the studio guest has a minute to answer questions on racing, with his score going up on the leader board.
Central to the new format has been the introduction of Nick Luck as the regular presenter, who producer Sophie Veats describes as "an excellent host who brings the best out of people." He certainly has a very relaxed and personable style, which has gone a long way to generating the lighter touch, which the programme now presents.
Jamie Aitchison, live sports editor at Channel 4 explained what they were aiming to do in the revamp. "We want to popularise it without losing the core audience. It's the core audience that so many programmes forget about and we know there are some people out there who haven't enjoyed some elements of the new programme. You're never going to satisfy everyone who wants an hour of betting and form."
It's taken some time for the new format to bed in. Aitchison acknowledges that first they tried to cram too much in, and that they had to pare back some of the new features a little bit. He said, "We’re aware of the need to be serious on the big days and cut back on the froth." We should see that serious emphasis over the next few weeks during the build up to Cheltenham.
That's not to say there won't be any further changes. One of the things they've tried is a live interview with a trainer from his yard via a Skype connection, but this suffered from technical problems. Veats thinks these are pretty much sorted out and plans to re-introduce those interviews.
Overall Channel 4 are happy with the changes and say that The Morning Line has improved its audience by an average of 2% and has also contributed to the 5% increase during 2011 in viewers of afternoon racing. The Morning Line looks set for a long and happy future.