Why ITV’s commitment to UK racing should be celebrated
Back in mid-December of last year, ITV found itself in a bit of a pickle. It had planned to broadcast the action from Ascot and Haydock for its flagship ITV Racing Saturday programme. The weather, however, had other plans, cancelling the cards at the two venues at short notice. It prompted a flurry of phone calls from producers, a scrambling by the BHA, and the transporting of presenters across the country to broadcast from the all-weather tracks at Lingfield (five races) and Chelmsford (three races). The show, as they say, did go on, even if it was a bit of a panic to get everything and everyone into place.
The weather, of course, can play havoc with racing schedules, particularly in the winter. But the desire shown by the showÔÇÖs management to get some live action on television was admirable. It would have been all too easy to stick a repeat episode of Columbo on the box and give the team a weekend off. But ITV Racing is now a firm fixture on our television, and, as such, it fulfils an important role in supporting the wider racing industry in the UK. ItÔÇÖs not perfect, but the coverage is largely excellent. But overall, its commitment to broadcasting live action should be celebrated.
A quality broadcast
Of course, ITV Racing is not the only show in town. Expert punters might pay for Racing TV, whereas others might stream the action online. But ITV is the go-to option for the average racing fan, including the casual punters who only tune in for the big events like the Cheltenham Festival and Grand National. One must remember that a broadcast needs a lot of content to fill the gaps between the races, and ITV certainly does a good job in that respect. It keeps punters abreast with live updates of the horse racing odds, sure, but there are also vignettes and packages that celebrate the history and heritage of the courses, runners, and riders.
Indeed, one of the things that sets ITV apart from a lot of its competitors is the quality of the broadcast. Camera angles, the number of cameras, the HD broadcast, commentary, and other elements all combine to make a typical race look like a blue riband sporting event. This is an important engagement tool for audiences. If youÔÇÖve ever walked into a bookieÔÇÖs shop and seen some of the lesser feeds of live racing, you can appreciate why ITV has spent money on a quality broadcast experience to appeal to the casual fan. The additional content surrounding events like the recent Grand National really added value and atmosphere.
ITV deal extended to 2026
In March of this year, ITV extended its broadcasting deal until 2026. Since it took the reins from Channel 4 in 2017, it has averaged over 100 days of live racing per year. One of the most important aspects of its time as the only free-to-air racing channel is its commitment to keep chipping away at the paid-for content held by Sky and Racing TV. For instance, it was recently agreed that the Dubai World Cup would be on a free-to-air channel for the first time in UK television history.
Of course, we should not sound overly zealous. ITV is a business, and the bosses of the television channel would not be showing the action should audiences not be responding. But viewing figures are increasing, and it is also bringing in what all racing bosses desire ÔÇô younger viewers. Sure, there are criticisms, including the fact that the jumps season is perhaps too Cheltenham-centric (hardly exclusive to ITV).
But the broadcasterÔÇÖs commitment to showing live racing for free whatever the weather is a cause for celebration. In short, itÔÇÖs doing a great job, and long may it continue.