Marcus Townend: Channel 4 face one helluva broadcast challenge in replacing the BBC
22:00 GMT, 25 December 2012
How ironic that the final BBC racing broadcast at abandoned Chepstow will not even manage to make it out of the starting stalls.
Leaving the sport with not even a whimper seems appropriate for an organisation whose divorce from racing has been coming for a long time.
The faces in front of camera soldiered on but the BBC television executives above them steadily lost interest, their mood not helped by the period when they were paying for their dwindling rights and Channel 4 was being handed cheques by the sport to keep its cameras rolling.
Changing of the guard: Clare Balding will be the new face of Channel 4 racing
The landscape was transformed when bookmakers were allowed to start advertising on television and suddenly a live broadcast from Sandown became much more than merely an expensive, work-intensive option to another repeat of The Sound of Music.
Channel 4’s interest surged. Make no mistake, they have not signed a four-year deal for the terrestrial racing rights simply because they are in love with the sport.
It would be easy to drift away on sentimental memories but the truth is that the new
Channel 4 racing coverage has the potential to innovate and excite.
When cricket took the same journey from BBC to Channel 4, the station impressed with its refreshing new approach.
No show: Chepstow races which was due to the the last meet shown on the BBC has been postponed due to the weather
A re-jigged team of pundits line up under the leadership of the BBC’s transferred Clare Balding —not a bad signing given her current standing in the post-Olympics world of sports broadcasting. The new squad could have been more radical but it will be the attitude and tone set by their masters that is all important and early mission statements look promising.
Channel 4 looks enthused by their new venture and that, in contrast to the BBC’s attitude, has the capacity to shine through on screen.
Of course, adverts for the first time during the Grand National or at Royal Ascot will grate but longer programmes and less races will make the shows feel less like a mad dash through betting opportunities.
The BBC has a huge archive of racing memories — Red Rum at the 1977 Sports Personality of the Year show; Bing Crosby appearing on Grandstand on the day in the 1970s when the chaser Uncle Bing won and Frankie Dettori’s magnificent seven at Ascot in 1996.
But the baton has been passed on and it might not be a bad thing. A challenge has been set Channel 4. We will see in the coming weeks and months how well it does.