Lights, camera, action...around the country

  • Posted: Thursday, 1st July 2021
  • Author: Carl Evans

Carl Evans gets views on this new form of ‘broadcasting’ from around Britain’s point-to-point regions...

Devon & Cornwall’s impressive connection with livestreaming broke new ground, but what were the experiences in other regions?

In the Northern area, Alnwick’s Ratcheugh Racing Club meeting in December was one of the few which organised pay-per-view to help fund the livestream. Clerk of the course and committee member Tom Oates says: “In very, very broad terms it cost us about £1,400 and it brought in £1,800.”

Not surprisingly he says: “We had a committee meeting recently and it is definitely something we are considering doing again,” although the figures are not completely black and white. Being “pioneers” meant the club gained a slightly favourable deal from the livestream providers, and the package included the PA system, radios and walkie talkies which would have cost about £1,000 to hire.

In addition, viewing numbers were almost certainly helped because the meeting took place behind closed doors at a time when owners were not allowed to attend.

Oates says: “We are quite lucky with the timing of the meeting, in that we can attract horses trying to qualify for Cheltenham and we also get some very nice maidens who are suited by the course. After our meeting Tattersalls and Goffs were onto us for films of the maiden races which they could use to promote horses which were going to their sales. We charged for this service, but in future it could be that we get sponsorship from such companies and they get the films.”

He adds: “I don’t think it [livestreaming] would detract much from the crowd we could expect in a normal year, and by livestreaming we are giving sponsors a wider audience. Point-to-pointing has a tight budget, but it is up to the sport to provide the best livestream possible. If the coverage is generally regarded as poor that will put people off.”

Welsh considering priorities

Covid restrictions meant there was no point-to-pointing in Wales during the most recent season, although trainers and owners based in the country were able to run horses in England.

Beverley Thomas, secretary to the West Wales Point-to-Point Association and a shareholder in several pointers, says: “I watched the coverage when I couldn’t attend meetings and enjoyed what I saw – it was tremendous to see what could be achieved from zero, but I suspect the viewing numbers tailed off once owners and spectators were allowed to go and the weather improved.

“That would impact on livestreaming in Wales because much of our racing takes place in the spring.

“At the moment I would struggle to persuade our gang [meetings in Wales] to embrace it. We have not staged any point-to-pointing for two seasons and I believe the emphasis will be on getting up and running again. I’m not saying we will never livestream in Wales, but probably not next season. If we have a very early meeting and there is a restriction on who can attend we might livestream, but it will be up to individual meetings.”

‘Potential there’ in East Anglia

Mel Sharp, secretary to the East Anglia Association, says: “We staged two meetings during the season and there was livestreaming at both. Higham raced on Good Friday, just after lockdown eased and owners could not attend, while High Easter was the final weekend of April.

“I believe both meetings covered their costs and were fairly happy, and High Easter is used to putting up a big screen [hired from Livestream supplier ARB] because it usually clashes with the Grand National.

“We have more to discuss on the subject, but there is a good chance we will try livestreaming at Horseheath next season and if we can get the paying bit sorted that will help. Some people paid generously to watch [through Just Giving donations], others didn’t.”

Horseheath in Cambridgeshire, where livestreaming could feature in the 2021/22 season

Sharp watched coverage at meetings around the country, and says: “We enjoyed it. The presenters are important and generally they were good. The potential is there, especially when the weather is poor.”

50/50 in Yorkshire

Guy Brewer, secretary to the Yorkshire Association, says: “The Middleton Hunt was the only Yorkshire meeting which tried livestreaming and they broke even, but only because of sponsorship.

“My father was among those who paid to watch, and then couldn’t get on, and were unable to watch replays. He emailed the company but received a standard reply that was of no help.

“I watched the Middleton coverage where Andy Thornton was presenting and one southern meeting where Sam Davies-Thomas and Charlie Poste were on the microphones. They all did a good job – it was interesting to hear their views without having it shoved down your throat.

“I watched it with a friend who has no interest in racing and they understood what was going on.

“I think it’s a generational thing. The older generation will prefer to go racing, while the younger ones will be happy to watch it on their phones – but there’s a lot of competition trying to grab their attention.”

When asked if he thought Yorkshire meetings would be livestreaming next season, Brewer said: “I think it’s 50/50.”

Keep plugging away in Wessex

The Wessex Association secretary Kirsty Boutflower says: “I think livestreaming has a future [in point-to-pointing], and as Gordon Chambers said at the recent PPSA [Point-to-Point Secretaries’ Association] AGM, the genie’s out the bottle now.

“Only one Wessex meeting, the Quantock [at Cothelstone], made a profit [using pay-per-view] and meetings don’t want to commit to it and lose money – we need a national sponsor, but that’s not going to happen immediately.

“For older people who cannot go it’s a godsend, but it’s probably parochial and people are only going to tune in to watch their local meetings. In time they may start watching racing in other parts of the country if the presentation is good enough.

“It’s a difficult one, but I think we should keep plugging away. E-ticketing has worked because it had to work [to comply with Covid restrictions at fixtures which went ahead], and once people get used to livestreaming it should attract more viewers.”

On the production side . . .

Bob Boote of Oxfordshire-based ARB supplied the livestream capability at 30 meetings last season, working alongside freelance camera operators such as West Country Videos and David Jones Video who filmed the action and interviews.

Boote’s company specialises in hiring sound, vision, light and power – from PA systems to big screens – at indoor and outdoor events, but has added livestreaming options to the company’s repertoire. For an overview of the emergence of livestreaming at point-to-points Boote says: “There is lots of potential and some encouraging signs.

“On the negative side the quality of production was often poor, in part because different companies were providing different elements. At one meeting the PA guy turned up, erected his kit and went home. We had to set the sound levels. I’m not trying to take business from other contractors, but getting one company to handle the production would be better and the costs dilute across the disciplines, such as PA system, radios, big screen etc.

“Some of the presentation was amateurish, an example being announcements that cut across interviews – all these things can be polished up. On the plus side there were some very good interviews and some presenters did a good job of keeping it lively.”

Boote says costs are clearly going to be a factor in future livestreaming at point-to-points, and says: “Some committees, shall we call them the older traditionalists, are not keen, the younger, go-ahead committees are up for it. There are lots of variables, both in the amount of equipment you hire and what you do with it. You get what you pay for, for example some courses need more than one camera, but the production needs to be good to get established.”