Kevin Blake

In this this week's column, Kevin Blake looks to the future of racing broadcasting; wondering how will it look down the line when embracing new technologies.

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WHAT WILL THE HORSE RACING COVERAGE OF THE FUTURE LOOK LIKE?  

It has always seemed quite odd to me that so much emphasis is put on the importance of racecourse attendances in horse racing. Those charged with marketing the sport, particularly in Ireland, often seem to have maintaining/increasing attendances as their main goal.

Of course, it goes without saying that it is important for as many people to go racing as possible and have a good experience. However, make no mistake, the future prosperity of horse racing is far more dependent on how well and how widely we showcase the beauty and excitement of the sport to those watching on television or other devices.  

Even in its simplest visual form, horse racing is an incredible sport. Human athletes riding one of the animal kingdoms most remarkable athletes at absurd speeds in the tightest of quarters and even over obstacles. In the context of any sort of normality, it is absolutely crazy.  

The challenge that broadcasters of horse racing face is that after hundreds of years of mainstream popularity, the world has perhaps become a little bit too familiar with the remarkable spectacle of horse racing. Thus, they have to find creative ways to fully convey the excitement and intrigue that unfolds in horse races.  

This tends to present a conundrum for broadcasters, as they have to balance the expectation for their live shots of the races to give as clear a view of as many horses as possible with implementing exciting ways to showcase the action. With this in mind, one suspects that just as much of the drive for more innovative and immersive coverage of horse races will be behind gathering footage that can be used after the races as well as during them.  

Vehicle-mounted tracker cameras, jockey cams, shots from blimps, high definition and super slow-motion footage have already served to greatly enhance the viewing experience of horse racing. Personally, I can’t get enough of super slow-mo footage of racing – seen on Sky Sports Racing - it is an absolutely brilliant way to better showcase the power, beauty and mechanics behind what is such a fast-paced sport.  

Yet, these features are only the tip of the iceberg. The way horse racing is being showcased to the world has already progressed significantly and with camera technology advancing at such a remarkable rate, it can be expected to get even better in the years ahead.  

Equine Productions gave us a glimpse at what might well be the future of jockey cam footage in horse racing by producing incredibly immersive coverage of the Pat Smullen Champions Race at the Curragh last year. Each jockey was kitted out with a helmet-mounted camera that recorded 360-degree footage that once uploaded can be controlled by the viewer.

Even though the quality of the end product on the day was reduced by rain, the resulting footage very much appealed as being a game changer. It really did an exceptional job of showing the viewer what it is like to ride in a race and to be immersed into what is a unique sporting situation. It revealed a new and extremely stimulating interactive dimension to horse racing.  

Even something as simple as being able to hear the verbal interactions between the riders before, during and after the race brought the experience up a level. It makes one wonder whether horse racing broadcasters should be looking to put microphones on jockeys in races more regularly to allow the public into their world, similar to what we see in other sports with referees and participants.  

The dream is that this sort of technology will eventually be integrated into the biggest races in the sport. The possibilities are endless. Imagine having interactive jockey-cam footage like that from the Derby or the Grand National? It would look absolutely sensational.  

There are barriers to integrating this technology into racing, both in terms of cost, practicalities and health/safety concerns. However, if the technology progresses sufficiently and the authorities get on board with it, we will get over these barriers and the coverage of the sport will be taken to another level when we do.  

While it may take time to get to that sort of level, there are other innovations that can and are being integrated into horse racing right now.  

Drones have transformed broadcasting in recent years and their potential have already started to be utilised by horse racing broadcasters. This footage and the content driven by it from Australia is a really good example of how their potential can be harnessed.

Not only does such footage give the viewer an exciting alternative angle from which to assess how races have panned out after they have finished, it gives pundits and analysts far more scope to better explain what has happened in races and why.  

Such footage also has the potential to be integrated into live broadcasts of races, as a drone view from above the stalls is in my opinion by far the best angle from which to watch how well horses have got away from the gates and settled into their initial positions.  

On a related point, another innovation that wouldn’t require special permissions from the racing authorities and could be implemented straight away has been on show in Japan in recent weeks.  

They are racing behind closed doors at present and in an effort to keep the racing public informed and immersed in racing from a distance, an interactive camera that live-streamed footage from the paddock was set up at Hanshin racecourse.

This allowed the viewer to control their own view of the parade ring, focusing on whatever it was that took their interest as the horses came and went for each race. It is such a simple idea, but it opens up an array of possibilities to improve the coverage of racing.  

Such a facility would be greatly appreciated by those that wish to observe the horses in the preliminaries in whatever way they wish. Retaining all this parade ring footage online would also allow users to go back and look at the appearance and behaviour of individual horses before each of their runs to establish any patterns or points of note.  

For example, if a horse was seen to be sweating up prior to a race, a curious observer could go back and check if they behaved similarly prior to their previous runs.  

Having much more extensive footage from the paddock available in an archive would also offer ample opportunity for viewers to be educated on the intricacies of inspecting horses in the preliminaries.  

The potential for a simple innovation such as this to greatly improve the viewer experience and to allow pundits/analysts to use the gathered evidence to produce a higher standard of coverage is endless.  

This paddock camera is something that HRI and the BHA should potentially be looking to organise for the benefit of the racing public rather than expecting someone else to do it. It would be a fabulous addition to the coverage of the sport and would very much represent money well spent.  

These are just a handful of examples, all of which are potentially achievable and deliverable in horse racing. The importance of delivering a compelling visual and intellectual sporting product to the public cannot be overstated and horse racing needs to continue to innovate if it is to keep pace with the rest of the sporting world in this regard.  

If you were in charge, what would you like to see done differently or added to the coverage of horse races? Let your thoughts be known by replying on Twitter or Facebook.

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