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New era for morning show as racing debuts on ITV4

Oli Bell (left), host of The Opening Show, with main ITV Racing presenter Ed Chamberlin
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The producer of ITV Racing's new Saturday morning show hopes to deliver a tone and style that viewers will want to keep coming back for as the network's replacement for Channel 4's long-running The Morning Line launches in a new time slot and on a different channel.

The Opening Show, hosted by Oli Bell, will have a similar brief to its predecessor as it sets the scene for the afternoon's racing, yet it will go to air an hour later than The Morning Line at 10am and on ITV4, which will be the home of Saturday racing from now until the Cheltenham Festival. In Ireland it will be continue to be available on TV3.

ITV's four-year reign as racing's exclusive terrestrial broadcaster began last Sunday, when coverage of Cheltenham and Musselburgh on its main channel drew a peak audience of 831,000 and average of 676,000.

ITV4 cannot command comparable figures to its sister channel but, having showcased a roster of other live sports, including football, tennis and cycling, it has established a 63 per cent male audience that is higher than any of the main terrestrial channels.

It is available to 98.5 per cent of the population and online through the ITV Hub.

Because of pre-existing contracts to show cycling and darts on ITV4, ITV on Friday confirmed five days' racing this year, including two Saturdays – March 4 and July 22 – will move to ITV3.

Tom Scudamore will be the first guest on The Opening Show, which will be broadcast live from Sandown, where Bell will be joined by Luke Harvey, who like Bell made his terrestrial TV debut last Sunday.

Tom Scudamore: Thistlecrack's jockey features along with Joseph O'Brien
In addition to previewing the day's big races, the show has an interview with Joseph O'Brien plus the first in a regular series of behind-the-scenes features from former Olympic champion cyclist Victoria Pendleton.

Paul Cooper, ITV's deputy racing editor who produces the show, said: "Joseph O'Brien talks about his decision to retire from the saddle and make the full-time move into training at the age of 23, and Victoria Pendleton does the first of her features, where she goes behind the scenes at the yard of Andrew Balding.

"That is more to educate people who don't know what goes on during the course of a morning at a yard. She will be doing a series of these between now and the Grand National meeting."

 Cooper continued: "The tone and content will mirror what ITV Racing is trying to do across both The Opening Show and live racing. We're trying to get the balance right between hoping there's enough in the programme that both racing fans and those who aren't can enjoy. We're trying to educate both, which isn't easy, but we think we can strike the right balance in time.

"By going out at 10am we're hoping there will be a lot more going on on the racecourse. We know we can't please everyone with the time, but we'll see how it fits with viewers.

"My ideal scenario is that people watch it, enjoy it and tune in next weekend for Warwick, and then we'll have done the job right. We want to increase the audience over time but hopefully people will like what they see and come back a second week."


Racing on ITV3

March 4: Doncaster and Newbury

April 28: Sandown

July 13-14: Newmarket

July 22: Newmarket, Newbury and Market Rasen

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