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ITV Hopes Cheltenham Festival VR Highlights Will Help Take Horse Racing Mainstream

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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ITV will distribute daily VR highlights of Cheltenham Festival online in the hope that behind the scenes view will capture atmosphere and attract new fans

The Cheltenham Festival is one of the biggest dates in the racing calendar, with 28 races taking places over four days. It’s one of the most prestigious too and for many, it’s the event of the season, even if it is second to the Grand National meeting in terms of prize money. 

It has been held in the Cotswolds since 1860, but the 2017 meet will see the introduction of virtual reality (VR) highlights for the first time as new broadcaster ITV seeks to attract new audiences to the sport of kings. 

ITV’s coverage of British horse racing started on New Year’s Day and has aimed to make the sport as accessible as possible and replicate the feeling of being at the racecourse. For example, presenter Ed Chamberlin presents from the track rather than the studio. 

ITV Racing 3

Cheltenham VR highlights 

The VR highlights, produced by VR City, will be assembled by three camera crews will make their way around the Cheltenham course and capture areas not usually seen on television. The idea is that viewers will get a ‘behind the scenes’ perspective that helps to capture the famous atmosphere of the festival. 

The All England Club (AELTC) has attempted to achieve something similar with its mobile applications, website and social media content for Wimbledon, but this is the first time a UK racing broadcaster has created VR highlights. 

For ITV, the Cheltenham Festival is the first major date since its contract started and one of the reasons it bought the rights for £30 million. Apart from a debut on the main channel on 1 January, the action has so far been on ITV4, a low profile helping the new team find its feet.

Cheltenham is the first time many punters will watch ITV Racing and if the broadcaster is to maximise its investment, it needs to attract more mainstream viewers. 

“ITV are really excited about the opportunity of giving viewers a unique perspective onto one of the greatest sporting events in the UK,” said Ed Ross, head of marketing and media at ITV. “When it comes to thrills, anticipation and atmosphere, nothing comes close to the Cheltenham Festival, so we wanted to give viewers who couldn’t be there the opportunity to be there with us, right at the heart of the action.” 

Each day will have a different theme. For example, open day will have the Grandstand and another will have the jockey weighing room. 

The 360 degree highlights will be distributed via Facebook and YouTube every evening at 19:00. Social too, is seen as a way of breaking out from linear television broadcasts and engaging fans more often. Many of these platforms have younger audiences, something which is seen as essential for the sport’s future. 

Quiz: What do you know about virtual reality?