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Opinion: can live-streaming spell a bright future for point-to-pointing?

“It was brilliant, wasn’t it?!” has been the universal reaction from everyone I’ve spoken to about the success of British point-to-pointing’s first attempts at live streaming and I can only agree.

The 2020/21 season started close to three weeks early (24 and 25 October), under tight Covid regulations and with no paying public, and for the first time, meetings were live-streamed as full programmes across social media, complete with interviews and cameras on both the paddock and course. Such was its success, other fixtures are now looking to do the same, with the Kimble confirming this week it will be streaming action, hosted by Luke Harvey.

The “true pointing weather” of pouring rain at Bishop’s Court on Saturday added an extra level of difficulty to an already huge challenge, but the team showed what was possible and history was made as the first British point-to-point was “live”-streamed (there is a small delay, for betting regulations) across the world. Anyone who has been to Hartpury will know how patchy the phone signal is around there, so to watch a beautifully clear picture appear from a field some two miles down the road on Sunday was remarkable.

There were a few teething issues, which those involved are looking to iron out. There are also plans to improve the telephone betting side, as well as how the streaming service can be monetised in future. It’s not something that happens by luck and it’s not cheap to do well. A team of five has been working on streaming for the Devon & Cornwall area meetings since March and has involved a significant investment, paid for with a grant from Totnes and Bridgetown Racing. We Stream Events produced an exceptional service and having Cornelius Lysaght and Lizzie Kelly as hosts was fantastic.

Both fixtures were rewarded with strong viewer numbers — more than 18,000 tuned in for the East Devon, with an average viewing time for the core audience at 28 minutes, and both days had peak audiences of over 800. I really hope it helps raise the profile of the sport and helps bring in more people, more horses and more money. Drawing in a wider audience to one part of the equestrian world in turn helps all horse sport as it trickles through to the rest of the equine industry.

Another side I hadn’t even considered is the connection live-streaming of horse sport brings to those who cannot be there. Pointing is a rural sport, providing jobs and a social scene in the countryside, as well as the racing side. For a number of people in rural or isolated areas, it is something they look forward to as their hobby on weekends through the long winter. Being able to provide that connection either to fans, supporters, connections and owners at home on their own or in groups of up to six, where it is safe and within government Covid regulations to do so, is important for people’s wellbeing and the future of the sport. Replace “pointing” with “eventing” and the same is true there.

The basic recipe for any good sport is the athletes, the quality and the stories, and pointing has all of those, which came across on the live-stream. Strict rules were in place owing to the pandemic and of course there were no spectators, but those I’ve spoken to said there was still a good atmosphere with everyone glad to be back, sticking to the rules, and cautiously hopeful for what that means for the rest of the season.

There was the first glimpse of future stars from many yards having their first runs ahead of careers under Rules; successes from the more traditional side of the sport, with progressive pointers returning for the 2020/21 season to the delight of their supporters; close battles from popular open horses and lovely veterans, such as Big Casino (14) looking half his age as he bounced round with his ears pricked for three miles.

I love standing in fields in all weathers watching horse sport and talking to those involved. That said, it was a rare treat to be able to follow the action from the warm and dry, wearing fewer than three coats and a Thermatex.

I can remember the exact time I last didn’t need a coat at a point-to-point — it was at Garthorpe in summer 2019. It sticks in my mind as I’d been in breeches all morning and thought how nice it would be to wear a summery dress instead of pulling on hot jeans. As every person who has worn a floaty summer dress in a breezy field will appreciate, I regretted the decision as soon as I stepped out of the car. Things came to a head when I recklessly decided to carry a pint of lemonade back from the bar to the presentation area and the strap on my bag broke, leaving me standing like an anxious plum holding a dangerously full glass in one hand and a phone, notebook, several pens and racecard in the other (waiter’s carry, legacy of working in hospitality). Someone kindly came to my rescue, albeit while pointedly commenting on the quality of my bag (“that’s seen better days, hasn’t it?” he wasn’t wrong).

While I’d still a hundred times rather be back watching in person, complete with pouring rain or a repeat of the dress/breeze/cheap handbag battle, being able to watch from home is certainly the next best thing — long may it continue.

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