For the first time in nearly 30 years non-members of the Stewards Enclosure will be able to watch the Henley Royal Regatta without having to fight for a place on the banks of the Thames or book an eye-wateringly expensive ticket in one of the hospitality tents.
The 2015 Regatta – a key event for some in their ‘summer season’ – will now be streamed live on YouTube and on the Henley Regatta website following a deal with the production company Sunset+Vine. The delight for the 3,052 subscribers to the Henley Royal Regatta YouTube channel must be unalloyed.
There was a reason why in 1968 the BBC took the decision to halt live coverage of the event and why 8 years later ITV also dropped its highlights package – and the YouTube channel’s tiny subscriber numbers probably explains it. After all, salmon trousers, pinky rings and strict rules dictating that skirts must not be worn above the knee do not necessarily have a mass appeal, rather revealing an event that is very much clinging on to its past.
However advancements in production technology – including the introduction of cameras that transmit pictures over radio frequencies rather than via cables – has made the broadcast of such events far cheaper, and the Regatta production will be of High Definition television broadcast quality.
Quite whether the five days of rowing gets the size of audience that advertisers find of critical mass isn’t important – the feed will be shown free and without any commercial breaks. In fact, it almost seems as if the coverage is as much for the guests at the Regatta itself, with screens in the Stewards Enclosure to enhance the experience of visitors to Henley over the five days of the festival.
While there are no plans for the live racing to be broadcast on a television channel, Sunset+Vine is creating a highlights programme that it hopes to sell as part of a news package or to sports programmes. But what is more exciting is how technology has allowed access for all to a previously niche event that was dominated by an elite. This also chimes nicely with the fact that person who implemented the initiative – Sir Steve Redgrave – is the first chairman of Henley Royal Regatta not to have been educated at Oxbridge.