Television sport: When Harry met Reg on digital

Television's new face had a hard task and made a knockout start, says Alex Hayes
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The Independent Online
WHEN ONDIGITAL - the operator for terrestrial digital television - announced that it had secured the rights to Mike Tyson's comeback fight against Francois Botha, more than a few eyebrows were raised. Not only was the fee of pounds 2m deemed rather high, but many also wondered how First ONdigital, ONdigital's flagship channel, could cope with such a high profile event as its launch programme.

They need not have worried as the sight of three familiar faces calmed early nerves. Sitting comfortably in a London studio were ITV's Jim "I'll anchor any sports programme" Rosenthal, the former World Boxing Council heavyweight champion turned pantomime regular, Frank Bruno, and his old sparring partner Harry Carpenter, who, despite retiring some years ago, remains ever knowledgeable of the boxing world.

With the programme starting at 1am and Tyson's fight not scheduled until 4.15am, ONdigital were always going to have to fill their airtime intelligently so as not to bore what few viewers they may have had (early reports suggest no more than 150,000 people own ONdigital in the UK). But again, any fears were laid to rest as the scheduling proved intelligent. The first hour consisted of studio chat, a report from Las Vegas by another familiar sporting face, Gary Newbon, and interviews with both fighters. Then, following two minor fights lower down on the card, came the main event at around 4.30am.

Commentating on the pictures of Botha walking up to the ring, Carpenter came up with his obligatory great line "He's looking a little bit white. Well, he is white. Pale, let's say he's pale". It was like old times; a fact confirmed by Reg Gutteridge's presence at ringside with Gary Mason, the former British heavyweight champion, alongside him. Hearing a live commentary, rather than relying on an American feed, from two known and respected pundits further contributed to the night's success.

In many ways this was the marriage of ITV and BBC's boxing families; and it worked.

For ONdigital, this was a comfortable victory. Like Tyson, they can now await their next challenge in a more relaxed state of mind.

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