Behind the scenes in the BSB OB truck: the key roles and responsibilities

The 2017 British Superbike season is heading into its final stages, with the remaining three rounds forming part of the ‘Showdown’.

Silverstone was the last stop on the championship prior to the Showdown, and it was there where this writer was invited into the British Superbikes outside broadcast (OB) truck. Richard Coventry, who has been the television director for the MCE British Superbikes series for the past twelve years, is our guide to the Televideo truck. In the second and final piece, we talk about the various roles involved in live motor sport broadcasting.

As referenced in the first piece, Coventry sits on the front desk, with the monitor wall in front of him. But Coventry’s role as television director is significantly more encompassing than that. Coventry in his role speaks to all the key players around him within the British Superbikes production crew, from the producers through to the commentators, commonly known as ‘talkback’ where information travels back and forth between the various parties.

“I sit in the middle of talkback communication between myself, the Eurosport producer, the camera operators, the VT operators, the sound crew, the engineers, the presenter, the commentators, but also race control, so I can speak to the race director if I need to,” Coventry explains.

The end-to-end process between an incident happening on-track, through to the television viewer hearing the story is fascinating. Because of the communication lines that Coventry has, it means that he can gather information on a riders’ condition from the medical centre, and then relay the facts to the commentators. “I talk to everybody effectively and disseminate the information coming back.”

Sitting next to Coventry is a race producer and a vision mixer. Communication across the front desk is vital. The primary role of the race producer is to keep an eye on emerging battles, deciding with Coventry whether to switch to the battle. Following the decision, the vision mixer cuts the pictures to cover said action. The race producer sits to the left of Coventry, with multiple timing screens in front of him on the monitor wall.

“Myself and the race producer will decide whether the battle for the lead has spread out, we’ll look down for a battle for fifth or a battle for 19th. We must make a judgement call on what the best thing to follow is, it’s not always the same outcome. We’ll prioritise what battle we think is more important for the race, for the championship and we will take a view on that.”

British Superbikes - running order
The Eurosport running order for the British Superbikes qualifying programme from Silverstone on Saturday 9th September 2017.

Behind the trio on the front desk is the Eurosport programme producer and the production assistant (PA). Unlike in Formula 1 or MotoGP, the British Superbikes OB truck controls both the race feed and the Eurosport pictures, hence why there is both a race producer and programme producer. The programme producer writes the running order for the Eurosport show, whilst the production assistant at a high-level ensures the show does not fall off the air. “We do have to think on our feet, the running order has some leeway,” explains Coventry, “but everything is timed down to a second.”

“The PA tells us whether we’re over, under or on-time based on the running order and the event, whether we need to adapt the running order to keep us on-time. If there is a red flag, we might have to consider moving breaks, and it is the PA’s duty to communicate that back to Eurosport. And, to work out, further down the running order later in the day, the things that we need to change to make sure that we’re on time.”

Like with Sky’s Formula 1 programming, many other countries also take Eurosport’s British Superbikes output, and it is the responsibility of the PA to communicate any changes to the other channels. “The PA communicates with the rest of the World Feed recipients, such as Setanta Africa, Sky New Zealand, the people who are taking it live elsewhere to let them know if there’s been any changes to the schedule of the event, so they may want to change what they’re doing as well,” Coventry tells me.

Alongside the key roles, there are other important pieces of the jigsaw. Coventry also referenced the on-air presentation team, the camera operators, an editor, two assistant producers, four replay operators, riggers, amongst many more people behind the scenes. “It does go off successfully, I suppose that’s a relative term! It’s like the proverbial duck on the pond isn’t it, the legs are going ten to the dozen underneath, but the ducks are smooth on the surface!”

“It’s pretty labour intensive, you’ve got to have an operator for most cameras, if we’re live we need a live gallery PA. We couldn’t reduce this beyond where we are without affecting the output. It’s a fairly slick and tight operation. There’s a lot to consider, but fortunately there’s enough of us to think of it all.”

Behind the scenes in the BSB OB truck: the monitor wall

The 2017 British Superbike season is heading into its final stages, with the remaining three rounds forming part of the ‘Showdown’.

Silverstone was the last stop on the championship prior to the Showdown, and it was there where this writer was invited into the British Superbikes outside broadcast (OB) truck. Richard Coventry, who has been the television director for the MCE British Superbikes series for the past twelve years, is our guide to the Televideo truck.

The main component of any OB truck is the wall of video monitors, which is where most of the focus lies. At a very high level, the monitor wall is where the director can see the variety of sources. For Coventry and his team, this can consist of around 13 track cameras and two pit lane cameras.

The size of the operation massively depends on the series, those of you who read my MotoGP piece with Dorna’s Managing Director Manel Arroyo will know that Dorna have around 150 cameras per race! Nevertheless, the principles behind the outside broadcast truck are similar.

“The monitor wall is a multi-viewer, so its eight monitors split with lots of sources. Every source that’s available to me in the vision mixer is on the monitor,” Coventry explains. There is a left bank (with two monitors), the four centre monitors seen above and a right bank (with two further monitors).

The centre bank of monitors is where Coventry’s attention is for much of the time. “I’ve got 13 track cameras directly in my eye line, underneath the main programme output (PGM). Next to that is the vision mixer preview (EDT PVW – PVW) so what is coming next,” Coventry says.

As you may expect, the track cameras are ordered by their position on the circuit. So, track camera one, controlled by Phil, is positioned at Copse (identified on the screenshot above as 1 Phil). Further round the track, Matt is controlling track camera six at Club opposite the Formula 1 pit lane, and so on and so forth.

A special case is track camera eight, identified above as 8 Dodgy. The reason for this is that the camera can double up and act as two different cameras. In this instance, the camera can see the bikes entering and exiting the arena section. This is common place at tracks where there are tight complexes, or the layout is small enough to allow multiple uses of one camera (the camera high up above the start-finish straight at Monte Carlo is another example of this).

The two graphic operators (GFX and GFX 2) sit up in Race Control with the time keepers. The left-hand and right-hand bank of monitors feature repeating sources.

“I’ve got four replay machines, which are called EVS W, X, Y and Z respectively. Each replay machine can record up to six sources,” Coventry explains. Both sides also contain the off-air output for the channels that British Superbikes are broadcasting on (O/A 1, O/A 2, and Quest), the two pit lane cameras (RF1 Chris and RF2 John) and the big screen output around the circuit.

Eurosport use the two pit lane cameras for their pre and post-session presentation, controlled also from the centralised OB truck. “Because of the unique way British Superbikes is run, as well as directing the race production, we also do Eurosport’s presentation. In MotoGP or F1, you would have a BT or Sky Sports truck and then an international World Feed truck, where the UK broadcaster would sit downstream. For the superbikes, unless there is a clash with World Superbikes, we do everything.”

The most interesting part of the side banks is a camera identified as ‘Q-Ball‘. “We control the Q-Ball camera from the truck. The camera this weekend is at Woodcote, coming into the start-finish straight, it’s very close to the track so we wouldn’t place a camera operator there, it gives us a fast speed shot,” Coventry notes. The benefit of doubling some elements up is so that nothing can be missed.

Lastly, specific to the left-hand side are the raw timing screens (P1P2 and P3), and the final satellite output (Line 1). Adrian Bourne, normally sitting to the left of Coventry, will use the timing screens to keep an eye on any emerging battles and on any fallers. One thing readers may notice that is not here is any source on-board cameras. The reason is cost related: the cost of live on-board cameras for motorcycling is significantly more than their four-wheel counterparts. Some On-board footage however is produced for the BSB YouTube channel by Drift Innovation.

British Superbikes - OB truck - buttons.jpg

Below the wall of video monitors is a series of buttons, known more formally as the vision mixer, responsible for slicing the final live product together. There are four repeating banks, each correlating to the sources in the screenshots above. On each bank, there are buttons for the 13 track cameras, the two pit lane cameras and four replay mixers. “It’s layers of vision mixer, cascading into the layer below, so we can make layered complicated effects if we wanted to,” Coventry explains to me.

Each layer also contains a variety of lime green buttons, generated before the live show. “All the green buttons here are macros, which are things written in advance, they’re complicated moves that you wouldn’t be able to build live so we build them in advance. For example the start lights animation is a macro, the team boxes, changing the name of the team boxes, these are stored in the mixer, as is the BSB bug and the timing graphics as well.”

The detail above covers the technical element, including the variety of outputs and graphics. But every television product has a human touch to it, and British Superbikes is no different. The technical side of television production is only one side of a complex story…

British Superbikes - OB truck - Monitor Wall Left 2.jpg

Scheduling: The 2017 Singapore Grand Prix

The fly-away races begin for the Formula 1 paddock with the Singapore Grand Prix! It is Singapore’s tenth race since it returned to the calendar in 2008. The race will air live across Channel 4 and Sky, which is great news as Singapore is one of the longest races on the calendar, meaning it receives a brutal edit when not covered live on free-to-air television.

Channel 4 have two special programmes during the weekend. The first is their usual F1 Meets output, this time Lee McKenzie interviews Sir Jackie Stewart. The special edition of Speed with Guy Martin also airs this weekend as he becomes part of the Williams team for the Belgian Grand Prix weekend. North One Television have turned the programme around quickly, with just a three-week gap between Belgium and transmission. I am slightly surprised that Channel 4 have not held this back until October and November, but at the same time it will have more of an impact airing closer to the filming date.

Singapore will play host to one of Channel 4’s stronger line-ups this year with Eddie Jordan and Mark Webber alongside Steve Jones and David Coulthard. Over on Sky, Rachel Brookes was due to return to their output for the fly-away races, except she has been ruled out through knee injury, so viewers will hear more of Craig Slater this weekend. Brookes joins NBC’s Jason Swales on the side lines, Swales having broken his ankle over the Summer break. Get well soon both!

There is no Formula Two or GP3 action in Singapore, both championships return in three weeks’ time from Jerez. This weekend does mark the end of the IndyCar Series season, with four drivers in contention for the crown, as always, the action is live on BT Sport.

Channel 4 F1
15/09 – 09:25 to 11:05 – Practice 1
15/09 – 13:25 to 15:05 – Practice 2
16/09 – 10:55 to 12:25 – Practice 3
16/09 – 12:55 to 15:45 – Qualifying
17/09 – 12:00 to 16:15 – Race
=> 12:00 – Build–Up
=> 12:35 – Race
=> 15:10 – Reaction

Supplementary Programming
16/09 – 12:25 to 12:55 – F1 Meets… Jackie Stewart
17/09 – 20:00 to 21:00 – Speed with Guy Martin: F1 Challenge

Sky Sports F1
15/09 – 09:15 to 11:25 – Practice 1
15/09 – 13:15 to 15:10 – Practice 2
16/09 – 10:45 to 12:10 – Practice 3
16/09 – 13:00 to 15:40 – Qualifying
17/09 – 11:30 to 16:10 – Race (also Sky Sports Mix)
=> 11:30 – Track Parade
=> 12:00 – Pit Lane Live
=> 12:30 – Race
=> 15:30 – Paddock Live

Supplementary Programming
13/09 – 20:30 to 21:00 – F1 Report: Preview
14/09 – 11:00 to 12:00 – Driver Press Conference
14/09 – 23:45 to 00:00 – Paddock Uncut
15/09 – 15:15 to 16:00 – Team Press Conference
15/09 – 16:00 to 16:30 – The F1 Show
20/09 – 20:30 to 21:00 – F1 Report: Review

BBC Radio F1
14/09 – 21:00 to 22:00 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
15/09 – 09:25 to 11:05 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
15/09 – 13:25 to 15:05 – Practice 2 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
16/09 – 10:55 to 12:05 – Practice 3 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
16/09 – 13:55 to 15:05 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
17/09 – 13:00 to 15:00 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live)

Blancpain Sprint Series – Nurburgring
16/09 – 12:45 to 14:15 – Qualifying Race (BT Sport 3)
17/09 – 13:45 to 16:00 – Championship Race (BT Sport/ESPN)

British Superbikes – Oulton Park
16/09 – 16:00 to 18:00 – Qualifying (Eurosport 2)
17/09 – 13:00 to 15:00 – Race 1 (Eurosport 2)
17/09 – 16:00 to 18:00 – Race 2 (Eurosport 2)
20/09 – 20:00 to 21:00 – Highlights (ITV4)

British Touring Car Championship – Silverstone (ITV4)
17/09 – 11:00 to 18:30 – Races

FIM CEV Repsol – Jerez
17/09 – Races
=> 09:45 to 13:45 (BT Sport/ESPN)
=> 13:45 to 15:00 (BT Sport X3)

Formula V8 3.5 – Austin (BT Sport 3)
16/09 – 14:45 to 15:45 – Race 1
17/09 – 15:45 to 17:00 – Race 2

IndyCar Series – Sonoma (BT Sport/ESPN)
17/09 – 23:30 to 02:30 – Race

World Endurance Championship – Austin
16/09 – Race
=> 17:30 to 00:45 (BT Sport X3)
=> 17:45 to 00:20 (
=> 17:50 to 21:55 (Eurosport)
=> 22:30 to 00:15 (Eurosport)

World Superbikes – Portimao
16/09 – 10:45 to 16:00 – Qualifying and Race 1 (Eurosport 2)
17/09 – 10:45 to 13:00 – Support Races (Eurosport 2)
17/09 – 15:00 to 16:00 – Race 2 (Eurosport 2)
19/09 – 20:00 to 21:00 – Highlights (ITV4)

The schedule above will be updated if anything changes.

In conversation with Manel Arroyo

It is Saturday afternoon at a surprisingly warm Silverstone circuit. I am half expecting rain at any moment, but apart from early morning drizzle, the MotoGP event took place in remarkable conditions throughout.

About half an hour before the official post-qualifying press conference started, which featured the Moto2 and Moto3 pole sitters, plus the top three riders in the premier class, this writer headed for the Dorna offices situated next to the media centre. Inside, there was a flurry of activity, with a range of guests heading in and out at various intervals.

Dorna have been the commercial rights holder for MotoGP for just over a quarter of a century. “This is our 26th year. We started in Japan in March 1992, the team back then was just twelve people”, Manel Arroyo, who is Dorna’s Managing Director, recalls. Since 1992, Arroyo and his Dorna team have seen a range of technological changes, on both large and small-scale. Arroyo comments, “One of the big moments is when we changed from analogue to digital, it was a huge change for everyone in the industry.”

“Since then, we have gone from 4:3 to 16:9 [in 2008], from SD to HD, and now we are here looking at 4K technology. The cameras that we now install on the machines have significantly more performance, which allows fans to follow the likes of [Valentino] Rossi. This is what makes our work very enjoyable.” During this weekend’s San Marino MotoGP, fans can access a live 360-degree view from Andrea Dovizioso’s Ducati via the MotoGP Video Pass service.

A worldwide operation
– 155 cameras per race
=> including 95 on-board cameras
– 360,000 kilograms of equipment
=> 230,000 for the teams
=> 130,000 for Dorna
– 92 tonnes of TV equipment
– 50 trucks
– 4 cargo Boeing 747 planes

From twelve people in 1992, the number of people working for Dorna on their MotoGP coverage has increased to 300, with a split of around 230 people on-site and 70 people in Barcelona depending on the race. “For all of us, Sunday is a special day, because it’s real racing, there’s great racing and competition between our riders,” says Arroyo.

“Each race seems better than the last one, although it will be difficult to have one better than Austria! The paddock works altogether as one, for the common good of the sport, that means riders, manufacturers, teams, FIM, Dorna, broadcasters, media and all our other partners. It’s important that we listen to what the riders like, what the riders don’t like around the rules, what the broadcasters like, what the broadcasters don’t like and so on, whether they want the show in another format or package,” Arroyo continued.

> BT Sport likely to retain UK TV rights for MotoGP

Although not always visible, the work that Dorna does goes beyond the MotoGP paddock, with Arroyo keen to point out the links to other motorcycle series to help talent flourish through the system from end-to-end. “We have been running with Red Bull the Red Bull Rookies Cup for many years. We also have the Asian Talent Cup that we’re running in Asia with Idemitsu and Honda, this is its fourth year. And [prior to Silverstone], we’ve started the process for the British Talent Cup, we will be running it next year.”

“We have connections with MotoAmerica, the American championship. We help them to produce the TV feed, and with the sporting and technical regulations, as we understand that in the long-term this will help grow the appeal of our sport.” Following Silverstone, it was announced that MotoAmerica would be expanding with a junior series, plus it is enriching its online offering so its European and Latin America fans can follow the series.

On the social media front, Arroyo is happy with the metrics, as demonstrated on this site. “We are reaching through social networks [to younger audiences], as you know very well, we’re the best motor sport in terms of followers in the social networking space!” The feeling that I received from Arroyo is that MotoGP is in a good position.

Attendances are fluctuating, with an unusually low attendance for the British MotoGP. Overall, whilst the picture is positive, the championship cannot afford to be complacent with roadblocks ahead, which is why Dorna are preparing for the long-term future and the next generation by investing in feeder, localised series around the world.

Formula Two smashes its way to a record high; Formula 1 jumps to season high

The high-octane action of Formula Two helped the championship to a record high audience on Sunday morning, overnight viewing figures show, in what was an excellent weekend for both the feeder series and its bigger brother.

Formula Two soars to record high
Last week in the Belgian Grand Prix ratings post, I joked that I would report the Formula Two audience figures as a one-off. Evidently that changed the moment this past weekend’s figures landed in my inbox. Formula Two, or its predecessor the GP2 Series, has always been the unloved sibling. Whilst Sky Sports F1 has broadcast the World Feed for the leading feeder series, and GP3 since 2012, both entities have been under promoted for various reasons well documented on these pages.

Nevertheless, the new emphasis on the series from Sky and Liberty Media, combined with the rise of Charles Leclerc and Britain’s Oliver Rowland has caused a spike in Formula Two’s viewing figures. The feature race on Saturday was delayed thanks to the excessively long rain delay for Formula 1 qualifying. An audience of 68k (0.6%) stuck around from 17:15 to 18:30 on Saturday evening, a very good figure considering the delay.

The following day, an audience of 103k (1.6%) watched Formula Two’s sprint race from 09:10 to 10:05, peaking with 128k (2.0%) as the race ended, the highest ever overnight audience for a feeder series race on Sky Sports F1 dating back to the channel launch in 2012. Depending on the overarching circumstances, Formula Two can rate anywhere between 10,000 and 60,000 viewers, a very wide margin, but the audience for the feeder series is not as loyal as Formula 1. For a small number, Formula Two may be ‘must watch’, for others it will be a case of watching if nothing else is on.

Quite simply the audience is fantastic for the series, and should please those at Sky and Liberty Media. The next round in Jerez is a standalone event during the Japanese Grand Prix weekend, and based on current standings, it is likely that the championship will be resolved during the weekend. I dare say that Sky should consider giving extra treatment to the Jerez rounds (whether via some extra London studio wrap around or some other mechanism) otherwise the potential championship decider may go unnoticed.

The good news extended through to Formula 1, as both Sky Sports and Channel 4 saw healthy boosts over the weekend, perhaps helped by no top-flight domestic football action.

Live coverage of the race, broadcast across Sky’s dedicated F1 channel and Sky Sports Main Event from 12:00 to 15:20, averaged a strong 857k (9.5%). Note that I would not normally tape-check Sky’s numbers, however Sky concluded their main show ten minutes early, meaning that Main Event went off the air earlier than anticipated. In any event, tape-checking makes little difference to the overall audience as Sky Sports F1’s post-race segment performed better than usual. An audience of 550k (6.1%) watched on the F1 channel, compared with 307k (3.4%) on Main Event, a split of 64:36.

Sky’s audience is their highest ever for the Italian round and their highest European audience since the 2016 German Grand Prix. The same facts apply for the peak audience of 1.39m (15.0%), which occurred at 13:30. At the time of the peak, 883k (9.5%) were watching via the F1 channel, with 505k (5.4%) watching on Main Event. However, Main Event’s audience grew further to a peak of 586k (6.1%) of 14:15, except during the same period, the F1 channel dropped to 762k (8.0%). Overall though, Sunday was an excellent news day for Sky, and they have several reasons to be happy.

After a rough couple of races, Channel 4’s numbers also flourished across the weekend. Their race highlights programme averaged 2.15m (11.6%) from 17:45 to 20:00, their highest audience for highlights since Germany 2016. Channel 4’s peak audience of 2.72m (16.2%) was their highest since the Spanish Grand Prix in May.

The combined audience of 3.10 million viewers is the highest average audience of the entire year, the first time Formula 1 has jumped above three million viewers in this metric since the 2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix! Last year, Italy aired live on free-to-air television to an audience of 2.57 million viewers, so the average jumped year-on-year by 17 percent.

Italy is a race made for highlights simply because of its short length meaning that viewers are not missing as much action. The combined peak audience of 4.11 million viewers is an increase of two percent compared with 2016’s live coverage. Describing these audience figures as fabulous may be disingenuous, however they are healthy numbers in the context of the season so far.

Due to torrential rain, Sky Sports F1 was live on-air for over five hours on Saturday, from 12:00 to 17:10 for their qualifying broadcast. Their coverage averaged 363k (5.0%) for the duration, a good performance in the circumstances. From 13:00 to 16:45, the channel never dipped below 310,000 viewers, so most viewers stuck with the broadcast during the two-and-a-half-hour delay. Sky’s coverage recorded a five-minute peak of 543k (6.7%) as the second part of qualifying eventually ended at 16:15.

A little over 15 minutes after Sky went off the air, Channel 4’s highlights programme averaged 1.39m (11.2%) from 17:30 to 19:05, a slight overrun which is unusual for a highlights programme, no doubt the edit was still being completed whilst the programme was ‘live’ on air! The highlights show peaked with a strong 1.92m (14.0%) at 18:45 as Lewis Hamilton claimed pole position.

The combined average audience of 1.75 million viewers is a marginal increase on last year’s audience of 1.70 million viewers. The peak audience is down around 170,000 viewers year-on-year, with a combined peak this year of 2.46 million viewers, compared with 2.63 million viewers twelve months ago.

The 2016 Italian Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.