Whilst many motor racing publications tend to focus on Formula 1 or MotoGP’s broadcasting exploits, elsewhere in the motor sport spectrum, a quiet revolution has been taking place that deserves far more attention than what it has received.
On track, 2018 was an amazing year for the World Rally Championship, with a three-way battle between Sebastien Ogier, Thierry Neuville and Ott Tanak going down to the wire in Australia. Neuville and Tanak faltered, with Ogier coming away as champion for a sixth consecutive season.
For the fans watching the action at home, 2018 was just as good, with the introduction of All Live, WRC’s over-the-top service that aimed to bring fans closer to the action by airing every stage live.
Although All Live arguably revolutionised rallying for its core fanbase, WRC’s Editor in Chief Kevin Piper emphasises that other outlets, such as the traditional highlights programme, are still important.
“The other content is still crucially important for the territories and broadcasters that rely on those. Recently social media has become far more important over the past five or six years, so you’re feeding that as well,” Piper tells me.
“The News [segments that we release] we appreciate is massively important because that’s bite-size, free-to-air content that major broadcasters may pick up on if there’s been a big moment, that’s great exposure. All Live has come on top of all of that, and added a whole new dimension for the rally fans and hopefully wider audience.”
The rotating army
On-air, All Live featured an array of talent during 2018, with different people coming in and out of the setup during each rally weekend. The studio team rotated throughout, with Abi Griffiths, Kiri Bloore and Alex Legouix sharing presenting duties. The three of them also doubled up as a reporter alongside Molly Pettit during the Service Park gaps.
Similarly, Becs Williams, who is All Live’s lead commentator, also interviewed the key players. The likes of Jon Desborough, Julian Porter, Nicky Grist and Ben Constanduros joined Williams in the commentary booth, and Piper is happy with the strength of what he calls a “versatile” team.
“One of the greatest strengths of this team, and we played our part in thinking about who comes to work for us, apart from the expertise, the experience, the motivation and the enthusiasm is we’ve got, partly by design, partly out of natural evolution, partly necessity, a group of versatile people who are capable in different disciplines,” Piper says.
“We have people who can produce, script and voice. We look for people who can do a bit of everything. We try to make each event unique, here for GB, we’ve had Nicky Grist and Robert Reed, who have added fantastic value to the co-commentary alongside Becs.”
The multilingual team is necessary in a multilingual paddock, which plays into the commentary throughout the weekend.
“I think we’ve been very good when Becs is commentating,” says Marko Viitanen, WRC’s television director. “We have different nationalities in our team who can always translate a language, if there’s something wrong with the Finnish guys I can always translate and get that back up to her, we have Swedish, German, Spanish, French, we can get those little insights.”
“I think All Live to a certain extent has changed the whole sport, because now the drivers cannot hide anything. They can’t say ‘we just overshot a corner’, when it never happened, so that’s changed a lot.”
As covered earlier, the All Live setup also allows the on-air team to speak to people from outside of rallying during the service breaks, such as former football player Sammi Hyypia, with a similar setup expected for this upcoming season.
The numbers game
In-Car Cameras – 48 cameras
45 – On-Board (3 x 15)
3 – Exta FX GoPro On-Board
Action Cameras – 24 cameras
15 – Highlights
9 – TV Live (Line Cut at SS)
Other Cameras – 14 cameras
7 – All Live (4 with RF kits)
4 – Manufacturer Area Fixed
2 – Drones
1 – Helicopter Cineflex
Behind the lens, there is an army of people putting the All Live product together, as Viitanen explains.
“There’s between 70 to 80 people in the crew in total, in operations at one time for All Live, it’s a crew of 50 to 55 people. You always see the cameramen, when you come into the production truck, you see guys doing slow-mos, mixing the pictures, you see those in action.”
“But there’s a lot of guys on the RF (radio frequency signal) and plane side that you never see or hear from, and All Live would not be possible without them. We cannot afford to put 10 or 20 cameras on every stage, across a whole event that would be impossible to manage, so the RF guys are really the heart of the operation.”
86 cameras, 1 event
Although rallying covers a wide amount of terrain, all the production for All Live is done back at Service Park.
“We’ve changed our production dramatically. Rallying is kind of a remote production, all of our production happens here at base,” explains Viitanen. “We get the ground cameras, the on-boards, the heli, the RF cameras, back via either the plane or via satellite, and the whole programme is combined here to create the package that fans see. We put graphics, slow-motions and the like, all that on top of it here.”
In total, there are around 86 cameras per event, although some shots are not available to use live. Special shots, such as the drone and various action angles, are utilised exclusively in the non-live wrap-up programme. The quality of the RF images is critically important to the success of All Live, meaning that the RF team must position the plane accurately during each stage.
“We’re doing over a 100km stretch here as well on the Saturday, the stages are so far away, so there’s more than a hundred kilo meters from base that we actually have the plane flying,” Viitanen explains. “We have two pilots in the air and two technicians, then there is one guy here who controls the plane, so he tells them from the ground where they should fly.”
“His job is to position the plane in a way so that he can receive the start camera, the finish camera, the on-boards and the helicopter. It’s always a combination of how the weather is up there, how much wind there is, what kind of stage you have, if you have mountains on this side or that side, so you have to move the plane from start to finish.”
“We’ll learn from everything this year  and come back next year  with more knowledge,” Steve Turvey, WRC’s Location Director adds.
“You’ve got to remember that every single event we are doing is brand new for everybody. The level of return we are getting now is absolutely staggering, we’re all amazed. To get that amount of data back, three signals from each car with telemetry, everything out in the right order is just a phenomenal achievement.”
Looking forward to 2019
Heading in 2019, what do Viitanen and Piper make of their first year of All Live?
“I think All Live has really succeeded on the way that we have put the technique to work for us, and I think that’s one of the highlights of the production, still with limited technical resources,” says Viitanen. “I have friends who’ll do F1, they cannot believe how much smaller the technical resources that we have compared to them.”
“You can compare the production style to the Tour de France, but the bikes don’t move as fast as rally cars, so that gives us a bit of a headache!”
“All Live has made this whole operation even more interesting, more complex from a technical point of view,” Piper adds, excited for what the future holds. “It’s a great challenge, a great new adventure, and after being involved in sports journalism and broadcasting for more years than what I can remember now, this is the icing on the cake.”
2018 has been year one for All Live. For fans worried that All Live was a one-year experiment, fear not. This weekend in the south of France, and at every rally in 2019, the team go again, but with the knowledge of 2018, this year promises to be even better for rallying fans.