The eighth season of the World Endurance Championship kicked off at Silverstone earlier this month, with Toyota continuing to dominate the LMP1 class.
Whilst the on-track story stayed the same, off-track, a new on-air graphics package greeted fans worldwide.
During the Silverstone weekend, Motorsport Broadcasting went into the WEC TV compound to find out the rationale behind the change…
The time to refresh
WEC’s graphics package has needed a refresh for a while, their old solution arguably some way behind their motor racing rivals. The new graphics package needed to solve some fundamental problems at the heart of the previous package.
One of the challenges that endurance racing faces is telling the story of four different classes without alienating viewers. Unlike Formula 1, where there is only one winner, a WEC race will have multiple winners, and the graphics package on offer needs to reflect this.
Speaking to me at Silverstone, Oliver Denis, WEC’s Director of TV, believes that the earlier graphics set failed in this area. The previous set primarily told the overall race story rather than focusing on the individual classes.
“It is the time for us to change,” Denis tells me. “The last set was not good for endurance racing. Before, the graphics were for the overall, and to be honest it’s not interesting to see that the GT-Am is ten laps behind the LMP1!”
“I think the graphics are good for three or four years, after that you need to change. The technology on offer changes extremely fast, and you need to follow the movement.”
“But we haven’t changed because Formula 1 or Formula E have changed, we used the last one for four years and it’s time to change again.”
WEC collaborated with Israeli company Promotheus on their new graphics package, in a project that began in September 2018. The company has experience in the motoring space, having implemented the current World Rally Championship on-screen interface.
Promotheus worked closely with series organisers and timing company Al Kamel on the project. Over the past year, the package has gone through several iterations, Denis and the team taking feedback from stakeholders, including WEC’s current commentary team of Martin Haven and Allan McNish throughout.
“The first try was not good, but now we are very happy because it’s the first time we’ve used it [here at Silverstone], and there’s not been a lot of problems,” Denis says.
The changes for 2019-20
Throughout the package, the four categories are clearly identifiable, more so than before. As an example, each category has a different replay wipe, giving them their own identity. In addition, the package now presents to viewers the interval within each category.
“We have a package now that is very good and informational for the viewers, which explains the four categories.”
WEC have also taken the opportunity to refresh their social media offering and track branding at the same time, keeping them aligned with the World Feed.
“Of course, this weekend [at Silverstone] we start with version 1,” Denis reveals. “We have a lot of graphics that are not ready but will be used for Japan. By race four, we should have all graphics ready. But we prefer to start simple and improve all the time.”
As they did in the build-up to season eight, WEC will again be soliciting feedback from all parties involved in the series, including WEC’s television broadcasters.
“Maybe after Silverstone they will send me feedback to say it was very good, or that we don’t understand something, so we might have further adjustments to make depending on what they say,” explains Nathalie Fargier, WEC’s TV rights liaison.
One area that WEC is continuing to work on is their on-board camera angles, which Denis admits is not there yet. “We are working with the manufacturers to find better shots,” he tells me.
“In Formula 1, it is easy to see the track and the driver at the same time, because that’s open cockpit. Here, sometimes we can see the track, but it is more interesting to see the track and the driver working, battling with his car.”
“We have some new angles in the Toyota this season, which is interesting for the viewer, but we need to go further. Here, it is not the same in the Rebellion as it is in the Toyota. In an LMP1 car it’s very complicated to get a good position for the camera and we are working on it.”
The challenges of directing endurance racing
Having previously worked in Formula 1, Denis discussed the challenges that endurance racing brings from his perspective, with multiple races taking place at the same time, making direction tricky.
“In WEC, the strategy is the most important, and we don’t the cars in the same shot for a lot of the time,” Denis says. “It’s very interesting sometimes to follow one car when they’re coming through the traffic in different categories.”
“Sometimes we can have four, five, six, or ten stories at the same time taking place at the same time. We may have a battle in LMP1 for third position, an interesting pit stop for the leader of the GT-Pro, as well as a crash or spin on the track, all at the same time!”
As in all motor sports, the key to the feed is storytelling, meaning that Denis must make tough decisions throughout on what to include within the WEC World Feed.
“If it is not important for the big story, we can hold it back for replays later during a quieter moment. Alternatively, we can show it on the app if it is a story very important for one team, but not for the race, that way we can show it all in some way.”
Denis’ team have the facility available to them to take a split-screen and picture-in-picture (PIP) approach to their broadcasts, however Denis believes that these techniques are not always the answer from a storytelling perspective.
“If we do that too much, it becomes complicated and confusing for the viewers to follow because, if I switch too quickly all the time between each story, it’s not possible to follow one story in full.”
“Sometimes it’s easy if we have a car in pit lane for a rebuild, I can use the split to show the rebuild [on one side] and follow a battle on the track [on the other side]. But if we have two stories at the same time unfolding on-track, sometimes it is complicated to follow that.”
“I prefer to show the main story and afterwards to play out replays when we have time,” he tells me.
“If I have an incident, sometimes it is not very important to show that immediately, whereas in Formula 1 it’s immediate because you only have 20 cars.”
“But here, I can wait if it is not too important. Ideally, I like to close the main story if possible, and after that show the second story in replay ‘as live’.”
After Toyota’s expected domination in LMP1 at Silverstone, this weekend, WEC heads to Fuji Speedway in Japan for round two of the 2019-20 season.
Fans should expect to see further additions to the new graphics package that aims to catapult WEC forward for the next few seasons.
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