Posts Tagged ‘North One TV’

One question always pops up in my mind when the NW200 comes around – given that the NW has been shown live on BBC TV for several years now,  how long till the TT is also televised LIVE? It’s something I’ve been discussing with the man in charge of the TV operation at the TT, North One’s Neil Duncanson.

The NW200, coverage produced by Greenlight for BBC NI,  is always compelling viewing. Admittedly, sometimes that’s because the pictures go down and we can enjoy the commentators squirming! That of course is one reason why we are still some way from seeing the same live output at the TT. Reliability issues have to be solved. But having said that, the races are shown live and that puts the NW some way ahead of the TT.

NW200The Greenlight team place several fixed cameras on the ground around the start/finish section from Metropole to York Corner. These generate dramatic shots but for most of the 9-mile lap the bikes are out of vision, so the key is the helicopter. The chopper allows live shots to be seen the whole way round the course, and (most of the time) the signal back from the chopper to the OB trucks is reliable enough.

At the TT, they’d need to do the same – but it isn’t so easy. Choppers may struggle to keep pace with the leading bikes across the mountain, and producers would have to think about deploying more than one chopper because at the TT, unlike the NW, the leader of the race could be back in sixth or seventh position on the road. There used to be an argument that a TV helicopter was unrealistic because it wouldn’t be allowed to fly in poor visibility. But these days, races don’t go ahead in poor visibility because the emergency choppers have to be able to operate. So that objection has gone away – but there are still a lot of hurdles to clear.

I’ve had a fascinating conversation with Neil Duncanson, who shed a lot of light on exactly where we are with this debate.  North One is the company which produces all the coverage of the TT for ITV4 and other outlets. Neil told me that this whole question of live TV coverage is very high on the agenda, especially as plans for a TT World Series continue.

Michael Dunlop 2nd 600 Kirkmicheal

Michael Dunlop 2013. photo: Alan Knight

He told me: “Ask any major broadcaster of sport and they will tell you that only live coverage is important, whether it’s football, rugby, the Olympic Games or Formula 1. In these days of modern media saturation and digestion, the world wants its events served up live and will pay handsomely for the privilege. There is no doubt that the TT would be an amazing live TV product and the reason it hasn’t happened yet is simply a combination of technology and money. Unlike the NW200 or Ulster or indeed any circuit race, the TT is 37+ miles of twisting public roads that roll through towns, villages, countryside and over mountains. The cost of planting enough course cameras, flying enough helicopters and creating the tech to beam live on-board images from the bikes is extremely prohibitive cost-wise and for a single event it has proven the main barrier to progress. But as time has moved on the tech is improving and getting cheaper. however, it’s still not cheap enough just yet and the issue of getting on-board pictures live from the bikes (which motorsport fans are so used to now) is still a costly stretch, but it simply needs a catalyst to help get things moving.”

That’s a terrific insight into the thought-processes going on at the moment. As Neil says, it isn’t just a matter of getting pictures out. It’s the style and quality of pictures that people want and Neil’s clear feeling is that the wider audience won’t settle for anything less. Viewers of sport are now accustomed to live shots from the helmets of horse-racing jcokeys, from F1 cars and even from cricket stumps. The business of sports TV has leapt forward from being simple information to becoming rich entertainment, and if the TT is going to make an impression in that market, it has to get it right from the start.

So where will the catalyst come from? Neil says: “Clearly the IoM government and tax payers do not have the money to invest in such things, so it will be up to broadcasters, producers and possibly future promoters to foot the bill. If a World Series was to become a reality the cost of this coverage could be amortised over a number of global events and over a number of years. I believe this is the most likely end game, but ultimately the IoM government will decide at the end of the year whether they want to proceed with it. Until then quality live coverage of the TT is still just out of reach. Of course elements of live coverage could be produced now – ie pieces of the course, some hele tele and no on boards – but our view has always been that the event is too important and precious to waste poor coverage on it. As the old cliche goes, you only get one opportunity to make a first impression. I dearly hope we will get that opportunity in the near future and if it happens, boy will it be something special”.

That sounds exciting, but it’s significant that Neil says the ball is in the court of the IoM Government.

Another factor is the ever-increasing spread of the smartphone. 4G has arrived on the island within the last month (not sure why it took so long when 3G has been there for several years) and these speeds would allow TT fans to access live TV pictures and commentary around the course. That of course would be a new rival for Manx Radio – but we’re not there yet. The smartphone audience on the island will be important, but the real numbers are those to be found worldwide. As Neil adds: ‘The real factor is an increasing demand for high quality live Motorsport coverage and the ability for specialist sport networks to pay high rights fees for it in an ever increasingly competitive world. The TT has an enviable brand and pedigree and in recent years has seen something of a renaissance in terms of the racing and global awareness. The quality of the riders, the closeness of the racing and the increase in teams and manufacturers (all part of this upward TT curve) have made our job at North One a lot easier in terms of making the TV look good.”

It’s all a long way from the days when I would film short segments of a race, record a voiceover at the end of the tape, then rush the tapes to Ronaldsway to be placed in a Manxpack and flown on Manx Airlines back to the BBC in Manchester, then for a VT editor to match my voiceover with the correct pictures and scramble it onto air in the nick of time before 7pm!

So where does that leave the notion of live TV from the TT? Waiting on the IoM Govt’s decision on a World Series, in Neil’s view. So that’s one to lookmout for with even more anticipation towards the end of the year.

charlie lambert 2015                                                                       Copyright_symbol_2