Even better on TV!
Text: Vincent Gillioz
The winners of the America’s Cup had made two promises: to lower the costs, and to make the next edition a revolutionary TV show. The first one was clearly not kept, and the few teams who can pretend to challenge Oracle have to spend far more money than in 2007. The second promise though has been kept, even if there are still some detractors who say things should have been done differently. The AC 45 meetings in Cascais and Plymouth demonstrated that sailing could be as spectacular as other media-friendly sports. The days of long, soporific tacks at 11 knots, with 0.1 % speed gap between two challengers seem to be over. Although the rules and the stakes are not easier to understand than before, the show is really on, and everyone can get a thrill out of capsizes and sea spray on the cameras.
The many cameras and microphones on board each boat- as well as the virtual images mixed with real images- give the TV or web spectator a brand new viewpoint. Although this is somehow a logical development compared to what used to be done, the results deserve recognition, as Bruno Peyron declared after the first two World Series: “the TV product is exceptional, it goes far beyond what we were used to before these meetings”.
ACTV, the image production company spared no expense and effort, and what they managed to do is quite incredible. “Better on the screen than in real life”, the promoters advertised. The results match the means provided for the production. The 120 strong ACTV team was huge compared to other sailing events where fifteen people is the norm, for those who actually have TV coverage. Some sources estimate production budgets of tens of million dollars (between 50 and 100), but the organizers won’t actually say. In comparison, the Audi MedCup probably cost about $1 million, with more than acceptable results.
A technical challenge
The technical considerations are approximately the same for all types of events. To get live images, whether for web streaming or TV broadcasting, the cameras and micros sensors’ signals have to be collected and transmitted to a ground video studio. This can either be done with a plane, a helicopter or a boat. Nefertiti Production’s boss Hervé Borde, who filmed the MOD 70s in La Trinité, says there is no great technical challenge in data streaming. “This is something we professionals master quite well. However, what is more complex and represents a true novelty is the fact that now, not only is the data collected from the onboard cameras, but the camera is radio controlled in terms of framing, angles and aperture. He has observed ACTV’s work with great interest: “What is new with this Cup is the degree of reality. You can actually see the wakes, rounding the buoys, who has priority. This aspect is a significant breakthrough. We are now working on something similar for the MOD 70s.”
« A la carte » production
In addition, the true revolution the America’s Cup gave is in live streaming available on Youtube, in partnership with the website. Cybernauts can actually make their own production choosing the camera angles and microphones: they can listen to conversations on board, for instance between the tactician and the helmsman. Nobody has yet been able to listen to what is being said through a cyclist’s earphone, inside a F1 pilot’s helmet or between the members of a football team. This really is a technological advance, which should interest a wide public, including the uninitiated.
Who are the images for?
Today’s images of the Cup are on a par with other sports, but are they really well broadcasted and watched? ACTV’s ambitions live up to the investments made. Hervé Borde adds: “I don’t know what the deal is in terms of TV rights for the America’s Cup. But from my experience I know it is nearly impossible to sell rights to TV channels and make a profit in the sailing field. Co-productions with major groups are possible, and allow for significant technical means. But basically, events have to be able to meet the production costs themselves to expect to be broadcast”. ACTV has such distributors as Sky Sports, Channel 4, Canal + or NBC in the United States, and TW One in New Zealand. Youtube has had more than 4 million hits, which is a huge number considering sailing is still a minor interest sport.
In comparison, the Audi MedCup organizers estimate they’ve had fifty thousand web viewers. So there is still quite a gap to fill to reach the media level of such sports as football, Formula 1 or boxing, but one thing is sure: the world of TV sailing is really changing, and what we are witnessing today is just a beginning.