25 February 2016
Whisper Films and Presteigne Broadcast take chequered flag for C4 F1 coverage
By: Adrian Pennington
The handing of Channel 4’s £30 million three year presentation contract for Formula One to a rookie sports producer raised eyebrows when it should have acknowledged the Grand Prix pedigree of the winning team. Whisper Films’ MD and co-founder is Sunil Patel who produced the BBC’s F1 coverage before launching Whisper in 2010. Fellow co-founders are race driver turned pundit David Coulthard and BT Sport presenter Jake Humphrey, who made his name presenting F1 for the BBC.
They have cannily surrounded themselves with even more sports experience. Mark Cole was lured away from running Match of the Day last year to become Whisper’s head of TV, a move which helped the indie win a package of NFL highlights for BBC2, while former BBC F1 editor Mark Wilkin recently joined, an appointment credited with helping Whisper win the C4 bid.
Even more importantly, Whisper is relying on the proven staff and systems of Presteigne Broadcast to equip it for Melborne on March 20, the first of 10 Grand Prix to be aired on C4.
“Whisper were keen to make sure it was business as usual while moving forward a step in technology and delivery,” said Presteigne head of technology, David O’Carroll.
The facilities are built into two lightweight pods for air freight. One houses the majority of the MCR equipment: Evertz EQX router, Ross Tritium 3 ME vision switcher, Lawo MC2 mixing desk, Riedel Artist talkback matrix and monitors. The other pod contains the post production kit including three XT3 EVS machines and three IP Directors, Editshare shared storage and four Adobe Premiere suites replacing Final Cut. The EVS network and the edit suits sit around the EditShare shared storage with a QNAP NAS for additional storage. Riedel’s MediorNet provides wider site connectivity at each venue.
Presentation capacity is increased at each circuit. Whereas previously there were three radio cams, now there is provision for four to accommodate an expanded number of on-air talent upped from four to seven.
“This also enables Whisper to move around much more freely, for example, placing a couple of cameras at either end of the paddock or pitlane and throwing presentation between them or whereever the story is,” said O’Carroll.
Enabling this is coverage from a bespoke RF network with which Presteigne covers each F1 site. This is a large Wisycom in-ear monitoring (IEM) and radio mic system with receive nodes for Cobham RF video transmitters and an IP over RF mesh to feed mobile devices like iPads. The latter function gives production staff and presenters a reverse vision view and internet connectivity for on-the-fly research.
The RF cams are standard PDW F800s with addition of a Sony F5 for feature work. The XDCAM record discs of the PDW F800s come in handy since Whisper on behalf of Channel 4 (as with all rights holders) is required to deliver any footage it captures on site to the FOM should the sports broadcaster demand it.
“Theoretically we should transfer all our rushes to FOM (Formula One Management) at the end of each race, but in practice we don’t need to do this,” said O’Carroll. “The idea is that should any rights holder get a scoop then the footage can be shared in a pool.”
Remote production on the horizon
The change of production partner didn’t impact Presteigne too much since they were embarked on a close season schedule in any case. The pods travelled back to Prestigene’s HQ as planned for maintainence ready for shipping to Australia.
“Typically we send about 15 people to each GP: an engineering manager, rigger, couple of RF guys, two sound operators, a vision mixer and three camera ops,” explained O’Carroll. “They arrive on a Monday [before race weekend], ready for Thursday morning. That’s a rehearsal day and a test with FOM.
FOM runs a very tight ship and the set-up is deliberately formulaic across the world. The unilateral presentation interfaces with the FOM host in the outside broadcast compound. From the Technical Operations Centre, Presteigne will pick up about 24 main programme feeds (ie/ clean feed, onboard cam feeds) although coverage is strictly timed. Broadcasters need to pick up the host feed five minutes prior to race start and only leave it after the trophy presentation and podium interviews.
IP is being introduced across the industry to cut down weight of transport but the F1 pods are already a very slimline system; “there’s no excess weight,” he said.
“The next natural step is to remote the edits. This wouldn’t reduce the infrastructure on site since we’d still need ingest kit there, but by using something like a Mercury server (a VoIP platform from Trilogy Broadcast) in the pods and remotely editing from London would save sending a number of editors around the world.”
He added, “Connectivity is good from most circuits so there’s no reason we couldn’t push it and direct the broadcast from London. All of our systems are IP capable so we could remote a lot without actually swapping out a great deal of kit.”
In addition to the two tech pods, Presteigne builds a production gallery in a portacabin at each circuit. The same set up, nothing larger, travels across Europe and includes Silverstone albeit on trucks not cargo planes.
Motor sport would lend itself to coverage in 4K or virtual reality, neither of which are on FOM’s radar at least for this season. Its host output is 1080p 50i and will doubtless change up a gear when rights holders (like fellow rights holder Sky) demand it.
“In principal we could supply 4K in the pods with some minor alterations,” said O’Carroll. “What is more challenging is the reliance on RF acorss the site. There’s not a viable 4K link that would allow us to acquire 4K. That said, we can upconvert 50p from the camera which would look pretty good, if not true 4K.”