The UCI Mountain Bike World Championships wrap up this weekend in Canberra, Australia, and you can catch all the action live on Freecaster.tv. We spoke to the online extreme sports channel's live production manager, Will Ockelton, about live TV action, having 1.5 million viewers and presenter (and UK downhill legend) Rob Warner’s dodgy microphone.
How many people make a live broadcast happen?
At events we have Martin, the cameraman/editor, Rob Warner on commentary and me managing production. Behind the scenes we have Raymond, the founder and man with the plan. He’s supported by Arnaud, our tech bofﬁn, and Pete, the media manager.
What sort of kit do you use?
We rely on the UCI’s (International Cycling Union) TV production for the live coverage. Then for our own interviews, Fox Course Walks and so on, we use Panasonic HVX200 or Sony EX1 cameras and edit on MacBook Pros with Final Cut software. We also use VHoldR helmet cams and plenty of gaffer tape.
How do you get everything set up for a World Champs or World Cup broadcast?
The organisers provide a booth, into which we place the microphones and monitors – one for action and the other for times, results and speeds. It takes a few weeks to co-ordinate all the materials we need, but once we’re rolling, all the equipment moves from one round to the next.
When was your first live broadcast?
Our ﬁrst live webcast took place in 2006 at the Air & Style snowboard event in Munich. We kept reﬁning the technology and did our ﬁrst live Mountain Bike World Cup in Andorra last year. We’ve come a long way since we covered our ﬁrst World Championships in Lugano in 2003 – back then, we used to be given a tape that we’d edit, compress and get online as soon as we could after the ﬁnal.
How many people tune in for the live World Cup feeds?
We’re currently getting more than 100,000 live viewers during a combined downhill, four-cross and cross-country race weekend. The total viewers for all our World Cup content after four rounds was about 1.5 million.
Live commentary is one of the things that make the feeds work so well – but Warner’s mouth must be an issue! how do you control him?
By doing what the A-Team did to BA Baracus – sedatives in his hamburgers! Seriously though, we do have guidelines for the commentaries, and my job is to try to ensure we adhere to them.
Rob is becoming the voice of mountain bike racing and it’s a responsibility he takes very seriously. But he has got a mouth on him that makes Gordon Ramsay sound like the Queen. Thankfully, he ﬂips his ‘swear switch’ off when we go live.
You must have some interesting behind-the-scenes stuff…
Oh for sure, but we’re fully focused on the racing so are happy to let people retain their dignity. Having said that, Miami Bryce is sailing dangerously close to the wind at the moment. I have reason to believe he broke my van window in Fort William, so if you’re reading this, Josh, be wary of what might appear in our DVD bonus section!
Freecaster.tv has a real ‘scene’ feel about it – do you think there’s danger of a bigger broadcasting company getting involved and pissing on your chips?
Freecaster only exists because we’re mountain bike fans, and I’m glad that translates in our output. A few suits have started to wake up to the following we’ve acquired, but these companies haven’t invested in developing race coverage properly like we have, so I’m not concerned that they’ll suddenly turn up and do a better job just because they can throw more money at it.
If a bigger company really wanted to be involved then we should all work together to get more cameras on the courses. That’s when we’d see another giant leap in the sport’s popularity, to everyone’s beneﬁt.
With online footage so good, it must be affecting DVD sales...
I think we’re heading towards all content being sourced online, as TV and computers continue to merge. But that’s still a few years away and we’ve had an overwhelming demand from people who’d like to see the entire race season brought together onto one DVD. So that’s what we’ll be doing in October.
Being online broadcasts, footage quality can’t be guaranteed due to bandwidths, WiFi signals and so on – what can people do to get the best results at their end?
Good question. The nature of computers and the internet means our viewers can be let down by a plethora of technical issues that are beyond our control. But some basic things to check before trying to tune in are:
- Do you have an uninterrupted internet connection of 2mbps or higher?
- Have you installed the latest version of Flash?
- Do you have any other applications open that could be draining the CPU (computer processor) unnecessarily?
- Are you behind a ﬁrewall?
It must be hard to get good footage at certain tracks – for example, wasn’t the top section from this year's first World Cup round in South Africa pre-recorded?
Yes, in South Africa the UCI ﬁlmed the top section during training and then spliced that footage into the ﬁnal runs. Budgets simply don’t allow for enough TV cameras to cover the whole course, so the UCI does what it can and is working towards improving the coverage all the time.
What are you guys aiming to achieve over the coming years?
We’d like to see viewership for the live coverage continuing to grow. This would prove that we’re achieving our goal of getting more people into mountain bike racing, to the beneﬁt of everyone in the industry.
What’s the worst thing that can go wrong in your line of work?
Rob Warner. We had quite a scare in Fort William – Rob’s microphone came on a few minutes before the four-cross started and a few unlucky listeners were subjected to his usual off-mic tirade until I’d realised what had happened…
On a more serious note, the worst thing that could go wrong is if the bike industry stops supporting us. Live coverage is driving a resurgence in the interest in mountain bike racing and we want to bring everyone with us, but we will need the continued support of the industry to do that.
Because Freecaster. tv exists on the internet, everyone expects everything for free – but in my world there really is no such thing as free lunch, beer or bandwidth.