Editorial

An inside look at the monumental task of Champ Car TV production
 
by Mark Cipolloni

 October 10, 2006

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Part 4

Mark Reilly joins the tour

Mark, how many countries are we in now?

MARK REILLY: Over 180. There's a special truck just for that, broadcasting 36 megahertz to ensure picture quality. That's taken in in Washington through Eurovision, then distributed to Europe that direction.

The same signal is being downlinked at the FOX centers that serve Latin America and their Middle East and North Africa operations. They take a separate feed off of that. There's a C band that we use for most of our domestic, and then we have the news feeds we do at the end of the day.

JOHN MULLIN: Four or five news feeds. Also you asked about the Internet.

Q. Right.

JOHN MULLIN: The Internet is broadcast out of here. What happens is there are a number of feeds. They can take most of all of our audio feeds, which includes the in-car radios. They can take all of our in-car feeds, and then five or six other camera feeds. They compress it through what's called a MUX system, M-U-X. You probably know more about it than I do. It sits right in that big white box. It is digitally compressed, and then gets sent out on the satellite and then put up on the Internet.

MARK REILLY: That is how our Race Director is created.

Q. Right. Now, you say 180 or so countries take the international feed. What percentage of them do it live, would you say, approximately?

MARK REILLY: They all have the ability to do it live. The time shifting doesn't always make it that easy. Most of Latin America, Canada, and with Eurosport in Europe now, we have three-quarters of the races are live, and then the others are either quick turnaround within an hour or two.

So most of Europe's getting it live or near live. If there's some reason we could not, then we do a replay the next day or something like that.

The distribution live is pretty solid.

Q. Does any other racing series have an Internet broadcast as good as Race Director? Anywhere near as good as Race Director?

MARK REILLY: I'm not aware of it. I don't want to stand on that for the record. But in conversations with broadcasters that I've had in presenting our assets and our racing, the whole package, wow, it's a little bit more.

To be honest, I have not seen what Turner Sports does. They do something on behalf of NASCAR. I have not had a chance to see that live, what they do during their live broadcast on the Internet. I don't know if they match up.

Q. Have you seen an increase in Internet viewership, or is it pretty steady?

MARK REILLY: Adam Cohen could speak to that best. The impression I get is that we're going up. More subscriptions to Race Director. We'll have a trial basis this weekend during the Road America race. People can sign up and get the first one free, if you will. Have a chance to sample it that way.

But when we do those kind of promotions, we get some good pickup.

Q. On the races that are tape delayed like Australia, do you get good Internet viewership at that time?

MARK REILLY: Honestly, I'd have to go look at that to see if that matches up. Again, it's not just live, it's the time of day. The beauty of the Internet is you consume things -- yes, you can have it live no matter where you are. It's also you can have the enjoyment of watching it or sampling things at a time because we archive everything. The time that's more preferable for your schedule. That's part of the beauty of this stuff.

Q. Right now. The only Internet that's broadcasting the live video is champcar.ws. It's not given to any other websites? It's just Champ Car that is broadcasting it?

MARK REILLY: At this time we haven't instituted any streaming with any other distribution partners. We will have -- the mobile phone we're starting to do that this week, so we will have spotter comments. We're going to have timing and scoring available. We haven't started streaming yet with other providers.

To my knowledge -- again, I would like to fact check that with Adam Cohen -- but that's certainly something we're going to look at in the future.

MARK REILLY: It's not like the evening news person goes down there with an ENG unit and says, Hi, I'm standing here. We're talking about covering a racing event, so you have an entire surface to cover itself, which can be several miles in length. It is either a natural terrain like this or completely man-made terrain like San Jose.

Therefore, you had to get coverage there. Then throw on top of that, you can't shut everything down, so we have got to get in quick, do our job, and get out.

In the meantime, the thing that we're covering isn't standing still either. It's moving at speeds of 180 miles an hour and there's 20 of them on the track at a time. That's like it's a lot to balance at any given time. To provide the level of coverage, the data, the supporting stories, all that, no timeouts, no natural timeouts in racing. Yeah, the pit stops, but it's all going all the time.

We don't say, Oh, halftime coming up, let's go back to the studio. No, it's going. That's the challenge of doing these type of remote productions on temporary circuits or a road course. I'm not saying -- it's challenging. That's what -- it's fun making the magic, but it's also challenging making the magic.

Q. High-definition TV is coming on strong. Are you using HD cameras yet? Is that a future thing you're looking at yet?

MARK REILLY: It's a question of upgrading. You have to upgrade most of your camera coverage. It's a function of cost. There certainly is interest, but it's a cost factor. Several years ago the series had the benefit of HD Net wanted to come in and support it. They underwrote the investment. Perhaps there's a partner out there that will say, Yeah, this is a wonderful way to advertise.

But the demand is certainly growing for HD. Certainly something we're thinking about for the future.

Q. I think the government requires that by a certain year all the broadcasters have to be HD.

JOHN MULLIN: 2011, I think.

MARK REILLY: It keeps moving.

B Unit Trailer

JOHN MULLIN: Let me show you this, Mark. A lot of companies have these. Like I told you, a big football game would have B unit. What happens in a B unit? Everything for which there is not room in the main truck.

Here is my edit suite that travels with us to every unit. As an Internet guy, a devotee of technology, I would tell you what we can do in this edit system would approximate what you could have done in 1995 in a three-quarter of a million dollar edit suite.

That tells you how much technology has impacted this business. This all packs up and goes down the road to the next venue.

Q. When we say "edit suite," what are you editing? Post race stuff?

JOHN MULLIN: No, no, no. We edit all sorts of features that come in. Quite frequently we will finish editing the openings to the shows. We created the opening to the qualifying show here on-site. The Ford feature, for instance, that airs on each one of these shows always gets edited here.

This system works virtually non-stop, except for lunch period, from Thursday through the close of business on Sunday.


Robot (called Robo) cameras are placed in dangerous locations and controlled from inside the truck

JOHN MULLIN: This is the remote camera. This camera is right by the bridge just past Canada corner. It's a terrific camera position, but it's too dangerous to put a man there. So we have robo cameras in certain spots.

On the back of the course, coming out of the quarry, is another one of those positions. This single device controls both cameras. As Gary Clem cuts the cameras around the course, he comes to this camera, number eleven, then there's one camera between this camera and the next robotic so that gives our robo operator, J.D. Dickerson, a chance to switch over to the second camera, and he then makes the move and takes the car under the bridge and over the hill.

Q. How many degrees do these cameras pan?

JOHN MULLIN: Probably 300 degrees. Both of the robos on this course make 180 degree pans.

Q. It zooms in?

JOHN MULLIN: Yes, sir. Does the whole thing.

Q. The decision to put a robo cam is safety, not one being more expensive than the other?

JOHN MULLIN: Robo cams are significantly more expensive than the others. It's either safety or improvement of the coverage. This is a fabulous shot. I didn't want to lose this shot. But I'm not going to put a man there. So I have to put a robo cam there.

I have personally surveyed every one of these venues and set those cameras in this position. That's part of what we do, our contract, our service and commitment, our relationship to Champ Car.

Then I work very closely with Champ Car with respect to presentation of the facility and making sure that all of the signage issues are taken care of to the best of our ability. And that's where camera placement comes in.

Camera placement is a multifaceted decision that you have to make. But in terms of the robo cams, obviously they're hauling the mail when they pass this camera, which is camera No. 11. They're very close to this position.

So we want to protect, make sure no one gets hurt, but we still give the viewer the proper coverage.

Q. What is the average number of feet the cameras are up off the ground?

JOHN MULLIN: That's a philosophical thing you get into. Every director will give you a different answer. I try to keep the cameras as low as I possibly can because I like the speed and I think it shows the cars off best. But there are times when you simply have to go high.

We have a camera called camera No. 9 here that's on the outside driver's left out of the carousel which is very high. It's about 50, 60 feet high. It's a nice shot because it shows you the whole reference as you come through the carousel and then hand off to this particular camera here.

It's a function of trying to give the viewer a sense of where you are. Sometimes you have to do that with high cameras. At the same time low cameras give the viewer a sense of the speed. It’s always a matter of balance, of painting a canvas for both the ardent fan and causal viewer.

Q. I saw in Australia last year or the year before they had a camera on a cable.

JOHN MULLIN: A cable camera. They do a fabulous job of coverage.

Q. Do they do the production on that race?

JOHN MULLIN: Yes, sir, they do.

MARK REILLY: That was a particular shot that was put in there that was a sponsor attached to that. It took them two years to get everyone convinced it was safe enough to use. The camera travels at quite high speed. If you would run it at complete high speed, you could only use it once. It would go right off the rail. It has to be run carefully.

There was a lot of questions from me to the promoter about the location: If it was going to interfere with people in the hospitality suites, the crews, all that.

It's a great shot, but it takes a lot of coordination. It's not inexpensive either. But Channel 10 in Australia does a wonderful job with that.

Q. You can show a lot of broadcasts on TV, on the history of Champ Car, CART, if money was no object, so to speak?

MARK REILLY: Let me ask and answer my own question. We have access to the archives. We can use them within our broadcast, tell the stories, tell the history of Champ Car racing. That's what we have access to.

All these drivers, all those moments, those are ours to use exclusively.

Q. How much slack time do you have for that kind of stuff? The race is an hour and 40 minutes, is that correct?

MARK REILLY: Races both have a time and a distance. Two hours or two and a half hours, whatever that might be. The races themselves are either time or distance, whichever happens first. Distance is determined by race control, but the time is determined by race control.

As happened this year on a couple of occasions -- Portland, Cleveland, Toronto -- we achieved the distance prior to what would have been maybe a race window closer to a couple of hours. We still have the broadcast window for two and a half hours.

So during that time, it does give us the luxury, really what you call bonus time, we can go and talk, ask a third, fourth, fifth question of the winner. We can go interview No. 2, No. 3. We can go down as far as No. 5 in some cases. We can show other highlights. We can do other things we have available to show Champ Car during that bonus time opposed to some situations that I recall in the past where the races have gone right up to the broadcast window and it's checkered flag and good night.

That's the difference with the timing on it.

Closing Remarks

Whether you are satisfied or not with the quality of the TV production, I hope this article gives you a better understanding of just how difficult a task it really is.  And every Champ Car fan should thank all the men and women on the TV crew - they are the ones out there in all weather conditions bringing you the race in the comfort of your living room. 

I learned that they are there not just because it's their job, they are there because they are also long-time Champ Car fans who have worked their way into Champ Car TV production because it is what they love to do. They put their heart and soul into it each and every race.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

The author can be contacted at markc@autoracing1.com

Go to our forums to discuss this article

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