The clip above is from last Sunday’s final stage of the Tour of California but it’s also a glimpse of the future. We get a new angle of racing and an additional soundtrack too.
For the devoted fan any extra footage is good but there’s plenty of work to be done before on bike cams and race footage from the peloton becomes essential viewing.
A few establishing facts. Most of the video above is taken from a camera mounted on Giant-Shimano’s Koen de Kort as he leads out John Degenkolb, at least until the 2m25s point when the gap gets filled by Mark Cavendish and Thor Hushovd. It’s taken by a Shimano camera.
The UCI allowed these cameras to be trialled in this race. It’s happened before at the Tour of California but the UCI swooped in and banned them. It wasn’t just the UCI being mean, the rights to broadcast the event have been purchased by a broadcaster, a point we’ll return to below. The UCI ban included all telemetry and it’s still under review, the images from California are an experiment.
The clip above has undergone some production work but only just as we see a long piece of footage from De Kort’s bike before video from Degenkolb’s bike is spliced onto the end. It’s fascinating for now but soon the novelty will wear off. Riders shout in the bunch? Yes but soon everyone will know. The video will need to be produced and packaged as currently it’s too long. There’s also the technical challenge for image quality as what’s ok for youtube isn’t good enough for TV broadcast, especially events broadcast in HD for viewers with giant screen TVs. The viewer might accept reduced quality but only so far. They had a trial last in the World Ports Classic but the footage was low-fi.
Sharpening the image and editing the video is the easy bit. Now come the lawyers. Who owns the footage? In California the UCI brokered a deal for the teams and their sponsors, notably Shimano to own the footage and it helps promote their new CM-1000 camera; Garmin have a similar device on the market with the Virb and it’s easy to imagine a team getting sponsorship from Go-Pro and so on. But does this mean we have to visit 22 Youtube channels a day?
Typically a TV company owns the video from a race. They buy the rights to a race and expect, to varying degrees, to have a total monopoly. ASO in particular is very strict in controlling this. For example Orica-Greenedge’s great Backstage Pass films aren’t allowed to film the racing and associated events during ASO races. So ASO might say “non” to Giant-Shimano’s on bike cams going on Youtube as it chips away at the valuable video monopoly of a sprint finish. It might well work out, encouragingly the World Ports Classic saw ASO directly approve the trial.
There’s also an ethical aspect to owning the image. Imagine a team owns images but one of their riders does something foolish or reckless; they’ve no incentive to share the film. It’s a point to note with InCycle, the new channel set up by the “Project Avignon” teams, it’s unlikely to be harsh. By contrast a broadcaster has a journalistic duty to report on events, they will show what is required.
We’ve only got images of sprints for now but imagine footage from a bunch sprint? In fact with video from several bikes it should be possible to piece together a lot of footage from inside the peloton. So far in the Giro the Montecassino Maxicaduta has been a defining event but there’s next to no footage as the cameras were dwelling on another crash just before. It might be informative to see crash footage and the events prior but it can also be gory. Will broadcasters handle this well?
Web to TV
The clip above went online on Tuesday for a race on Sunday. What’s really needed is a live uplink to stream on bike cams live for TV or failing that, at least to have someone grab them at the finish and take them to the production car so that the crew can get to work on reviewing and editing quickly enough to include in a post-race show. But how many times does a race go from sprint finish to helicopter shot of the top-10 and then goodbye?
The more the merrier
We’ve had in-car cameras in the spring classics which were great although this might be the novelty. You fear regular use would change conduct in the car. But it’s all about having more information and sources of content, ideal especially for those long days when not much is happening.
As this blog’s in English I’ll assume most readers watch their cycling via an English-language broadcaster whether NBC, Eurosport, ITV, SBS or BeIn. The biggest thing you’re missing from a grand tour or classics race isn’t video but audio. I’m not talking about Phil n’ Paul, no it’s the motobike commentary provided during a race. RAI have a commentator on a motorbike for the Giro, France Télévisions for the Tour, Sporza for the Belgian classics. Typically they spend their time behind the bunch or breakaway and offer a rich source of information from advising who has the smoothest pedal stroke in the break to who has just crashed out the back of the bunch. It’s often information you don’t see on TV. A great innovation would be to have a shared English-speaker on a moto to provide such information.
The new footage from the Tour of California is great but there’s the risk we soon take it for granted. Ideally it’ll be edited and integrated into a TV broadcast but that’s a tech challenge as well as a potential festival for the lawyers. We’re seeing more and more additional footage thanks to the web – think the Backstage Pass or InCycle – and it’s all welcome but we need to remember this supplied by teams and comes with a message controlled by teams rather than the traditional sports journalism. But for all the innovation, a man or woman on a motorbike with a microphone could be the best addition to your coverage. And that’s technology that’s been used in the Tour de France for over half a century.