New Formula E season gets underway with Aurora Media Worldwide again at the helm as host broadcaster
Watching the petite but powerful Forumla E racing cars zip around the streets of Hong Kong is a thrilling site, and crowds on the island were treated to the spectacular on the first weekend of December as the new season of the FIA Formula E Championship began with the HKT Hong Kong E-Prix at the city’s harbourfront.
Consisting of ten teams and 20 drivers, Formula E delivers world class racing to 11 cities over five continents, throughout the seven month Championship season. However, in order to bring this high speed race to the masses, someone has to film it. Host broadcaster for Formula E is Aurora Media Worldwide (AMW), which covers the entire series alongside North One. Aurora is a boutique broadcast media agency specialising in the creation and distribution of compelling sports entertainment and action adventure content. It has been the host broadcaster of Formula E since it was launched four years ago, bringing its extensive sports production expertise to the event.
Challenging city roads
As the entire Formula E series takes place on city tracks each pose their own set of different challenges. Comments Aurora’s Formula E Series director, Westbury Gillett states: “For our first race in Hong Kong in December the track was next to the ferry terminal, one of the busiest parts of the city, so the authorities would not start to close down the track area until 9pm on Friday with the track build not being completed until about 5.00am on the Saturday. We then need to be on air at 8am that day; that gives us minimal time to mount the cameras and handle any issues that might arise once we’re on site.
“In Hong Kong there were issues with closing off the streets and finding camera placements, as the race is right in the heart of the city. This year we had a camera positioned on the balcony on the local Apple store to make sure we got the best possible shots,” he continued.
As well as producing coverage of the race itself, Aurora also produces the event presentation including commentary, studio and pit lane coverage. Bob Varsha is international anchor of the world feed that goes to all English-speaking clients such as USA, UK and Australia. The rest of the presenting team comprises of: former Indy Car driver Dario Franchitti; Jack Nicholls on commentary and Nicki Shields covering the track and pit lane. We have just announced that Vernon Kay will be hosting our coverage for Channel 5 in the UK.”
Loving the live coverage
When the races are a one-day race weekend, Aurora provides live coverage of the race on the Saturday. If it is a double-header weekend, like New York and Montreal, the company provides live coverage on both days. This amounts to six hours of programming on each day.
On the world feed Aurora also produces a two and a half hour transmission consisting of one hour of pre-race, then the race itself, which runs between 45 minutes to an hour, and finally a 30 minute wrap up.
In addition, the broadcaster produces a 52 minute highlights package within three hours of the end of the race. This is edited using its facilities at the track.
Gillett notes: “We provide coverage for the rights holders, Formula E Holdings. AMW has a very experienced team with a long track record in covering motorsports, which we feel is why we were chosen, plus the excitement and innovation we seek to bring to the production. In terms of number of broadcasters that take our feed that currently stands at around 60.”
Altogether there are around 115 people involved in producing the coverage for each race, including sports presentation. AMW also has producers entrenched within the Jaguar and Virgin race teams producing content for their social media feeds.
Talking cameras and drones
On the cameras for each race, Gillett states: “We have 18 manned fixed cameras around the track; eight locked off cameras, five Radio Frequency (RF) cameras in the pit lane, including one roaming camera. There’s also an additional four cameras for event presentation, two of them cabled, including one on a jib, and two RF cameras. We also have another RF camera roving with the presenter for the UK broadcaster Channel 5 for their coverage.
“In addition there is an on-board camera on each of the drivers’ cars; each driver has two cars so that’s a total of 40 cameras, and we are able to take eight feeds at any one time from the cars,” he comments.
Aurora has ensured that the eight locked off POV cameras are as close to the action as possible to give viewers a real sense of being there, says Gillett. “To do this we actually cut the cameras into the fence system, enabling us to get very close to the cars as they pass. We’re using as many tracking shots as possible to capture just how fast the cars are.”
He adds: “We are increasing the use of drones to give viewers the sense of how the track sits in its city setting. Where possible we’ll be using a cable camera that accelerates up to 120KPH along a wire fixed between two towers.” On speciality equipment, Gillett adds that in Paris Aurora will be using a 70m camera with a Cineflex camera mounted on it and a helicopter, when suitable, or a drone.
As to how Aurora gets the feed back to the compound, Gillett says: “At every race we lay about 30km of cable round the track to get the feed back to the compound. To receive the car feeds we have eight RF receiver sites around the track and the on-board cameras automatically switches between the strongest signals as they go around the track.”
However, he added working in cities has its problems for cabling: “Because we work on city circuits damage to cables has been an issue, which can be expensive so very careful installation and de-rig is required.”
Aurora does not use trucks at these events. Instead it opts for nine six metre square pods that contain all the equipment it needs. They are shipped to each race venue. “We have two for cables, one for cameras and six technical pods,” adds Gillett. “From the equipment in the pods we assemble four control rooms, one world feed production room, a VT Replay room, a Channel 5 control room and a sports presentation room plus production offices. We use the facilities company, Hay Fisher, we’ve worked with them for a long time and they are real motorsport specialists so ideal for this job.”
Gaming brings innovations
As for particular innovations Aurora is bringing to its work with Formula E, Gillett states that gaming is getting the image right: “We are increasingly bringing techniques from the world of gaming to our coverage, as the sport looks to target younger audiences so this is reflected in things like the look of the graphics.”
On graphics, Gillett states Aurora uses Barcelona-based Al Kamel. “We’ve worked with them for nearly 10 years and they are Formula E’s timing partners too. This timing information is provided to the teams, race control and stewards. For this season we will have a new on-screen graphics design, created by the agency DixonBaxi.”
Meanwhile data is being provided by Italian company Magneti Marelli. It supplies all the data to the teams as well as the broadcasters, including battery power so everyone knows exactly how much charge every car has left throughout a race, notes Gillett.
Audio is a big part of the viewer’s experience of a Formula E race on TV. This year, Gillett says Aurora will be making 5:1 surround sound available to any broadcasters who want it. “We have 80 microphones positioned around the track; at the entry of corners, where the cars brake, at apexes and exits of corners that they accelerate out of, so we really capture the sound of the race for the viewers at home.
“We want to really push the audio so we get the atmosphere of the track across,” concludes Gillett. “Unlike Formula 1 the engine noise doesn’t drown out the crowd, you hear the tyres instead, so the spectators generate the atmosphere and we want the viewers to really hear and feel that.”