France Télévisions brings further innovation to this year’s Tour de France
The largest and most prestigious of all European cycling races, which began on July 2, is an opportunity for host broadcaster France Télévisions to introduce exciting exciting technology, with the aim being even greater viewer engagement for its live coverage.
Whilst the Tour always draws massive audiences to the pubcaster’s channels during the summer, the age of the viewing public has been increasing throughout the years. A big digital set-up, including 360 VR on www.letour.fr/360 as well live Twitter and other social media feeds from the Tour, is on hand to capture a younger demographic, whilst new production technology for television is increasingly part of that equation as well.
“As the Tour starts in France this year – which costs less than kicking off from Utrecht, as we did in 2015 – a bigger proportion of our budget can be devoted to new technology,” indicates France Télévisions’ head of production for Tour de France, Christophe Barrier.
Even if the race does start in France, the Tour remains a massive undertaking for the public broadcaster. According to Barrier, “we have a 13 million euro production budget, which includes the production of the international signal, the live coverage itself, and all the pre- and post-race magazines.”
Captation data first
For the first time on the Tour de France, France Télévisions will be using live captation data and tracking technology, supplied by Euromedia. “We carried out a number of tests on the Paris-Nice cycling race and we were satisfied with the results,” says Barrier.
All bikes taking part in the race will be equipped with “trackers” – essentially electronic chip circuits which communicate data to a number of central pools of data captation. “The challenge is to have enough of these pools because otherwise there is a risk of the data becoming inaccurate,” explains Barrier.
This will give information on the speed of each cyclist and his distance in real-time to other cyclists.
“The information will appear on the TV screen in real-time; you will be able to see, for instance, that say Alberto Contador is cycling at 37 km/ hour up a 2km hill and that he is running 3km ahead of his main rival to give you a fictitious example,” says Barrier.
Live handlebar shots
One of the other major innovations on this year’s Tour is the live broadcasting of handlebar shots thanks to onboard GoPro type cameras. France Télévisions succeeded in getting approval from three teams to broadcast these images during the race, including the Française des Jeux and the Cofidis squads. “The shots will be broadcast during three different stages of the Tour: the first race on July 2, the one taking place between Montélimar and Villars-les- Dombes on July 16, and on the finishing race in Paris on July 24,” says Barrier.
“We will be using only one camera signal at a time and it will alternate between the different teams. We don’t yet know which members of each squad will be involved,” he adds.
Huge production set-up
As might be expected, the production infrastructure on such an event – which has to change location on a daily basis – is enormous with 90 journalists and 500 technical staff from around the world congregating to cover the race, as well as around 120 OBs, parked in a 5000 sqm area at each location. France Télévisions will have three OBs on site, including one to transmit the international signal, plus an additional OB with five cameras and one superloupe on race against the clock days.
No less than five motorbike driven cameramen will cover the Tour at all times, the bikes and cameras having been provided by long-term supplier Euromedia, as well as three helicopters (two for shot capture and another as a relay for the signal).
Around ten cameras are to be set up around the finishing line, including a DVS Super slo-mo camera, two portable HF cameras and one aerial camera. “We already had a Superloupe camera on last year’s finishing line and we thought that we would repeat the experience. We will be using it at 350 frames/second because it is the right compromise between getting those slow-motion shots and maintaining a high quality image. We did consider at some point having a second Superloupe on the race but we scrapped that idea in the end,” says Barrier.
France Télévisions is still testing new cameras for the helicopters to replace the existing Cineflex ones. “We have been conducting trials with a couple of camera manufacturers, one of them being Shotover, the other GSS. But we are not quite there yet; there are still some weight issues and as soon as you change the electronics inside the aircraft, you have to get approval from the civil aviation authority, which can be a lengthy procedure. But the idea for next year is to have the same system on both helicopters, making the set-up much more flexible because the helicopters will then become interchangeable. For this year’s Tour, we will still be getting wide angle countryside shots from one helicopter and zoomed close-up shots of the cyclists from the other,” he explains.
Apart from Euromedia, X-D Motion and ACS France have also been involved in these trials.
As in previous years, pre-obtained drone footage of historical monuments and popular tourist locations (Eiffel Tower, Mont Saint-Michel, Pont de Normandie, etc) has already been acquired thanks to Freeway. But the organisers are also planning to get drone footage of the Mont Ventoux, to alternate with images of the July 14 procession in Montpellier which will be broadcast during the post -our magazine on France’s national day.
“We would also like to get live drone footage of the arrival in Paris on July 24 as there is a safe zone we could fly above which is La Cour Carrée du Louvre. But we are not that optimistic: the police banned the use of drones for safety reasons, in the wake of the Paris terror attacks, and we would need to get a special dispensation,” says Barrier.