NBC Sports conquers ‘insanity’ of Tour de France to produce show for United States fans

Few sports, if any, match the size and scope — and physical strain — of the Tour de France. Covering a distance of more than 2,000 miles, the Tour sends nearly 200 riders over nine flat stages, three hilly stages, and seven mountain stages, including five arduous summits. Once again, NBC Sports Group is in the thick of it, broadcasting cycling’s most prestigious and grueling race for stateside fans.

From the Grand Départ in Utrecht, Netherlands, on Saturday July 4 to the dramatic conclusion in Paris on Sunday July 26, NBC Sports is presenting live and primetime coverage of all 21 stages on NBC, NBC Sports Network, and the NBC Sports Tour de France Live mobile app.

“It’s one of those things where, unless you’re actually out here, you can’t believe what’s happening,” says David Michaels, Tour de France producer, NBC Sports. “I can’t think of another event anywhere in the world that comes close to the complexity and overall insanity of the Tour de France.”

The “insanity” of broadcasting an event like the Tour de France lies in the logistics. Unlike with most major sports events, there is no centralised broadcast centre from which to run the show. NBC is deploying a small fleet of mobile units provided by Paris-based Woods TV — including a 53-ft. production truck, separate edit truck with four Avid stations, studio/office trailer, and two uplink trucks — that travels with more than 100 other broadcast trucks following the peloton as it snakes its way around France.

Each day, the trucks park at the finish line of that day’s stage, in an area designated as the technical zone. Once that day’s stage is completed, the trucks pack up and drive more than 100 miles to the next finish line.

“And then, [the challenge] is parking all these trucks,” says Michaels. “The way they’re parked is kind of like loading a giant ferry every day. You’ve got a [hundred-plus] trucks that are all loaded into the technical zone, and those guys hook up all the power, hook up all the Internet, hook up all the cables, and we’re ready to go by 8:00 the next morning.”

France Télévisions and Eurosport France provide both a host feed and individual camera feeds for rightsholders that want to cut their own shows. NBC Sports cuts its show using those individual camera feeds, which include five motorcycle and two helicopter shots, and supplementing them with four handheld cameras (including one stationed at the finish line), three ENG packages, a specialty RED camera, and a smattering of robotic and GoPro cameras. In addition, NBC is using three cameras for its studio shows.

“It’s quite a crazy operation,” says Michaels. “There’s never any time to breathe.”

For the first time, NBC Sports’ coverage will indicate real-time speeds of both the leaders and the peloton in an on-screen ticker provided by SMT, and show feeds from cameras mounted to cyclists’ bicycles. NBC Sports tested the “on-board” cameras at last year’s Tour de France and last May’s Tour of California.

NBCSN is also working with SMT on several production enhancements, including a pointer feature that identifies and focuses on one rider in the peloton. The network also offers exclusive, in-depth profiles and features on teams and riders, as well as onscreen predicted times for cyclists.

While NBC Sports’ Tour de France broadcast is produced onsite, the network’s Stamford, CT, headquarters is responsible for shortening the production for re-airs during the afternoon and in primetime.

“Those guys are working to maximise the best content,” Michaels explains, “and then, for primetime, we usually send them a couple of extra segments — what we always call ‘value-added TV’ — and then those guys will edit that into the show as well.”

Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen call the race action for the live shows with reporters Steve Schlanger, Jenna Corrado, and Steve Porino (reporting from aboard a motorcycle on the course). Todd Harris hosts nightly studio coverage alongside analyst Bob Roll and former professional cyclists and analysts Christian Vande Velde and Jens Voigt.

Digital Coverage
NBC Sports’ extensive digital coverage includes two premium-subscription products, one for desktops and one for mobile devices and tablets.

On NBCSports.com, NBC Sports Tour de France Live for desktops offers live streaming video with a multi-camera option of every stage online in Full HD, with the ability to pause, rewind, and slo-mo the video. While watching live coverage, viewers also have access to a live GPS tracking map to follow the cyclists’ progress and to see an enhanced interactive map for each stage.

Fans can also purchase the NBC Sports Tour de France Live mobile and tablet app, available for iPhone, iPad, and Android devices. All features of the desktop online experience are mirrored in the mobile app, including live video of every stage.

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