PTO Tour Ibiza Part One: Broadcasting the Balearic triathlon with FilmNova
The PTO European Open took place last weekend (6 May 2023), opening the 2023 PTO Tour season with two overlapping 100km triathlons set for the first time on the island of Ibiza.
If triathlon is your thing, and to a growing number of fans it is, this race promised a real treat. The women’s field included eight of the top 10 PTO-ranked female athletes, including the world number one, Ashleigh Gentle, while the men’s field contained 16 of the world’s top 30, including all three of the Olympic gold medallists in the sport since 2008 – Kristian Blummenfelt, Jan Frodeno and Alistair Brownlee.
One of the key motivators behind the formation of the Professional Triathletes Organisation was to bring triathlon to a global stage and expand its media presence, so the fact that the events were broadcast live in a record 195 territories, (reaching a possible 425 million households) and were translated into 22 languages must be seen as a big win.
The spread of coverage was enabled by the PTO’s broadcast partnerships with Warner Bros. Discovery, beIN Sport, DAZN, ESPN and Fox Australia. As well as four streaming deals in China (iQiyi, Youku, Bilibili and Huya) and supported by a raft of new deals including free-to-air agreements with both RTVE in Spain and CBC in Canada, those taking the world feed were FujiTV in Japan, Dubai Sports, Sharjah Sports, Saudi Sports Channel and Bahrain TV in MENA, SuperSport in Sub Saharan Africa and South Africa, and Sky Sport in New Zealand.
Providing that feed was host broadcaster FilmNova, a role it has played for the PTO since 2019. The firm’s involvement has seen it cover The PTO Collins Cup as well as two PTO Tour events last year when that format was introduced. Budgets have gone up and there are now more events. “We have four this year, the first of which is here in Ibiza,” Phil Sibson, managing director of FilmNova, tells SVG Europe the day before the event. “There have been some interesting challenges on this one in particular. Firstly, we’re on an island which always brings logistical challenges.”
Another factor to take into account was the 2023 World Triathlon Multisport Championships taking place in Ibiza between 28 April and 7 May.
“The PTO event is sitting within that, and that has been very useful in terms of Ibiza already expecting triathlon and being able to accommodate that,” says Sibson.
However, the World Triathlon events are shorter distances than their PTO counterparts. “This is a 100km triathlon,” Sibson explains. “It’s taken quite a long time for the course to get approved, and our course is quite problematic to cover from a technical point of view. We did a recce in February, and that’s when we found that the start and finish were separated by about 2.7km, which meant we need to split operations as well.”
And while UK-based FilmNova might have had a sunny break from the pageantry and precipitation of the coronation of King Charles III last weekend, the timing also meant that satellite trucks were in short supply.
“There aren’t any satellite trucks on the island,” notes Sibson. “And it just didn’t make practical sense to bring them over from the Spanish mainland. We did have contingencies in the plan, such as running fibre between the two, but over that sort of distance that seemed a bit of a headache and a concern as well in case anything happens to that fibre.”
“So due to logistics and budgetary reasons, we decided the only way to link the two would be over internet connectivity at the start and the finish,” he explains. “At the finish, we have several RF and cable cameras going into the hub, and they are relayed over a static IP address to the start, where the main OB is situated. The local telecoms company managed to provide what we needed for that.”
The race kicks off with a 2km sea swim from Ibiza’s Figueretas Beach. “We have drones here – were using two of them but in three different positions,” explains Sibson. “[The swim] is a 1km loop so we had a drone covering that, as well as having a long lens on a platform from the beach to pick up other shots.
“The beach is where transition takes place as well, but after transition, they embark on an 80km cycle which is inland on roads, where the only way of getting those pictures back is by motos [cameras on motorbikes]. We’re sending those signals back to the start by bonded 4G, and we need a lot of bandwidth to be able to pull the signals down.”
The course is four looped laps, with each loop around 19km. For added complexity in terms of signal transmission, there’s also a tunnel on either side of the loops.
“We’ve got two motos, one with a lead group and then one with the chase group,” says Sibson. “The roads are quite narrow, so there’s not much ability to move those motos up and down the fields. There are no cable cameras on the motos route. It just goes so far out that there’s just no other way of doing it.”
Due to their position within the World Triathlon Multisport Championships, both the men’s and the women’s PTO events must take place on the same day.
“Normally for the PTO events, we hold them on a Saturday and then Sunday, and because each race takes about four hours, we’ve got to stagger the races,” says Sibson. “So the men are going off first thing in the morning [8.50am local time], with the women starting an hour later. That then means we need four motos in total, one for the men’s lead and the chase group and then the same for the women’s race as well.”
Once the triathletes finish the cycling, they go back into the same transition before going out on the run, which is a completely separate course. “That goes on loops around the marina,” says Sibson. “We’ve had some interesting challenges getting the permissions for our drones to fly around the marina because it’s so tight; we’re on a small island which has air traffic control as well. We just got the final approval through for flying them in the marina, but things do take time to get approved out here.”
Teams and tech at the ready
The event called for an 80-strong team of tech and production personnel, and Gravity Media is the OB supplier on this occasion. “The OB is made up of two trucks, one that’s come from the UK, which is the main scanner, and then we’ve got one that’s come from mainland Spain,” says Sibson. “That one is housing part of our VT operation, and our highlights team who do the same day, fast turnaround highlights. We also have our graphics team from AE Live in there. They are the same team who come on the whole tour, and they’ve come in from Singapore for this.”
“We’re trying to get a consistent team across this,” he adds. “The suppliers might change, but we’ve got a core technical staff and production team who work across the series so that we can take that continuity from one to the next.”
“We’ve got 16 cameras in total: those four motos, some handheld RFs and cable cameras, and the two drones,” he continues. “One drone stays permanently at the run course, while the other one covers the swim and then transports to the finish to do the tail end of the run there. The cable cameras are covering the runs and the transition.
“We’re also using a Sony FS7 to provide some high frame rate shots. It’s a mobile camera that records onto cards, so we’re running those back to the truck, ingesting them, and playing them in at a high frame rate. We’ll try and get those into the coverage as much as possible as well, just to show some really nice shots of the athletes at high frame rates.”
The coverage of the staggered races is a six-hour marathon. “We’re off the air at two o’clock, and then we have some other commitments, such as a VNR for distribution. We also have an hour-long highlights programme, which is a fast turnaround, and which we play out two hours after we go off-air for distribution by satellite.”
FilmNova has two editors working on that edit while the race is ongoing. “We take the commentary from the world feed. We shoot some links straight after we come off-air with the main programme and create any additional graphics that we need.
“It’s really interesting to have two races in the same broadcast slot and there will always be technical challenges, but we’ve got a really good team here. Everyone’s pulling together, it’s a really happy team and we know we’ve got the best people working on this.”