The début of WRC All Live at last week’s 86th Rally de Monte Carlo showcased a championship willing to take risks with its coverage.
It may have been shaky at times, but it worked and is a step in the right direction.
After a time, there was a notable groan, or a slight sinking in the voice or breath from Becs Williams – lead commentator for WRC Live.
These deep breaths came relatively regularly during the first running of Monte Carlo Rally’s famed Sisteron stage – run in reverse for the first time since the early-80s – when the onboard cameras chopped and slipped froze, before eventually cutting to a rendering of the stage tracking map.
If it was frustrating in the studio, it was equally as frustrating for the viewer and yet at the back of one’s mind, it didn’t matter as much as it should or could have. The future – it seems – is finally here.
The World Rally Championship has for so many years been dogged by poor television or online coverage, while their rally live radio package has excelled. Those years in the doldrums has mostly been characterised by a variety of maladies, such as lack of investment or simple lack of interest. To a degree, the WRC has been a championship that no one quite knew what do with.
With time, the series has found a purpose again. The introduction of live stages a few years ago helped and while this form of coverage has existed in various forms before, rarely was it as polished.
Yet the creation of WRC All Live is something entirely different. Logistically, the project is deeply ambitious and shows a measure of courage and belief on behalf of WRC Promoter. Utilising onboards on each car, a helicopter feed and several stage cameras, directing a constant feed of the stages was always going to be a mammoth task, but the WRC All Live crew managed it – just about.
Come the Friday stages, the dropouts decreased – probably helped by more stable weather conditions – and the turning of the stages gave hosts Kiri Bloore and Jon Desborough more meat to play with, while Molly Pettit, Paul King and Julian Porter added much from the service park.
The exploitation of live pictures from the stages also lifted the commentary significantly. Rather than merely feed listeners information using just tracking maps and split times, Williams, Porter and Colin Clark were able to describe the scenes and situations in a more vibrant manner.
By Saturday, expanded sets of on-screen graphics told more of the story in stage; however if one did not have a live track map to hand, there was little indication as to where a driver was on stage. Losing the radio crew for the live television broadcast stages was a bit jarring, but it is nothing that a better lead-in couldn’t solve.
Was it perfect? Of course not. The expected dropouts and camera cuts were annoying, but hopefully these are merely teething problems and the relative lack of in depth WRC-2 or WRC-3 coverage often meant that the eleven car WRC covered the entirety of the twelve hour broadcasts over the Friday and Saturday.
These are small things however. For a first run, WRC All Live was very impressive and I – and many others – will be keen to see how this develops over the coming events and seasons.