Behind the scenes with BT Sport’s MotoGP production team: planning

From Qatar to Valencia, from Friday morning to Sunday evening, BT Sport cover every session of the MotoGP season exclusively live. Their coverage encompasses both the main championship as well as the feeder Moto2 and Moto3 championships.

North One Television have produced BT Sport’s coverage since it started in 2014, and in this two-part series, I went behind the scenes with them at last weekend’s British Grand Prix to find out how their programming has evolved…

Kevin Brown has been involved in BT’s MotoGP coverage since its inception, and moved into the Series Editor role following the 2017 season. In his role, Brown has the final say on what goes out on-screen.

“My role is to develop the programmes and to make the coverage as good as it can be,” says Brown, who sat down with me on the Thursday of the Silverstone weekend. “It involves working with our on-screen talent to get the best out of them. BT own the rights, it’s their coverage, and I do it for them. If they have feedback then they certainly give it to me.”

Whilst North One are not responsible for MotoGP’s World Feed, that being in the hands of commercial rights holder Dorna, they are responsible for all of BT Sport’s pre-race build-up and post-race analysis, as well as providing their own commentary over the top of the MotoGP feed.

Planning
BT’s coverage of a race weekend consists of around eight hours per day, totalling 25 hours. Although the broadcaster does not go on-air until 15 minutes before Friday practice, planning for the weekend starts the moment the previous race ends.

“You can’t turn up at a live outside sports broadcast event unprepared otherwise you’ll get caught out,” explains Brown. “Immediately following the previous race, you start to think about what the upcoming stories are. There’s a lot of contact between myself, the on-screen guys, and the producers. We spend a lot of time talking between races, it must drive our families mad!”

2018 British MotoGP - BT on Friday.jpg
During the Friday lunch break at Silverstone, the BT Sport team of Gavin Emmett, Michael Laverty and James Toseland interview British GP2 rider Josh Owens, a series that runs alongside the British Superbikes championship.

The team starts to arrive to a race weekend on the Wednesday, but it is Thursday when the action steps up a gear. A production meeting on Thursday morning sets the scene for the weekend ahead, before all the key interviews take place in the afternoon.

That sounds easy enough, except the interviews take place in a very short period at the respective motor homes. Broadcasters cannot attend every media scrum, they pick which ones to attend depending on where the stories are within the paddock. It also depends on what questions the broadcaster may want to ask the rider.

The key topic prior to the Silverstone weekend was the new surface that could cause riders issues (little did we know at the time, the poor condition of the track led to the cancellation of all three races on Sunday). For North One as the production company for a UK broadcaster, the priority is the British riders, Cal Crutchlow leading the way. Thursday morning threw a curve ball, a positive one, as Crutchlow signed with LCR Honda for an additional year until the end of 2020.

“We usually have an extended sit-down interview set up with Cal before the British round, but his news changes the emphasis of the interview as it would have been slightly different otherwise,” explains Brown. “We have to be able to respond and adapt quickly to emerging stories.” Thursday is also an opportunity to film any features with riders, typically a track guide, and to ensure all the systems are working as expected, ironing out any loose ends that crop up.

Gavin Emmett leads the ship on Fridays, presenting BT’s coverage of practice, encompassing Moto3, Moto2 and MotoGP. However, whilst the race track is silent during the lunch break, BT Sport remains live on-air during the 75-minute gap, using the break to their advantage.

2018 British MotoGP - Emmett and Rossi
Gavin Emmett interviews Valentino Rossi in the Silverstone media centre following Thursday’s press conference.

“Not many people know about it, but for those that do, it is something we’ve built on this year, by staying live during the break,” notes Emmett. “We take our time over that break, bringing everyone up to speed with what’s been happening and what’s going on.” Here at Silverstone, Emmett and Neil Hodgson used the gap to analyse Marc Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo’s last-lap battle during the Austrian Grand Prix, an excellent use of the down-time over the lunch break.

Suzi Perry takes over hosting duties for Saturday and Sunday, whilst Emmett juggles different roles depending on the series that is on-track. “For Moto3, I am up here in the commentary box, and in parc ferme for MotoGP grabbing those interviews.”

“What people don’t realise is when you’re not on-air, while Moto2 is on, I’m doing interviews with the MotoGP riders as they’ve just finished their session. It’s pretty much the same on Sunday. You are non-stop, but that’s what it takes.”

But Emmett is happy to be covering multiple classes is his BT role. “At the end of the day Moto2 and Moto3 are World Championships. The names may have changed, but they are the pinnacle of the light weight and middle weight classes.” Of course, what the above does not consider is rain delays, which the MotoGP pit lane encountered frequently during the Silverstone weekend.

“The on-screen chemistry that our team have is as good as any time that I have worked with. What you see on-screen is genuine, and it continues off-screen as well. We get in the car to go home, and if there has been a debate on TV about a nudge on-track, that continues afterwards into dinner!

“It’s not just about the sport, it’s about our personal lives, we all care about each other and I think that is really important, and that applies for the whole crew. We’ve got cameramen who are ex-speedway riders, their opinion is relevant. There’s no one who feels that another person’s opinion is not good enough. We all listen to each other. It’s an important dynamic, but it’s one that I think we have perfected.” – Kevin Brown

In between delivering the core elements of the weekend, Brown emphasises that the team is continuously striving to improve.

“I spend most of the time between races on the phone or in the WhatsApp group, where we’re all chucking in thoughts and ideas. Some of them make it, some of them don’t, but it’s nice that we all have the ideas. We all care about the product we’re putting on-air.”

As part of an ongoing effort to bring the sport closer to the fans, an additional hour of MotoGP programming aired on BT Sport during last weekend’s British Grand Prix as a trial. New for this season, ‘In Case You Missed It’ has been BT’s Friday evening wrap-up show, but for Silverstone, BT aired the show live for the first-time directly from the Woodlands campsite.

“For me, it is all about taking people to an event they can’t go to, that’s always the important thing,” says Brown, who was also part of the North One team who produced ITV’s Formula 1 coverage.

“It’s easy to get a bit blasé about going to another race track, and another, and another, but there are thousands of people out there who would give their right arm to go to Brno or the Sachsenring. It’s really important to capture the flavour of the event.”

“Here at Silverstone, one of the things we can do is get them in the campsite and see that there’s 10,000 people in there, who are giving up their time, spending their money to be a part of what the British Grand Prix is.”

In part two, we take a look at how BT’s coverage of MotoGP has evolved since 2014, and what the future may hold…

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