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

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 produce BT Sport’s coverage, and in the second and final part of this series, I went behind the scenes with them during the British Grand Prix weekend last month to find out how their programming has evolved.

If you have yet to read part one, head over here

When BT’s MotoGP coverage started in 2014, North One did not cover every race on-site, with BT’s Olympic Park studio in regular use. Fast forward four years, and North One now take the same size team to every race, with all the action presented on-site.

“What we want to do is make sure we offer the same service to fans, whether it is on in the middle of the night for the fly away races, or in prime time viewing hours,” explains Kevin Brown, who is MotoGP series editor for North One. “We want to serve the people who care and want to switch on in the middle of the night, they should get the same service as they would do if the race was on at 1 on a Sunday afternoon.”

2018 British MotoGP - BT commentary booth.jpg
The BT Sport commentary booth. Note that BT do not commentate from the main grandstand, or in Silverstone’s case from Woodcote. Instead, they commentate from one of their TV compound buildings, allowing them to easily rotate the commentary duo throughout the day.

26 people make up the MotoGP production team for North One, a number that includes on-air talent as well. Removing the seven on-air talent means that there are 19 people behind the lens that work on BT’s MotoGP programming race in, race out, including floor managers, researchers, producers, a sound assistant, and so on.  For Silverstone, the number is slightly higher to accommodate the additional material that BT puts out on-air.

Brown is happy with how the team currently operates with one another. “We’re very lucky that we do have a team that gets on exceptionally well with each other, and works exceptionally hard to make it happen.”

“When we get here, we have to hit the ground running, they need to know what their jobs are, what they are doing. As an example, you land in Japan, you are as jet-lagged as you can be. But you still get in a car, drive to the circuit, and have to perform as you would have done in Europe.”

“‘I’ll tell you what, let’s have a day off because we need to!’ is not an option in live sports broadcasting. Generally, everyone working for us are bike fans, we have a group of people who in some cases also work on other bike sports, and that is because they love it.”

Viewers watching at home may not realise that, but some of the production crew working on BT Sport’s MotoGP coverage also work on other aspects of motor racing. For example, Charlie Hiscott, who is a reporter for Eurosport’s World Superbikes coverage, works with North One during MotoGP weekends as a floor manager.

After an unsettled start, BT’s MotoGP coverage started to find its gear as their second season in 2015 progressed, something that Gavin Emmett acknowledges. “The first year or two we were just trying to work out what was going on, and since then we have only got better as we’ve become familiar with each other,” says Emmett.

2018 British MotoGP - BT touch-screen
The glamarous life of broadcasting. Neil Hodgson, furthest from the camera, analyses action on BT’s touch-screen device. The black tarpaulin is around the outside to prevent shadows from appearing on the screen.

“We have had changes over the years, whether it has been the presenters or Julian [Ryder] leaving at the end of last year. Like anything, as people become more familiar with it, and as fans become more familiar with us, hopefully they see the little things we throw in there.”

Suzi Perry presents BT’s output, with a six-man band led by Keith Huewen on commentary. Emmett, James Toseland, Colin Edwards, Neil Hodgson, and Michael Laverty provide analysis, Laverty the latest addition to their team for 2018. All of them bring a wealth of motorcycling knowledge from their years in the paddock and out on the race track.

The departure of Ryder from their coverage at the end of 2017 left a hole in the show, but the strength of BT’s team has allowed them to cover for Ryder’s absence. Instead of a single commentary team throughout the day, North One opted to rotate the commentary line-up. Emmett joins Huewen for Moto3, with Toseland on Moto2 duty and Hodgson giving his opinion on the MotoGP action.

“We all love Jules, but he wanted a break from all the travelling,” Emmett tells me. “The change has meant that we can experiment with commentary pairings, and I quite like that, it keeps it all fresh.”

“You keep the familiarity with each series, but you also get different voices throughout the day which keeps it interesting. When you have the same two people all through the day, it’s hard to then get ‘up’ for MotoGP at the end of it, but if you’re changing it up, the co-commentator then has energy for that race. I like it.”

For Emmett, 2018 is a return to the commentary box, having done commentary work for Dorna prior to joining BT’s coverage. His long-standing paddock reputation means that he is the ‘go-to’ man for stories, as well as his multilingual background.

“Gavin is the best-connected man in the paddock, he knows everyone,” says Brown. “Gavin finds the stories that you can see, but also those that you can’t see, that people will tell him because of who you are.”

“I’ve been lucky because I’ve been in this paddock since 2001. I’ve seen most of these riders grow up. I remember giving Jorge his first interview I remember on his birthday in Jerez. I speak Spanish, French and Italian, so I’ve got to know them in their own language, you get to know them on a different level which helps.

“We all have different ways of getting information as well, mine are through getting to know people, everyone feeds in their own little bit and that comes together over a weekend.” – Gavin Emmett

Brown is confident that North One have plugged the gap left by Ryder, thanks to the strength and depth of their team. “Our audience are people who know and care about bikes, and we can’t pull the wool over their eyes, we have to make sure we are providing the right information. That comes from a great on-screen talent team.”

“We have these people who know it so deeply, and that then feeds back into the production team,” Brown tells me. “Editorially we’re joining up as well as we have ever been. I would say that story-telling is our strongest aspect at the moment. We have story-tellers, we have the access to the people in the paddock to tell the stories properly.”

“The teams help us out an awful lot, and when we ask, we tend to get the right people even though they know we’re going to ask a difficult question. They know we’re not trying to mess around with them, we’re just asking a genuine question and we’d like a genuine answer. We’re not trying to misrepresent anything, we’re always trying to tell the right story.”

What does the future hold for BT’s coverage of MotoGP? Earlier this year, BT retained the rights to the championship, keeping the series until the end of 2021. A new aspect for 2018 has been the touch-screen. Like the Sky Pad seen in Sky’s coverage of Formula 1, it allows BT to give viewers a perspective they have not seen before.

“With the touch-screen, we can show people things that they wouldn’t otherwise have seen. We can have a feed of the helicopter to show different lines, or for example the sheer power of the Ducati compared to the Honda, just things that help people’s understanding. It’s easy to tell them ‘what’ but it’s harder to tell them ‘why’,” says Brown.

And Brown is keen to continue using the touch-screen moving forward. “I think that’s what our guys are very good at, and if we can give them the tools to do that better then that’s good. BT are a technology company, and they want us to be using technology, and we are happy to use it, to help people’s understanding of what is a brilliant sport.”

You can argue about BT’s pricing structure, and whether the service is too expensive. But one thing is for certain. Neither BT or North One leave MotoGP fans short-changed. And long may that continue.

2018 British MotoGP - BT on Saturday.jpg

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