How often have you watched an event livestream and thought about what actually goes into making that happen?
The multiple camera angles, the timing, the graphics, the fact that everything seems to fall here or there into place without much of a hiccup. If it’s a job done well then you probably don’t give it much thought at all. It’s only when it goes wrong that you might question what’s going on behind the scenes.
In just a few years, the art of livestreaming a drift event has gone from the crude to the incredibly complex. If you tuned into the Drift Masters King of Riga a couple of weekends ago, then one thing you might have noticed was just how slick the livestream production was.
We’ve already covered what we felt about being back drifting, and what happened at the event, but I wanted to give you an insight into what goes on behind the scenes, solely on the broadcast side of things at a DMEC (Drift Masters European Championship) event.
What you saw over that weekend is the culmination of years of experience; in running professional drift events, in producing live sports events, and in broadcasting both online and on television.
I think it’s easy to overlook just how much work goes on behind the scenes, and since I’ve been involved in the Drift Masters European Championship since early 2019, I’ve seen the production side of things scale up in an unbelievable manner. This is due, in great part, to the involvement of Red Bull TV and the decades of experience that the crew have under their belt, but also comes in collaboration with several other teams all working together to create an exciting live spectacle.
Hopefully this quick walk-through of the production paddock at this year’s DMEC King of Riga event will give you an insight into some of the processes and technology that goes into each live event.Where The Magic Happens
The multitude of production trucks and tents set up here each serve a different purpose. The broadcast logistics side of things is handled by livestream broadcast expects SeeItLive from Kildare, Ireland, who arrive before the event in order to set up the various broadcast stations around the circuit. This included running power and feed cables for the live cameras, remote cameras, and setting up satellite feeds so that the signal could reach the internet, even in obscure overseas race tracks devoid of fast internet connectivity.
And I thought the wiring behind my TV was complicated…
This is the main broadcast truck, with Red Bull TV live director Kevin Chapman on the left, and Drift Masters show-runner Cian Leonard on the right. Inside this truck, the perfect amalgamation of differing skillsets takes place, with Kevin bringing over 20 years of Formula 1 production experience and calling the shots (literally – the shots that you see on the livestream) and Cian acting as the link between the broadcast team and the team running the track.
While Kevin is the authority on creating an exciting and slick production, Cian and the track team know drifting like the backs of their hands. It’s Cian’s job to make sure that everything runs smoothly in terms of that awkward bridge where a live production and a live event meet – from ensuring downtime is kept to a minimum, to ensuring the right cars are sent at the right time, and that the commentators have the latest information to do their jobs.
On the wall of screens in front of Kevin is a curated selection of the live feeds from the various cameras around the circuit (and in the sky!), allowing him to pick and choose what gets sent live and when. He can also patch into the various camera operators and offer direction.
At the back of the truck is the Red Bull Media House editing desk, where pre-recorded ‘VT’ (video tape – I know, it’s odd) segments are edited together for use in the livestream. There’s also an impressive QNAP array of SSD storage which is constantly updating and backing up the live footage from all the camera streams. This also allows for live footage to be clipped and dropped straight onto social media.
I don’t know how many terabytes are recorded per event sadly. I’d imagine lots.
Inside truck number two, tucked away out of sight at the back of this shot is Red Bull Media House senior producer Rob Darlington. On the screens here is the full selection of live camera feeds along with an industry-standard replay system that allows the live feed from all of the cameras out on circuit to be instantly stored and recalled at a moment’s notice.
If you watched the livestream, you’d notice just how quickly the replays were broadcasted after a run, with specific slow-mo or clipping point cameras available at the team’s disposal too. You’ll also often see Rob running around the paddock, dragging camera people, sound engineers and presenters in tow whilst looking for drivers to interview or interesting moments to capture. In fact, you’ll only ever see him relaxed once the event ends and the cameras power down.
A unique challenge of the DMEC broadcast is that slightly different feeds are sent to different channels. For example, the Riga show was live on TV in some countries, available on Red Bull TV in others, and on the DMEC website and Facebook elsewhere. Each channel has its respective advertising breaks and requirements that need to be allowed for across the board.Think On Your Feet
Of course, one of the unique parts of drifting as a motorsport is that there can be sudden and unexpected downtime in the show. When this happens in other motorsports there’s usually a slow procession of cars driving under a red flag to occupy the screen time whilst the commentators fill, however in drifting the track is often ‘dead’. It’s the job of the production team to ensure that they have enough content to fill this downtime with, be it live interviews, replays, cameras on the ground capturing what’s happening, or VT segments to insert. While the track may be dead, those viewing online should always be entertained.
Becky Evans is the face of the DMEC broadcast, on behalf of Red Bull, so it’s her job to hop in front of the camera and provide extra depth to what’s happening at the event. Becky is known to be a bit handy behind the wheel of the drift car herself too, so she has an added insight into the weird world of drifting, which makes a huge difference when it comes to explaining aspects of the sport, and talking directly to drivers.
The final link between the audience and the production are the commentators – Dave Egan and Ian Waddington, seen here multitasking and filming a Drift Games vlog before going live. Dave and Ian operate from the judging tower, and while they might have the best seats in the house, they spend 95% of their time watching the show from the monitors in front of them.
I think the pole is for Dave to hold onto, should he get too excited, which he can from time to time.
At the judging station, everyone involved is patched into an intercom system, allowing one team to talk to another, or one person to have a dedicated feed into another without others distracting them. This intercom can be sent directly to the live feed too, which gives the judges the chance to explain decisions directly to the audience.
Another unique point about the judging station is that each judge has their own replay call-up hooked into the system that we touched on earlier, allowing them to recall runs instantly from any of the cameras. This can be used in times of conflict or consideration to ensure that nothing was missed or hindered by viewing from a single perspective. It’s game-changing stuff when it comes to having all the necessary tools for making sure the calls are as fair and accurate as possible.
Even the scoring system is fully automated, which the judges punching in their scores on individual iPads, which is then fed directly into the graphics system that you see at home, and on the Jumbotron screen.
Of course, all of this sounds great with me explaining it, but the difference here is that it really is tried, tested, and actually works reliably.
As well as the manned broadcast cameras positioned around the track, there are also a handful of roaming broadcast units, remote-controlled fixed cameras in positions where it isn’t possible or safe to place an operator, a stabilised and manned camera on the start line, and a team of racing drone operators, all feeding into the system live.
The drone FPV cameras certainly offer a unique viewpoint that seems perfect for drifting. I’m dying to have a go on one of these if someone will trust me, although I’m not sure how comfortable I’d be in goggles and not being able to see if a car or bit of debris was heading my way!
New for 2019 was the addition of live in-car video and audio feeds too, giving viewers a unique look into the emotions that drivers go through during battles. These are some of my favourite angles to watch, as you can see the start line nerves and post-battle elation or disappointment firsthand.The Next Step
Drifting can be a confusing sport at the best of times, and some of the most recent additions to the Drift Masters broadcast move towards aiding in the audience’s understanding of what’s happening. New for Riga this year was the addition of some very clever data acquisition systems, brought on board by Red Bull as part of an investment in the championship and sport. It boasts the technology to accurately track each car in and around the entire circuit, offering real-time data on speed, position, angle and proximity (both to other cars and the defined, fixed clipping points).
Each car was measured by laser before the event, allowing calculations to be made as to exactly how close or far the boundaries of the cars were to other objects, as well as where the wheels sat in relation to the bodywork. This data was then used to display live for the audience whether the driver had successfully positioned one, two or more wheels within each clipping zone, and well as how close or far the chase car and lead car were apart, and a host of other data points such as lead car speed, angle and so forth.
This data, along with knowing the speed and angle of each car, could present the audience with a ‘score bar’, indicating how good the run was. The more runs the system sees, the more data it has, and it can start to populate all sorts of statistics on each driver – average angle, average speed, whether they chase with close proximity or not, and whether they are good at imitating the lead car’s line and angle, or not.
If you watched the livestream from Riga, then you already saw this starting to be used in action and will have some insight into what’s possible.
For the time being, this data is solely for information and display purposes, although it can also provide visual clues to someone not au fait with drifting as to what’s good and what’s not about a run. But in the future it could be used to aid the judges in their decision-making process, such as settling judging disputes, making qualifying easier, or settling ‘one more time’ deadlocks.
I don’t think we’ll see a move to human-free judging any time soon, certainly not in battles, but if the data captured can help make more informed decisions then I can’t see an argument against it. You only have to read the public comments during drift livestreams to see that people still love to make unfounded calls on how subjective judges are (despite already understanding that it’s a subjectively-judged sport?), so presenting data (along with endless replay angles) should help clear up most disputes.
I hope this little peek behind the curtain at Drift Masters King of Riga has been interesting. Despite being involved on the ground, the amount of work that goes into making the broadcast side of this event work still blows my mind, and the pace at which it’s evolving is hugely exciting.
As someone who’s been involved in the sport for long enough to remember the first single-fixed-camera livestream of a ‘professional’ event, it’s hard to imagine we’re now getting to a point whereby the technology and experience behind the production rivals that of any live sport broadcast out there. Quite how so many different facets from different parts of the world can all culminate over the space of a few days and it work so seamlessly, I’ll never not be impressed.
And it’s just the start too. There are big plans afoot for 2021, and yet more technological leaps on the horizon. Spectating drifting both in-person and from afar is only going to get better and better…