Behind-The-Scenes With The Globe-Trotting Red Bull TV Team
So you switch on your app or computer and suddenly there they are: Mike Chen and friends, hosting Red Bull TV’s World Rally Championship coverage from every corner of the planet, whenever you want to watch it. But how does it work?
Heading up the show is Senior Producer Axel Ubben from Red Bull Media House, overseeing a team of around 16 crew every rally week. Providing viewers with an exclusive insight into the sport, anchorman Chen was joined by multiple F1 race winner Mark Webber in Monte Carlo and then WRC ace Andreas Mikkelsen in Sweden.
Most recently in Mexico local off-road ace Tavo Vildosola was recruited to join Mike as well as WRC expert Craig Breen who contested the opening two rounds of this year’s WRC for Citroën.
They were backed up not only by the people on-site, split into two edit suites and an outside broadcast truck, but also a crew based in Salzburg, Austria, responsible for airing the show. Mexico presented a couple of additional difficulties: it was the first long-haul event, seven hours behind Europe, and took place in two distinct areas. The spectacular super special stage on Thursday night was held at Zocalo Square in Mexico City, while the rest of the rally was in León: 400 kilometres north.
“That was definitely a challenge, which was why we divided into two groups on Thursday,” explains Axel. “One group, including the presenters, went to Mexico City, which I joined. The other stayed in León. As soon as we arrived at the TV compound in León on Wednesday we left again for Mexico City, so we had to hit the ground running and ensure we had good communications, workflow and logistics.”
The superspecial was expected to attract up to 200,000 people, packed into a city square that the Aztecs used to claim was the centre of the universe. But it was not all glamour. Once their work was done, Axel and his team of commandos fed the finished interviews back to León via satellite play-out and then returned there themselves…on an overnight bus, arriving at about 4amthe following morning. Ready for another three days of full-on work against the clock back at the TV compound.
Preparation is key. To get as much done as possible in advance, the crew carries out three days of editing back at base in Salzburg before the start of each event. By the time everyone got to Leon, all they had to do was to follow the ‘call sheet’: the team’s bible that basically explains who is doing what, where, and when.
“There’s so much work behind the scenes that people just don’t see,” points out Axel. “We also have a big brainstorming session after every rally to come up with the best and most different ideas for the future, to really bring the excitement of the sport to the viewers at home. We’re only a small team, but it’s a really creative and reactive one.”
It’s just as well that everyone in that team gets on, as they probably spend more time together than they do with their husbands and wives. On a rally, it’s not unusual for the alarm to go off at 5am and bedtime not to happen until 1am.
“You get used to it, but it’s particularly tough for the crews who go out on the live stages,” says Axel. “The roads are closed many hours in advance, so to drive in with all the equipment needed, you sometimes need to be in place by 7am for a stage that starts at midday, for example. That’s just to guarantee all the essential parts of our workflow such as production meetings, rundown meetings and rehearsals.”
At the end of each day, the highlights programme is put together in the edit suite and then sent to Salzburg via satellite to get dropped online. It’s a tight schedule but the team has never missed a deadline. “The highlights go out at 10pm, and we aim to make sure that Salzburg has the finished programme by 9.20pm,” concludes Axel. “So far, in all the time I’ve been doing this, we’ve never been late!”
Hopefully, we haven’t jinxed it now…