North West 200


Kieron Seth#
As the gates to the event open and the hordes roll in to watch the North West 200 motorcycle race, production company Greenlight TV is primed: production schedule ready, broadcast timetable planned meticulously. Then... torrential rain, a crash and a major oil spill... finally a credible bomb alert.

It's at times like these when production skills and technical agility come to the fore.

It sounds exciting: high-powered sports bikes racing at speeds approaching 200 mph along country roads, complete with collisions, crashes and breathless overtaking moves. Greenlight TV films it all for live TV and wraps it up in pre-recorded TV shows and DVDs. The race may be thrilling, but it's not nearly as exciting as the behind-the-scenes skill and technology that go into its broadcast. Production teams have to keep the cameras rolling even when things don't go to plan.
Taking Technology for Granted

In 20 years, we have gone from 4 stations to multi-channel, interactive HDTV. That's dramatic. And it's been a revolution that has meant production companies and broadcasters having to completely reinvent themselves and the way they operate.

Sometimes as a consumer it is difficult to appreciate just how much the TV world has turned on its head. Today we take 100+ channels for granted. The neighbour's flat screen TV has ceased being a thing to be envied. 3DTV might be another great leap forward but it is being introduced with little or no fanfare. It's actually broadcast technology that's out in front.

Even the professional production community itself has become blas about this kind of massive change. Creating high definition video within a tapeless environment, in 5.1 surround sound, complete with beautifully rendered titles, fx and graphics has become just the norm. These revolutions are not banal. There should be no mistaking how different our world has become because of TV technology. We have been, and are still in the midst of, a bigger media revolution than anyone could have imagined even two decades ago.

So at first glance, a story in a production magazine about an independent company shooting a sporting event may appear to be a run of the mill piece looking at filming fast bikes. However, when weather, terrorism and a calamitous crash conspired to upset all the broadcast plans at the North West 200, it is possible to appreciate the value of a professional production team.

David Beynon of Greenlight Television which specialises in motorsport sounded calm (after the event!):

"In this industry and in this sport, you have to be ready for anything. Fortunately we've seen most things before and can respond accordingly."

Changing Gear

Greenlight has certainly lived through significant change; they are used to reinventing the way they work. Beynon made a telling comment about the incredible impact that the digital revolution has entailed for his company:

"Our first edit suite was installed 15 years ago. It was linear, standard definition and quite efficient. It cost us £350,000. Our latest upgrade this year saw the final 3 linear edit suites stripped out and replaced by Edius HD non-linear workstations with HD decks. The cost was less than £35k per suite." In total Greenlight now runs 7 Edius HD suites and and 4 FCP suites.

Digital acquisition was a start. Going tapeless was then another staggering leap forward - again an easy thing to say, and again, Beynon paints the real picture: "High speed ingest saves time. So what? Simply, it gives us way more time to produce way better programmes without hours waiting for tapes to be digitised."

The North West 200

The acceleration in the production process has coincided with the explosion of digital TV channels and the demand for more and more top quality content. The planned coverage of North West 200 was a case in point.

The motorbike race attracts more than 100,000 as well as the biggest names including Michael Rutter, Guy Martin, Ryan Farquhar and Michael and William Dunlop. Taking place in May, the circuit runs between the towns of Portrush, Portstewart and Coleraine, an area of outstanding natural beauty. Such a competition in such an environment demands programming of the highest quality, whether it goes out on schedule or has to be rewritten at a moment's notice.

This year Greenlight plan was to produce over 13 hours of programming - live and next day - as well as a 3-hour DVD to cover the race which is Northern Ireland's largest outdoor sporting event.

"The cost, speed and performance of today's technology means that we have to make few compromises." Explains Beynon. "It also means that we can make all of the footage from the event, from on-bike cameras, the Cineflex on the helicopter and over 20 trackside cameras available to not only all of our suites on-site but also to the BBC online team in a separate unit. With the assistance of Televideo's OB expertise and EVS technology, the crew can produce and play out live, high quality content to the BBC in real-time, mixing material from any of the 20 cameras.


In Post with EDIUS

As well as live TV, the Greenlight crew was commissioned to produce numerous feature pieces and a post-race wrap-up programme for the BBC. For this Greenlight turns to its newly installed edit studios which were recently upgraded by Gaz Aldridge of Gaztec Services. In a post production world dominated by Avid, Adobe and Apple, Aldridge recommended Grass Valley's EDIUS. He commented:

"Greenlight is all about high quality, fast turnaround programmes. Software like Final Cut Pro have their place but they are best suited to complex content creation rather than fast cutting. For realtime, multi-format editing, we go for EDIUS. You can drop anything onto the timeline with no need for transcoding and, twinned with a Storm 3G card, EDIUS is exceptionally quick."

Storm 3G can handle any mix of high and standard definition video content, unlimited video, audio, title and graphics layers and any combination of real time effects. It also offers real time, full resolution, full quality HD and SD video outputs. "But most importantly, it's highly stable. Running on Hewlett Packard Z800 workstations, Greenlight has an industry-leading, robust solution."

The speed and power of modern editing equipment, liberated from the days of passing tapes around the edit suite enable Greenlight to work concurrently on the same material for different programmes. Working with a shared storage solution means a faster workflow and unrestricted access to content for the editors. "We want to produce more versions, use more camera angles, more effects, more titles. We can never have enough power!"

For Gaztec, one revelation has been VideoStar's's titling software, VisTitle for EDIUS. "Its realtime performance is ideally suited to Greenlight It gives them control, creativity and reliability - everything they need." However, Gaz Aldridge's excitement goes up a level when talking about the 3G Elite card. "It instantly turns a laptop into a fully fledged broadcast field edit system boasting HD-SDI connectors with embedded audio and timecode and HDMI sockets for full resolution monitoring. It's a phenomenal piece of kit."

No matter how quickly the technology advances, Beynon states plainly that he will always want more. Whether it's to overcome the final bottleneck of Cinema 4D renders or speeding up the creation of elaborate graphic sequences in Final Cut Pro, Greenlight TV will always crave more power. "Production companies thrive on creating programmes of the highest quality. We are ambitious. We want to deliver better programmes every time, to get more air time and to keep our customers truly satisfied with our work." Remarked Beynon.

In the Hot Seat

As far as the race and the broadcast schedule were concerned, nothing went to plan at this year's North West 200. However, despite the levels of stress amongst the producers and editors, the show went on. Beynon concluded:

"When all hell breaks loose, you've got to fall back on experience and know how. And you have to trust in the technology."

Real Speed

Every year fast cars, fast bikes and fast boats make incremental improvements. But it's actually in the broadcast world where the real race is happening - get ready for 4K, 8K, super-hi vision... Faster, cheaper technology is announced every time a trade show opens. And we will keep needing more of it, especially when plans fall apart.

Tags: iss054 | northwest 200 | greenlight television | edius hd | non-linear workstation | gaztec | vistitle | Kieron Seth#
Contributing Author Kieron Seth#

Read this article in the tv-bay digital magazine
Article Copyright tv-bay limited. All trademarks recognised.
Reproduction of the content strictly prohibited without written consent.

Articles
Using Wireless Transmission
Jeremy Benning Wireless acquisition is a staple of live sports, entertainment and reality shows where cable free capture permits shots not previously possible, for health and safety reasons, and gives the camera-operator greater artistic licence to roam. The same is increasingly true of narrative drama where cinematographers are keen to work handheld or Steadicam where that helps tell the story. Any equipment which frees their movement and time by being lighter, easier to use and reliable in performance is going to tick a lot of boxes.
Tags: iss134 | wireless | 4k | transmission | Jeremy Benning
Contributing Author Jeremy Benning Click to read or download PDF
An Epiphany Moment
Peter Savage 2 I had been negotiating the sale of my company and had reached the really hard end of the bargain. We were close to agreeing the final sum after a lot of too-much-give-and-not-enough-take negotiation. The solicitors were calling me, keen for a deal. It had come down to one sticking point and, in my hard ball “I am the Wolf of Wall Street” guise, I wasn’t going to let it go. It would make a value difference of 1.5% on the total outcome. Not much, you might think, but I had already nearly fallen out with the solicitors over their fees and I was giving my advisors an extremely hard time because the corporate adviser couldn’t see how I had already given more than an inch and the buyers were taking more than a mile. I was not going to let them win.
Tags: iss134 | azule | finance | Peter Savage 2
Contributing Author Peter Savage 2 Click to read or download PDF
Accelerated Workflows with eGPU
Mike Griggs From the UK’s National Trust to magazine publishers to manufacturers, digital content creator Mike Griggs has a wide and varied portfolio of clients for whom he creates 3D art, motion graphics and multimedia exhibits. A typical day might involve sampling birdsong near Virginia Woolf’s country estate or creating 3D animations for VR. To keep on top of these demands, Griggs wanted to take the full power of the GPU computing revolution on the road.
Tags: iss134 | sonnet | egpu | amd | post production | editing | Mike Griggs
Contributing Author Mike Griggs Click to read or download PDF
University and Mental Health
Rhiannon Jenkins University study and mental health has been in the media quite a bit over the last year, and I’m sure there are many people wondering what is going on? The issues are complex, and I suppose the focus of employability off the back of a degree course has raised the stress stakes for a lot of young people. I’m only qualified to talk about this from my perspective, and my story began when I joined a course not knowing I had a mental health condition.
Tags: iss134 | portsmouth uni | mental health | student | tvfutures | Rhiannon Jenkins
Contributing Author Rhiannon Jenkins Click to read or download PDF
Protecting the continuity of transmission
Lorna Garrett Your viewers love you. You consistently bring them their preferred channels 24/7. They’ve come to rely on you for their viewing pleasure. They never miss cheering on their beloved sports teams. They’re the envy of their friends as they watch live concerts of their favourite bands. They gather the family around and catch up on their must-see shows. They don’t have a bad word to say about you.
Tags: iss134 | garland | gpl | streaming | artel | disaster recovery | Lorna Garrett
Contributing Author Lorna Garrett Click to read or download PDF