How to bring “Live” to the World Rally Championship?

It’s quite odd that rally, or rather World Rally Championship, still lingers in the 80s or 90s when it comes to TV coverage and taking advantage of modern communication infrastructure. And the infamous daily 30 minute reports with nothing else in between. So, full day of rallying and all the drama and excitement and flair gets compressed into 30 minutes report, which is just about enough time to briefly mention what happened during the day. And that’s it. Of course, situation with global promoter going bust did not help, but regardless there are areas which could be improved.

One can wonder what’s the use of those reports anyway? World Rally Championship fans will be glued to their computers or mobile devices anyway and will follow each stage on radio and via split times. YouTube also became very capable source of footage from the stages, so you can see Dani Sordo’s Monte Carlo collision with the bridge on YouTube, but not in official TV report. So, why bother with 30 minutes report, often broadcast around midnight? They don’t offer anything spectacular nor exciting, sort of like watching a Formula 1 race after you know the results and what happened on each lap of the race. And for someone not familiar with rallying and the WRC these reports are not very informative or inviting.

One reason comes to mind and it’s closely related to bare survival of the WRC. Without any kind of TV coverage I highly doubt any of the existing manufacturers would be very keen to continue their involvement in the sport, and total lack of TV presence would most certainly force potential new teams to reconsider their ideas and plans. Not that they get huge amount of quality TV time anyway. In that sense, having something over nothing is easy to understand. But WRC should hardly be satisfied with this status quo.

One of the most interesting ideas introduced over the years into rally coverage are live TV stages. And I’m not talking about those super-special stadium shows that have no real resemblance to proper rally stage. Instead, live TV coverage of true (if shorter than usual) stage is something WRC should ideally have on each and every event. Just so the WRC can get into prime time and not be sidelined to midnight, if nothing else.

I admit I am no expert in the field, but I am pretty sure it should be technically possible to cover 10 kilometer stage with about a dozen cameras and a helicopter. Combine that with onboard cameras on each car and you can more or less cover entire stage. Now imagine such stage being televised live in late afternoon and not in the middle of the night – bringing live action as it happens instead of just reporting. With cameras showing crews preparing to start the stage, with all the tension and concentration, and then talking to selected few at the stage finish. In fact, World Rally Radio developed nice concept of stage coverage and their interviews with drivers on stage ends are really superb (although I personally enjoyed Colin Clark’s way of commenting over the current crew) – now add that to live TV picture and you get a product that would not only make current fans happy but would “explain” the rally and it’s many exciting features to new fans.

Another good idea (in my humble opinion) would be to release live cars tracking to the public via WRC’s official website. With that fans would be able to follow their favourite crew on stages, and although crew would be represented by a mere dot on screen, it’s much better and more “interactive”  than spamming your “Refresh” button, waiting for car to clear split time or finish area.

How about putting “unmanned” cameras to selected few spots on stage, for example on split time areas, and link that to live tracking. And each of those cameras would be streaming action live, and fans would then be able to “maximize” those streams and see the cars at speed while also following their progress via live timing + tracking. I am 100% sure there exists the technology for those cameras to be remotely switched on by oncoming car so they’re not streaming if no cars are in frame.

These ideas could go on forever, and from what I gathered while talking to fans, World Rally Championship really should make huge steps forward and finally embrace available technology. So instead of just having end stage times and one (1) 30 minute TV report we could be following rally as it happens, with live TV picture, stage end interviews, tracking and much more.

For now I’m quite happy Stage One Technology is back and with it the split time system. In the meantime let’s see what FIA will come up with regards to global promoter.