During a period of trial and error, Devon & Cornwall embraced the idea of livestreaming of point-to-points. Carl Evans finds out more...
When it came to advancements in the presentation of livestreaming at point-to-points, the team in Devon & Cornwall (D&C) were at the forefront during the 2020/21 season.
By the final meeting in the region at Bratton Down in early June they were using no fewer than five cameras, calling upon up to 19 people and using an onsite production office with enough technical wizardry to livestream a major national sporting event. The presenter and face of the coverage was Cornelius Lysaght, the live racing shots were filmed by West Country Videos while technical equipment for the livestream was provided by Denis and Ian Pearce’s P A Specialists.
However, the fulcrum was Stephen Wensley, who for the past eight years has been running the D&C website and using social media to help promote the sport.
Wensley, who has a background in information technology, had for several years been a one-man livestreamer at D&C meetings, using a hand-held camera he describes as “quite limited and with no access to audio”. However, with Covid imposing severe restrictions on attendance at the sport he loved, and recognising that more advanced livestreaming would enable the public to remain engaged despite being unable to attend point-to-points, he set about gearing up for the challenge.
Explaining the start of the process, Wensley says: “I contacted Falmouth University’s School of Film & TV last summer and was put in touch with the university’s in-house creative agency, Mayn Creative, with a view to sourcing the skills set we couldn’t provide, namely a director, camera operators and an audio engineer.”
Livestreaming coverage began at the season’s opening fixture, held in October at Bishops Court near Ottery St Mary in Devon, where an early lesson was learned. Wensley, whose aim was to make improvements at every meeting, says: “Ottery suffered from terrible weather, and looked very dark because we were using a dark blue gazebo as a weather shelter.
“Simon Nott joined us as the betting reporter at Wadebridge and proved a big success, while the organisers of that meeting set up a WhatsApp group which provided declarations, any changes and results to a small group of officials, including the livestream team. That worked brilliantly. We also used a Wi-Fi link for the first time allowing us to film the paddock and racing from 200 metres away
“At Cherrybrook the company PA Specialists took over most of the technical side, using their newly-built ‘flypack’ which allowed the director to switch between camera feeds. They also brought in two extra cameras and a new VMix PC to manage the five-minute delay for BHA integrity compliance.”
Stephen Wensley in the production studio at Bratton Down
Other innovations included the use of a national sponsors banner and drone footage of a circuit of the course with a voice over by leading D&C rider Darren Edwards. Mike Drowne joined as a runner to get decs information.
Wensley says: “At the first Flete we added a recap of the finish of each of the races from the previous fixture, while at Trebudannon we added race replays immediately after each race.”
Further additions followed, including on-screen graphics indicating declared runners and riders, replays of races and an in-running timer. This not only gave viewers an indication of the speed at which races were being run, but also made it easier for the director to go to a certain point in a race in order to show a replay.
No less importantly was an improvement in picture quality after the team gained confidence in the strength of the internet signal. Wensley says this was made possible by using a device called Live View, which joined three weak internet signals to create one strong signal, enabling them to up the quality of the livestream output. For techy minds this was increased to 720p60 and finally 1080p60.
From student to director in one season
Falmouth University film student Rachel Burton became director of the livestream broadcast at Devon & Cornwall meetings.
Describing her role, Burton says: “My role was director and vision mixer. I chose the locations of the cameras, directed the camera operators [who were listening for instructions through headphones], and chose which shots would be going out live. I also liaised with the graphics operator, Aaron Bye [of P A Specialists], and would decide when to switch cameras from say the paddock to the presenter. If Cornelius wanted to talk about horse number five in the paddock I would direct the cameraman to focus on that horse.
“At the start of the season we had no graphics and just two cameras, but every week it got better and better.”
Burton, who is going into her final year, says this was her first experience of “an industry broadcast”. She says: “I did a lot of prep work and spoke to Stephen about the role, but it was a big learning curve and in at the deep end. It was a step up for all of us but you can see how the coverage improved and how we improved as a team.”
Rachel Burton, vision mixing at Bratton Down...and proud of the team's achievements
Burton believes the knowledge gained during the season could lead to simplification. She says: “We are hungry to keep improving and find out what viewers want, but at some point I believe we can say ‘right, how can we strip this down?’. If we can do it more easily and keep it small and simple and make it more efficient, other people will be able to benefit.
“For example, by going back to courses with which we will be more familiar we will be able to say ‘right, those cameras didn’t work there, we don’t need them’. If we get the coverage right we will get more viewers. We’re proud of ourselves for what we’ve achieved.”
Next week: livestream experiences in other areas of the country