Production is primarily remote, with the largest onsite presence since the pandemic
By Ken Kerschbaumer, Editorial Director
Friday, July 7, 2023 – 10:30 am
The Tour de France wrapped up Stage 7 of 21 today. and NBC Sports Tour de France Co-ordinating Producer Joel Felicio and much of the team are once again working remotely from Stamford, CT. The good news is that the remote workflows are working well and the onsite NBC Sports presence is the largest it has been since the pandemic (now up to 18).
“We’re creeping it back up,” Felicio says. “There is a little bit more of a footprint and then different tools and new ideas like the access to the team radios, which I am really excited about. That was something I have been discussing with the Tour for a long time as it has always been a fascination of mine to see the riders talking on the radio and then imagining what they are saying. And I think there are going to be some nuggets in there.”
The use of team radios has become the norm for NASCAR or F1 broadcasts. For NBC Sports and rightsholders around the globe, the ability to listen in to communications between the cyclists and their support teams will provide much more emotion and insight into strategy, course conditions, and more. The audio for the Tour de France isn’t live (for competitive and strategic reasons), but it is already making a difference. (To hear the difference it can make in storytelling, check out the Netflix documentary Unchained.)
“Once it’s cleared to go out, we’ll play it out,” says Felicio. “The Tour is managing all those signals as they made the deals with the teams to make this possible. At the end of the day, it gives us a chance to go back for the best bits.”
Woods Communications is once again providing technical facilities in France with a full-size mobile production unit as well as a new SNG truck (from NEP) and a bespoke mobile studio. Those personnel on site for NBC’s coverage work out of NEP’s HD 11 production unit while the SNG truck gives the NBC Sports team in the Stamford control room access to more video and audio signals.
“We don’t want to just take a line cut of the world feed as we’re telling our own stories,” says Felicio of the new SNG truck. “We can have 12 signals come into the SNG truck [in France] and a small switcher there send back three paths, including a multiviewer so we can see all the signals. That allows [those of us here in Stamford] to tell somebody in the truck [in France] to put a moto on a path or a heli shot on another. It’s like being onsite.”
NBC Sports is always looking to up its game, notes Woods Communications President Tommy Woods. “Although at-home production plays a major part, Peacock is continuing to make all the necessary moves to showcase the Tour from end to end with talent onsite. NBC continues to deliver a sense of place with best-in-class coverage to the U.S. cycling audience.”
One change in terms of on-air talent is that Christian Vande Velde, a retired professional cyclist, has shifted out of the studio and onto a motorbike and will be riding along with the competitors.
“He has become a really good asset for us,” says Felicio. “We’re using him as more of a third guy in the booth, even though he is on the course. He can hit a button and chime into the conversation whenever he wants without having any clunky throws.”
Having the talent onsite has been crucial because they can maintain their contacts with the teams, says NBC Sports producer David Michaels. “Having access to people and being able to talk to them after the stage is over and being part of the ambiance is important: they can see where the final turns are and assess the whole finish [for a stage. The difference when they are there versus not there is like night and day.”
Also onsite this year is the SMT graphics operator, who provides the very important pointer to identify riders. During the first year of the pandemic, the SMT operator was in North Carolina and then shifted to Stamford.
“It allows him to be more integrated with the timing,” he adds, “because he can have all of the feeds in front of him at all times.”
As for other technology, LiveU units are being used at the start line of each stage to provide a sense of place for the studio show, which is in Stamford.
“The LiveUs are magical and just part of a TV production that is, literally, like building and taking down a little city every day in two locations,” Felicio explains. “The [Tour] builds a little city at the start, and then they build a giant one at the finish, which has thousands of people and trucks. They are literally painting the logos on the finish line an hour before the guys come through. Then, 30 minutes after it’s over, the finish line comes down, and it’s like it was never there.”
Michaels, who works on the Tour de France remotely from his home in California, is on the phone with the team in France as well as with the team in Stamford, arranging a hit list of interview subjects for post-race coverage. It can get a bit chaotic, but he considers that just part of an event that is arguably the most challenging TV production on the planet.
“I’ve done just about every sporting event there is to do,” he says, “and, after 40 years of doing this, I am still amazed. The French production is incredible.”