ben treston

The changing face of the promo

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It has been far too long since updating this blog, but it is only because work has been so astoundingly busy. So busy in fact, that we have needed to expand and take on more people due to the volume of work.

Why so busy? With budgets shrinking, motor manufacturers and teams in poverty and people generally wanting to spend less money, why the upturn?

Quite simply, the face of the promo is changing. The reason we are so busy is that we operate at sensible and reasonable budgets, but also in general, try to keep things engaging for the viewer - who now more than ever is constantly saturated with glossy images and sold to left, right and centre.

People don’t need to see another very expensive glossy car advert, it’s all been done - and viewers take a lot now to be impressed. But also at the same time sending a print reporter with a mobile phone to film is not enough to create something engaging and worth sending to others. Current? Sure. Newsworthy? Maybe. But something that someone is going to watch and then share afterwards - less likely.

It’s this middle ground that is erupting. Last year we did two jobs for a client, one was a higher budget promo using projection, helicopters and super slow mo cameras. The other was for the same car but had an enthusiastic presenter talking around a lap of what the car was like to drive. Nicely filmed and put together, but no jaw dropping visuals. The non-glossy version was viewed triple the glossy version.

People now know when they are being sold to. By stepping back and producing content that does not beat them over the head with the brand, rather simply gently reminds them of it, means the outcome is much more effective.

Busy, and changing, times at present. I’m glad to be in the right spot.

Monaco Magic

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This time last week, the F1 paddock was bustling with the activity of qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix, and I was lucky enough to be there filming the aftermath and the drivers thoughts for ESPN Star Sports.

As my first time in Monaco for the F1 circus, I was amazed at how all logic goes out the window there. In practice, the entire concept should not work at all. It’s a tiny harbour side town with no major access roads in and out with a maze of backstreets and tunnels linking everything together. The fact that they can accommodate the entire F1 paddock, three support races and the world’s media including a large TV component is a not only a tribute to the organisers but the will of the place itself.

With both the F1 and WRC looking to modernise and move to new circuits and rallies, we should not be neglecting or forgetting the reasons these places are so classic. The fact that everything shut down on the Friday because of Thursday night partying should even more flag this place as one to keep!

I am not saying that Monaco is going to fall out of the F1 calendar anytime soon, but if I had have told you ten years ago that the Monte Carlo rally was not going to be included in a WRC season, you would call me crazy. It can happen, and possibly will for numerous political and business reasons. Sure, there are more exciting circuits than Monaco but it is the lighting in a bottle that Monaco has which is so very hard to find on any fancy new events.

Long may atmosphere reign, however I fear that hard currency is going to win this in the end. Sad, but true. Let’s hope for a happy middle ground.

Total Upheaval

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I can’t believe it has been since November that I have updated this blog - so much for keeping content fresh…

Looking back over the previous posts, it has amazed me how so much has changed and up-ended in such a short time - WRC television went from ESPN to nothing at all, F1 is now split between the BBC and Sky and yet work and demand for automotive video content continues to thrive like never before.

There is so much to say on all of the above in individual posts however the irony seems that as a premier motorsport spectator (at least the in the UK) it is now nigh on impossible to watch both premier categories on terrestrial TV. What an enormous retrograde step and surely the teams and manufacturers can’t be overly happy about this situation. With the F1, a lot of people in the know I work with, say that Sky has been spending obscene amounts of money on the coverage compared to the BBC - which is not surprising, however there was nothing fundamentally wrong with the BBC coverage in the first place. Having endless analysis and a 24 hour F1 channel does not an exciting race make, rather simply flog their prize motorsport asset to death.

With the World Rally Championship and the collapse of CSI and North One Sport, this has caused the television coverage to become a piecemeal effort that is now the responsibility of the rallies themselves, which is totally unfair - even though the coverage has been adequate, I now wish for the days of coverage on ESPN, let alone on Dave or even better Channel 4. I take back everything I said right now.

And yet, with the turmoil for your armchair motorsport fan, I am run off my feet with work - the hunger for content still remains, however the majority of work I do is not for a broadcaster, it is direct from manufacturer/team/client to fan or the public.

I imagine the possibilities of the the coverage of the WRC and also F1 given this model - I think it could surprise a lot of people.

The Citroen Championship Conundrum

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It has been a while since my last blog entry due to very hectic filming schedules, but I thought it best to raise an important point as we enter the final third of the WRC 2011 season.

The old hand or the rookie?

This is a major question that Citroen Racing are going to have to answer soon, as they are starting to run into a sticky situation that was exacerbated in Rally Germany this year, with the upstart Sebastien Ogier taking victory from the sure-bet Sebastien Loeb.

Admittedly, the decision of who to let win the event was written off when to everyone’s surprise Sebastien Loeb had a puncture on the last stage on Saturday - therefore negating the effect of team orders as to who was to slow and let the other pass. Before this happened though, the expression on Ogier’s face when interviewed at the stage end was clear to see. He was told to slow down - and he didn’t.

It seemed like a dream team. Two Sebs - both raised from the same FFSA stable and devastatingly quick, and fast to learn and adapt. Both French in a French team. However late last year it was now becoming apparent that the student no longer thought of himself as the student anymore, he wanted to be an equal.

This mentality (and the fact that it is believed there was no “number one” driver status agreed) means that you have two drivers looking to best each other on every stage at every event. Great for spectators, great for television - but a nightmare for the team.

Although trying to play down the tension before rally Australia, Citroen really does have a tricky game to play here. A seven times world champion proving how good he really still is, versus the new kid who looks to be the next seven times world champion.

To be honest, I love the tension, and the drama. Sebastien vs. Sebastien? Bring it on.

This just got real... From Playstation to racing circuit

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Having just spent two days working on the filming for Nissan’s GT5 Academy Programme, it was very interesting to see something a few years ago I thought may actually turn out to be a reality - the search for a racing driver via your gaming console.

Drivers from around Europe were selected after competing on Grand Turismo 5 on their Playstation 3 - they had to set lap times and the fastest from specific areas in the EU were all put through a series of challenges culminating in the tasks I witnessed - which involved tests of strength, endurance and of course, racing.

Nissan has done this programme very well, and the whole thing was being filmed for a TV programme to be broadcast on Channel 4 in the UK in September this year. It was fascinating to see these guys - who appear to be just old enough to drive - to actually get into the driving boots and start taking on challenges.

Seeing them get into a Nissan GT4 racing car today and go very quickly over the Stowe circuit at Silverstone really made me wonder if all of the practice on the PS3 had paid off - the concepts of late braking, apex and car control all derived from a game. Admittedly they had some world class instructors on their side for each of the teams - but this just added to the pressure on these lads.

I am sure the adrenaline was running high, compared to being on the sofa - and as a few of them learnt, there is no reset button to put your car gracefully back on the circuit again.

Of course, nothing can beat track time in a real car from a young age, but indeed seeing the commitment of all of the drivers present gives real thought about how realistic some driving games are getting and how this can filter down to driving in the real world.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I shall pick up my controller and get back to completing the career mode on WRC on the Playstation.

Mini WRC, maximum impact

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It was with great interest that I was able to check out the debut of the Mini World Rally Car (the first official outing on UK soil) at Cornbury Park in Oxfordshire over the weekend.

This car has been long rumoured in world rally circles and last year it broke cover, with a very strong driver line-up of Kris Meeke and Dani Sordo.

Based on the Mini Countryman, it has a 1.6 litre turbo power-plant to the current WRC regulations. The first thought when looking at the car is that it looks bigger than both rivals - the Ford Fiesta WRC and Citroen DS3 WRC. The car just looks long - as it is a four door it seems to exaggerate it’s length. The bonnet seems short, with an aggressive overhang for the front cooling and a high bumper. The rear is very squat and squared off, and at some angles, looks like the back of the Mini clubman.

However as soon as the car launched itself into the asphalt stage (on gravel tyres) it was apparent that it is extremely nimble, agile and pointed. Dani was giving it a lot of beans and was inch-perfect darting around the obstacles on the stage.

If this is the car in development, then the future does look very bright. The recent 6th place in Sardinia was testament to all the hard work done by Prodrive, and Kris Meeke’s early pace was even more encouraging.

The biggest win may not be on the stages just yet, the buzz around this car and the column inches it has generated has been a huge PR coup for Mini / BMW, and this is very promising not just for them, but bringing the much needed attention to the WRC in general. This season has been the best in years, and throwing a new car into the mix (albeit briefly), has really had the maximum impact the WRC needs.

Fire and Ice

The circus rolls into town again, and what a great start -
The WRC started 2011 in magnificent style with Rally Sweden getting a thick layer of snow, but more importantly a new layer of competition thanks to the new 1.6 litre turbo World Rally Cars. Both the new Fiesta and Citroen DS3 looked and sounded spectacular twitching on the ice (or what I was able to watch online at least).

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Mads Ostberg proved his talent with a brilliant drive, and it was great to see Mikko Hirvonen back on form again. The best result of all, was the results themselves! Seeing small gaps and fights up and down the field made for a great event, and this surely means great things for the future of the WRC now - if only people in the UK could see it.

Having just recently got back from filming the F1 testing in a warmer Barcelona, it was also good to see the pit and paddock back into action again for the new season. Red Bull looked very confident and rightly so, the car looking quick and the team with a very relaxed demeanour.

Red Bull in Barcelona

Surprisingly, most other teams seemed to be struggling, certainly McLaren and Mercedes. We interviewed Ross Brawn, and although he seemed confident, I am sure he was expecting more at this point. Lotus (the green one) was probably the most bubbly team in the paddock and it was good to see them enjoying their time at the test.

It looks to be a very interesting year, and yet I am far more excited about the new WRC regulations than the F1 - time for the underdog to come out of the shadows? I certainly hope so.

WRC TV's deathmarch towards ESPN

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With the news now settling about the WRC’s new deal with ESPN for UK TV coverage in 2011 it is becoming apparent that this decision is going to be a huge step backwards for the viewing public in the UK.

Everyone understands that we don’t have the former glory days of the World Rally Championship in the UK, with McRae and Burns fighting each other at the last round in Wales for the world championship - sadly those days are becoming a distant memory. That time was also the glory days for TV coverage, with Channel 4 offering a highlights package on each day of the event with a ‘virtual studio’ and good a good commentary panel with Penny Mallory, Robbie Head and Jon Desborough.

With the sad premature passing of Richard Burns, and the late Colin McRae not being a front runner with the new generation of WRC machinery that came in with Sebastien Loeb - the UK’s position as a producer of world-class rally driver was fading fast and sure enough so did the TV coverage to go with it.

Off it went to ITV4 after the Channel 4 deal died, and then after that onto the freeview channel “Dave”. This was a new channel that was basically a running loop of Top Gear repeats along with some comedy panel shows squeezed in. I quite liked it - a refreshing angle on a new channel for ‘blokes’ - and this is where the WRC went next. It seemed like a good fit, but the coverage really did go downhill. The host of the AXN show, Neil Cole did his best - but the cutbacks from the glory days of Channel 4 were showing - lack of cameras on stage and a watered down package of one hour on the Sunday after the event.

Suddenly after this recent news about the 2011 coverage - it feels like that the old TV package would be just fine. Over time, the coverage on Dave, did improve with more focus on the stages and a little less focus on C-list celebs attending the event. One would assume that these improvements were leading to a renewal of this deal, but late last year, it was becoming apparent that the deal with Dave was not going to be renewed in 2011. The speculation then began which of the Freeview channels the WRC would go to - would it end up back on ITV4? Perhaps Channel 5? The BBC was a long shot - but would have been a natural fit with the Formula One coverage....

However the very depressing reality is that now the only place you can watch the WRC is on ESPN. Not only is this on a subscription service - but it is a subscription service on a subscription service (Sky TV). Someone priced up that it would cost an additional £130 per year to enjoy the WRC on TV, and that does not include the cost of the Sky Subscription itself either. This is just simply not acceptable when the WRC is struggling to gain more traction in the UK (and worldwide).

I understand that North One Sport did try to pitch the coverage to many networks - however my worry is that this deal is based on the interests of theirs, and not the fans or the sport in general. With modern technical advancements why can’t they just bypass this limitation of having a broadcaster, and broadcast it themselves - straight out on wrc.com on the Sunday - using HTTP streaming and perhaps targeting devices such as the PS3 (which sits under your TV)? For commercial interests they could embed advertising of course - but this could really open up the audience much wider than just restricting this to a very small potential audience hidden away on a members-only sports channel.

With the most interesting season (exciting new World Rally Cars, a level playing field) fast approaching in two weeks - it is a pity that as a excited potential viewer with a TV - I won’t be able to see a thing.

Ford WRC at Autosport International

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It was great to see Mikko Hirvonen at Autosport International the other day while filming for a client. The Fiesta WRC also looked suitably mean - can’t wait to see it in action on the stages. Of course he said that he is really up for the fight, and I really do hope he is, after his terrible 2010. Both him and Jari deserve a dominant year for a change. We shall wait and see after Sweden if this might be case in 2011.