The 2018 Isle of Man TT turned out to be one of the most spectacular fortnights in the storied history of the meeting. Virtually every race saw new lap records set, at speeds that were unthinkable a decade ago. The weather was glorious, and a host of new dining and imbibing options have proliferated. There were some tragic losses to go with the glory, but that is part of the unparalleled history, character, and danger of this extraordinary contest.
Other than the 40,000 visitors to the TT, though, millions of additional motorbike enthusiasts around the globe settled for watching the race coverage in the comfort of their homes. But not live. Instead, the TT programming is distributed as a set of same-day highlights programs, which spawns considerable production challenges.
The TT is the world’s ultimate road race, and producing and distributing TV and radio coverage is as big a challenge as exists in sports. The Mountain Course sprawls over an entire island, an almost incomprehensibly huge 37 ¾ miles through villages, open spaces and yes, a mountain. The TT is run as a time trial, over 2 full weeks, and is subject to constant weather and racing incident contingencies. Add to this, speeds averaging over 130 mph and reaching 200 mph on the Sulby Straight, 70-90 bikes in each race, race lengths of up to 227 miles. This ain’t like covering a baseball game.
And, precisely because it ain’t baseball, the TT has gained awareness and popularity around the globe due to the breath-taking spectacle of the races, and superb nightly programming now seen in over 130 countries.
Neil Duncanson is Chief Executive Officer of UK-based North One Television, a global powerhouse in motorsports and entertainment content, the erstwhile TT production company and now worldwide distributor of TT programming. Here in NYC last week for the Formula E race, he told me, “In global TV terms, the event has grown significantly over the last ten years, with more than 30 million watching in 2017.”
Asked about the possibility of live coverage, Duncanson added “We need to maintain and grow the quality of the daily highlight programming, but we’re obviously keen to find a solution for live coverage of the races. But to do that properly is not cheap, with a vast array of course, on board and helicopter tele-cameras to coordinate. It may not happen for a couple of years, but we hope to get there!”
My hunch is that streaming with a subscription plan will be the ticket in the near future.
Gathering the footage for our sweet little Motorcycle.com TT video and another motorbike-themed project I’m working on (my primary source of putting food on the table is the business side of TV and digital media, which is also responsible for this being just a little tiny bit late) put me in contact with Aísling Ridout, Production Manager of Greenlight Television, the Isle of Man-based host broadcaster for the TT, and one of the world’s leading motorsport television producers, including the Monaco Historic Grand Prix and the North West 200 Road Races.
Aísling, delightful as could be, despite running on 2 weeks with minimal sleep, told me “Turning around a six-lap race for same-day coverage is an interesting logistical exercise, so when the start of Saturday’s Superbike race was delayed for an hour by weather, the edit team knew that they had to push hard to get the job done for a 9pm playout – a live feed direct from the Isle of Man to ITV and onto TV screens all around the country, and then the world.”
And yes, the viewer expectations for coverage are rising as well; production values and technology are changing the way we watch sports. “While racers are still on the 37.73-mile course averaging 130mph-plus, we are recovering pictures from a dozen cameras around the course, plus curb-cams, onboards and a helicopter, Aísling added. “The races have gotten faster, so we have to move faster too.”
The secret weapon of TT coverage though, is Manx Radio, ‘The Nation’s Station.’ Live, wonderfully colorful coverage of every practice session and race, chat shows, paddock and parc ferme interviews and commentary, led by a team of broadcasters who are as knowledgeable and passionate about their subject as any in the world.
Tim Glover, Chris Kinley, Dave Christian, and Ramsey Hairpin commentator, Roy Moore, practice their craft for the TT, and the beautiful thing is that you can download the Manx Radio app or go to ManxRadio.com to stream the wonderful sounds, live timing, and race coverage to experience the glory of the races for free, live, anywhere in the world. I’ve lost countless productive work hours at my desk in The Chrysler Building with Manx Radio coverage of the Southern 100 and Classic TT/ Manx Grand Prix over the years. Do yourself a favor, and listen in come August, you’ll love it.
Duke Video will soon have the DVD and digital downloads of the 2018 TT programs and on-boards available for purchase, and they already have massive amounts of TT-related merchandise and historical video. You’ll not want to miss having them in your collection. Get your credit card out now.
I’m already counting down to my 11th annual visit to the Isle of Man TT in May of 2019, and hit me up if you have any questions on how to make the trip a reality. In the meantime, take a few minutes enjoy our little TT sizzle video here on Motorcycle.com. See ya’ on the Isle of Man!