Boat Racing: broadcasting on a budget, Part 3

You never know who is watching, OR Making money by giving.

The Lake of the Ozarks is a 90 mile long inland waterway with no daytime speed limit other than No Wake zones and common sense. It’s also known as Missouri’s Mid-West Coast and is the venue of two world-class powerboat racing events, the Lake of the Ozarks Invitational LakeRace and the Shootout. It’s a destination or residence of many go-fast powerboat owners and powerboat racing fans.

Not everyone believes high speeds on the water and common sense mix. Others believe high speed on the lake makes perfect sense. Either way, competing full-throttle world-class powerboats make for great entertainment action on radio, television, the Internet or in person. In the case of these two events, live video production simply adds pictures and graphics to live radio broadcast audio.

Like all sports productions, the goal is to make viewers feel like part of the live action at the best seats at the venue. Listeners and viewers with good subwoofers can really feel the thundering horsepower.

A Radio Station with HD Video?
KRMS radio in Osage Beach MO began radio racing coverage with two announcers and a wild sound mic in 2000. The radio coverage was an instant success with fans anchored in private boats around the race course and many who couldn’t attend. The station added a single stationary video camera in 2004 to go with the audio, and the A/V pair was broadcast on a local access cable channel, with plenty of room for improvement.

Since then, the races have grown. Video production has become a central element of the events and is broadcast on some local Fox affiliates. Both races are charity events with tight production budgets and are produced in 1080i. Because FOX is 720p, KRBK in Springfield converts the 1080i LiveU backhaul to 720p and routes it through master control to its satellite STL uplink.

Success is achieved when the radio and TV stations and the many other sponsors all meet their expenses and can donate participation profits to the charities. KRMS sells radio ads and TV ads for the event separately, and the inventory always sells out. Two local station breaks each hour are sold by the TV stations carrying the race. Otherwise, the program feed is self-contained.

To maximize revenue, video sources are often sponsored with an audio mention and a logo bug on the sponsored video source. It is common for the start and finish cameras to be sponsored. Instant replays, highlight reels, the dock cam and the hottie cam are all separately sponsored and sold with logo bugs. The general rule for choosing sources is if we can key a logo bug over it, we sell it. The announcer set is sponsored but handled differently. Sponsor’s logos appear on 42” LED screens on each side of the set, fed from computers looping a folder of jpeg files. The money all goes to a good cause and everyone benefits. Race coverage usually includes a trailered-in jumbo screen, sponsored of course, provided for fans not on the water to see the racing action up close. It’s in the view of seats in the outdoor bars and restaurant. Sponsors use printed banners beside the screen. There’s no room for more electronic logos.

Signal Transport
The video production can’t be done with copper wire alone. Camera signals must be transported across a lake, the studio output needs to be backhauled about 90 miles to Springfield MO, and video is streamed live to the Internet. We’ve found bonded cellular to be the most effective solution for field cameras. In the process of preparing for an upcoming race we investigated several alternatives, including HD-SDI broadcast microwaves, Canobeam lasers, and Wi-Fi. 

While we’ve tried alternatives, bonded cellular has proved the most effective solution for field cameras.

At the time of the Shootout in late August, the lake can be foggy in the morning. Lasers would be iffy and we can’t afford iffy. Wi-Fi and microwave systems were too expensive. For the foreseeable future, we’ll continue renting LiveU systems for the field cameras and use KRBK-TVs LiveU system for backhaul to the station. KRBK will add more delay because it distributes its signal to its SFN transmitters and Fox 32 in Columbia MO via a leased satellite transponder. Unless you were at the live event comparing the off-air TV pictures with reality, you would never know.

It took some time to adjust to the bonded cellular delay at the production level, but we’re used to it and have learned to appreciate it. The delay gives the production crew a glimpse into the future. There was actually some concern voiced recently when real-time live microwave was suggested to replace the bonded cellular camera connections. We’ve been spoiled by the delay we thought we wouldn’t like.

World-wide watchers
While regional Fox affiliates broadcast the races live for regional fans and viewers, the productions are also streamed live to the Internet. The races and boats are world-class with racers and fans around the world watching the streams. It isn’t unusual to find out our feed was watched in bars and pubs in international locations none of us had heard of. Besides revelers and race fans, we were recently reminded that others may also be watching as well.

During the June Lake Race Invitational there was a problem with drifting buoys. As the first day of the race progressed, the local race organizer received a surprise cell phone call from the insurance carrier providing liability insurance for the race. It was the carrier’s agent in New Jersey, who was watching our live video on a Ustream feed.

According to KRMS co-owner Dennis Klautzer, “The insurance carrier noticed some buoys had drifted to where they weren’t supposed to be which allowed some spectator boats too close to the race course.” The insurance man told the race organizer, “Move those boats right now or I’ll cancel your policy.” Buoys and boats were moved and few were the wiser. Problem solved and intensely monitored from then on. The insurance carrier didn’t call again that weekend because we knew he was watching.

On the other side of the coin, we heard from an Arkansas couple who had never visited the Lake of the Ozarks before. They watched the race coverage on TV Saturday and drove to the lake to watch live on Sunday. They wrote a nice letter to KRBK saying how the excitement of the race and the beauty of the lake that they saw on TV compelled them to make the trip. Last year, the race on KRBK got a 3 rating on Saturday afternoon, ahead of every other channel.

Both on-site attendees and viewers appreciate seeing the boats up close. In 2013 KRBK’s race coverage received a Saturday afternoon 3 rating, ahead of every other channel.

With a track record of sales and charitable contribution success, powerboat racing at the Lake of the Ozarks has taken on a life of its own, complete with broadcast TV coverage. Financial success is always important, but appreciative correspondence and positive actions from viewers help make the broadcast worthwhile in many good ways that can’t always be measured.

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