Around-the-world cameramen (don’t touch that sheet!)

In a measure of how important media has become to sailing, the Volvo Ocean Race has decided to introduce an “on-board media specialist” to the crews of the boats competing in the 2008-09 edition of the race. The next installment of the around-the-world Volvo race will have 11 ocean legs, eight inshore races and shorter stopovers in a route that takes in the hitherto uncharted territories of Asia, India and the Middle East. The race will start in the port of Alicante, Spain in the autumn of 2008.

The most curious part of the new rules is a having a camera- operating, tape-editing media specialist on board who’s only role is to gather sound and video, pre-edit it and send the best bits out for broadcast. He or she will be prohibited from sailing the boat is any way.

In an interview supplied by the Race, Glenn Bourke, race CEO, talks about the new media specialist position:

Q: What is the thinking behind the introduction of a designated media crew member for 2008-09?

A: Our TV programming from the last race made for some compelling viewing, but for us to take that to the next level we decided that we needed to include a media specialist on board.

It’s difficult to film, put probing questions to a crew member, and take photographs when all hell’s breaking loose, but this is exactly where the story gets interesting for the viewer. And you certainly can’t do it when the person responsible for the media output is an integral member of the sailing team.

So the media person allows the core crew to focus on what they do best – sailing the boat.

We will always have skippers filing their daily e-mails to the outside world, and followers of the race will always want to hear what the guys racing on board have to say on camera. With the media person at the controls of the camera and microphone we believe the output will be more insightful. The on-board material from the last race was exceptional: dramatic and humorous in equal measure, and often in the heat of battle. This time we want to up the ante, and, by virtue of the technology we have at our disposal, broaden the appeal of the race.

Q: How will you make sure that the media crew member does not participate in sailing the boat?

A: During the declaration procedure at the end of each leg, the crews are asked whether they have complied with the rules. If they sign the documentation to confirm that they have complied with a rule which forbids the media person from sailing the boat, and we have reasonable grounds for doubting them, then they risk the race committee proving a case against them. We can use footage from on-board cameras which we can switch on remotely if required. It’s a heavy risk to run, so I don’t assume anyone will cheat in this instance.

Q: What has been the reaction from the sailors to this innovation?

A: As always you get a mixed bag of reactions and feedback. As long as you get about 70 per cent of the people you canvass to agree in principle, it’s worth pursuing. At least 70 per cent of the people we consulted said ‘yes, we would be happy with a media person’, particularly the sailors who will now be able to concentrate solely on sailing the boat. It actually gives the crews an extra half a pair of hands because previously the crews were doing all the media work in their off watch periods or limited spare time.

Q: What impact will it have on broadcast output?

A: From our television producers’ perspective it is fundamental. Their need is for a better standard of footage. They need it to be edited when it arrives at race headquarters rather than have to cull the best pieces of footage from hours and hours of inconsequential material. A lot of that editing can now be done on the boat. In terms of documenting the race in celluloid, it’s a very important next step for us.

By Ocean Navigator