A MEDIAGENIX interview with Thierry Delrue, TV Director at RTBF
No football matches, no cycling races, no F1 Grand Prix competitions, no live sport events at all… Hard times for broadcasters that are giving a lot of attention to sports events in their schedule. Thierry Delrue, TV Director at Belgian public broadcaster RTBF, explains that is a lot more than just rescheduling: “There’s a major editing task if you want to reuse your archives from the past.”
As sport director and producer at RTBF, Thierry Delrue normally produces live sport events, such as football matches, cycling races or athletics. The Belgian Pro League, Tour de France, the Olympic Games, … RTBF covers them all including recurring talk shows on sports such as the “weekend sportif”. The broadcaster is also renowned for its coverage of Formula 1 races. With – for Thierry’s team – the fabulous Belgian Grand Prix in Spa Francorchamps as top of the bill. Due to corona and the lockdown measurements all these events have been cancelled. So, Thierry had to quickly activate a plan B to review things and restructure the schedule. “It was literally filling the gaps”, says Thierry.
Update the archive
Using the archives sounds obvious. But it isn’t that easy, with archives going back to the eighties. There are technical issues, legal issues – are we still authorized to broadcasts these images – and editorial issues. Thierry explains: “Do you keep the old 4.3 format, or do you zoom in on the image to make it sharper? The sound is not always good either. So, we have to provide new commentary on some footage at times. And then there are also retouches to the image, i.e. redoing the skin, adding graphics to make it more dynamic, …Also, a lot is still on videotapes that we must digitize ourselves. Working on the archives has enabled me to see how technologies and methods change over time. There is also the pleasure of rediscovering great moments in sport.”
Handling the rights is another challenge. Contracts can be very complicated, and many properties on the contract need to be considered to know which runs and free reruns are available for planning on linear and on-demand. For content produced by RTBF, there are obviously no problems. For external content it is up to the production team to check whether they are still authorized to broadcast the images. Thierry: “We exchange sport documentaries with other TV channels, if possible. And luckily the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) and Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO, organizer of Tour de France) have opened their catalogue. We will therefore broadcast a key stage of the last few years every day during the initial dates of the Tour de France. The ‘Tour de France from the archives’ in a way.”
The issue here is bringing the archived stories and races with the knowledge people have now. “Take cycling, for example. It has a heavy past with doping. So, if we bring the story on Lance Armstrong or Frank Vandenbroucke – a famous Belgian cyclist who was suspected of doping case – we will try to bring in new elements compared to the original story, by adding information from consultants, period witnesses, former team-mates, etcetera. Not just ‘Congratulations. Fabulous victory!’
Be creative to fill in the gaps
It’s like doing a jigsaw puzzle and you need to be creative to fill the gaps in the schedule. “We recently made an archive on last season’s German Grand Prix, which many considered the most spectacular of the season. We had a team on site at this Grand Prix, which enabled us to compile a lot of exclusive content. So, we selected the best moments, worked from picture-in-picture with the race on one side and exclusive interviews and comments from our consultants on the other. The goal was to make the broadcast dynamic.
The RTBF recently broadcasted a virtual Formula 1 race (eSports) on a linear scheduled programme and on our Auvio digital platform. “It’s very popular amongst drivers like Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) or even our national goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois (Real Madrid). We broadcast several rounds of F1 Esports Virtual live, with a commentator and a consultant in the booth. But it’s clear that a virtual GP will never compete with a real live Grand Prix.
To conclude, Thierry has one advice for all the colleagues in the broadcasting industry: “It are hard times. For everyone. But take advantage of this period to think about new programmes, refresh old ones or integrate them into digital platforms. The tools are there.”