For the first time ever, a Dubai production house is trotting the globe with the FIA Formula One World Championship to bring exclusive content to dedicated fans in the Middle East. From the stables of 7 Production, BroadcastPro ME brings you all the behind-the-scenes action.
In its history spanning decades, the FIA Formula One World Championship has enjoyed a steady and devoted fan base both globally and in the Middle East. Like every edition, the Championship will tour the world before culminating in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, which has been running since 2009 and is testimony to the popularity of the premiere motor sport in the region.
The sport’s popularity can in large measure be credited to its TV viewership over the years. Free-to-air broadcast network MBC Group secured exclusive MENA broadcasting rights to the championship for the first time this year.
The rights previously lay with beIN Media Group, which did not bid for 2019. MBC wanted to elevate the level of the race coverage for viewers by bringing an additional slice of the action through highlights, pit lane and paddock interviews with drivers, as well as other bits of information.
This was not done by beIN when it had the same rights. To achieve this, MBC partnered with UAE-based 7 Production in what is considered a first for a production house in the Arab world.
7 Production was contracted to undertake all the additional coverage being broadcast on MBC Action alongside the race footage. For 7 Production, this landmark partnership does not just mark a prestigious undertaking but also serves to test its production prowess beyond regional shores.
Sharing the pride 7 Production takes in this partnership and what it means for both the company and the region, Pierre Tabet, Managing Director at 7 Production, says: “What makes this year’s broadcast special is that for the first time in the Arab world, an Arab company is travelling the world to undertake these productions on a par with other international broadcasters, who have their own film production units there. For us to be selected for such a production is testimony to our work and our reputation.”
Although Formula One retains the exclusive rights to produce the races, broadcasters traditionally carry out their own independent coverage as part of their efforts to offer additional news from the races. 7 does this for MBC, giving viewers a look at other aspects of the Championship in a way it has never been done in the past.
“Previously beIN had the broadcast rights, but they didn’t have presenters, reporters and commentators on the ground, as we have for this project,” explains Tabet. “We have worked with MBC on other projects, and they know the quality of the work we produce. They recognise the quality of equipment and the service delivered by 7 Production and thus got us along not just for the Middle East, but globally this time. Previously, companies that provided similar services were selected country-wise; the fact that we are accompanying MBC for the entire season across locations is truly prestigious.”
“On a micro level, our team has gained the confidence to go ahead and undertake such projects, and now we have proved our ability to take on projects of such large scale not just regionally but also globally,” Hadi Ghanem, CEO, 7 Production.
7 Production has gained a reputation in the market for its coverage of live events in the region, across different genres. It was sought out to cover the National Day celebrations in several GCC countries; more recently, it produced Cirque du Soleil for MBC, live in Saudi Arabia. It has covered several sports, including the 2019 King Abdul Aziz Camel Festival in Saudi Arabia, the AFC Asian Cup, Al Gaffal Dhow Race in the UAE and the FIA World Rally Cross Championship. 7 also covered the Porsche GT 2018, which is of a similar magnitude to the F1 championship.
These successes, however, were considered regional accomplishments. What has truly catapulted the production house into a new league of international production houses is its ability to cover F1 live across the globe at short notice.
7’s infrastructure and technical expertise have had a big role to play in this undertaking and its ability to take up a number of big projects simultaneously. The company has 12 OB vans and five flight cases. Only one large flight case was required for the F1, which gives a good idea of the vast inventory the production house has.
“What makes this year’s broadcast special is that for the first time in the Arab world, an Arab company is travelling the world to undertake these productions on a par with other international broadcasters,” Pierre Tabet, Managing Director, 7 Production.
“All equipment used is privately owned by the company. When we purchase equipment, we keep in mind the different kinds of events we need to film. So we have systems designed for fast-paced sports events where our cameras can capture every detail, even at the highest speeds. Our crew have shot in so many different environments and as a result have been exposed to so many different challenging situations, and this has made them skilled at what they do,” says Tabet.
“For this series of productions, we had an all-European crew. We are a team on the ground, filming all the footage required. We take the feed and provide it to MBC, who then broadcasts it for the Middle East. Eurovision was enlisted to provide 7 Production with the satellite link to send the feed.”
The team includes camera operators, EVS operators for the EVS XT3 and graphics operators. During the F1 championship, cameras were strategically placed across the pit lane, paddock and starting grid.
“We had a total of five cameramen covering one GP. Two cameras were used to capture the paddock, two covered the pit lane and one camera was dedicated to filming the starting grid and action around it, including the commentaries,” explains Tabet.
Wireless Vislink cameras with 16db antennas were deployed for long-distance filming.
“The distance between the paddock and TC compound could be kilometres at a time, so we only use specialist cameras that can cover such distances without compromising quality. We also used a range of wireless Sony PMW 500s to cover the action,” explains Tabet.
What has made this project especially challenging for 7 is the sheer scale and geographical spread, and the celerity with which the team has to unpack its gear in each location, go to its allocated place in a TV compound, lay out all the fibre, shoot the interviews across the paddock, pit lane and so on, pack up, ship the equipment to the next location, leave and repeat the cycle.
“This is a huge undertaking and we have had big distances to cover in each location. Our wireless installations have helped our reporters to move freely between the paddock and grid. And everything we are shooting is live,” shares Tabet.
Underscoring the challenges in some more detail and explaining some of the logistics is Tony Jabbour, Head of Engineering at 7 Production.
“We have around 20 people at each location following the schedule for F1, including the cameramen, the operations team and so on. The team has had to have the presence of mind to come up with instant solutions at each location, which is new to them. For one, the team has had to pack everything and ship the equipment to each country. Time frames available to unpack and assemble gear for each shoot are between five and eight hours. Once the Grand Prix is over, the team has a few hours to disassemble everything and repack for shipping to the next country. Besides, securing the right spot and transmitting feeds in a timely manner are other areas that require attention to detail and precision. We just can’t afford to have any glitches.”
Each country has its own set of functional challenges as each comes with its own rules, regulations and unique landscape, adds Jabbour.
“It is the first time we have undertaken such a massive global production. We have around 20 people at each location following the schedule for F1, including the cameramen and the operations team,” Tony Jabbour, Head of Engineering, 7 Production.
“We have never been to some of these countries before, and the time frame was too short for us to do a site visit. In each place, the team is assigned a new space for a gallery within the TV compound. Installing a big flight case, wireless systems and connecting the fibre optics with different measurements at different locations that have different rules, has not been easy.
“In the UAE, we are pretty familiar with the rules. In this case, our team needed to gauge the situation quickly and work within the parameters set in each country. All this is in addition to what we are doing, in terms of filming the interviews in different areas of the race.”
Tabet adds that the challenge is to “make sure we are not one second over the scheduled time frame”.
“We are moving from one country to the next. We have three production days plus one set-up day for us to use our wireless cameras to film live. Being mindful of time has been critical to this operation. Our equipment is all shipped by DHL, and we have had to ensure timing is calculated to the dot so no outside factors cause delays. The equipment needs to be packaged in top condition to make sure no equipment is damaged. Once the set-up day and three production days are complete, then the team packs up and moves on to the next country to follow the same drill again.”
So far, Jabbour claims 7 has “not had a single drop”, having just completed the the Austrian Grand Prix as we go to press.
Tabet says this is no mean feat.
“I would like to emphasise the skill set required to cover the F1. Wireless cameras can go wrong very quickly if used incorrectly. Time frames can go horribly wrong if one small detail is overlooked – especially when all this is being telecast live on air. So we have ensured that only the best talent is filming the F1.”
For 7 Production, this project has been prestigious for several reasons. CEO Hadi Ghanem explains why.
“This project is testimony to our capabilities and the skill we are able to bring to the table. On a micro level, our team has gained the confidence to go ahead and undertake such projects, and now we have proved our ability to take on projects of large scale not just regionally but also globally. On the back of this, we have had some international media houses approach us to undertake projects.
“So on a more macro level, what we do also helps put the region on the map in terms of production. There are films and drama series that are travelling from the UAE and the Arab world to the rest of the globe. Now we have also proved that we, as a regional production house, can compete with international players, and this attracts more projects to the region.”
Having said that, only nine Grand Prix races are done and dusted. 7 Production must keep the tempo up for the remaining races, with everyone waiting in anticipation for the grand finale in Abu Dhabi this November.