The World Rally Championship has always had a problem when it comes to TV coverage. With the sheer amount of competitive running that makes up a single round, the question of how best to roll out three and a half days’ worth of action to fans has always been a perennial concern.
Up until the introduction of WRC+ All Live, the only port of call for rally fans were highlights. For pure rallying spectacle, they certainly ticked all the boxes: stunning vistas, coastlines and forests attacked by machines travelling at unimaginable speeds. Art in motion.
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They also provided – and continue to provide for a great many fans – a solid overview of the action, be it in a heavily condensed form lacking the depth craved by a true obsessive.
Now, though, with the unbridled access provided by the WRC’s own OTT service, rally fans are treated to hours of quality content every time a group of lunatics decide to hurl themselves at a forest.
On air from the morning through to the evening, with live commentary across all stages, the only breather granted to fans are the short 15-20 road sections that break up the action.
For the hardcore rally fan, it’s the only way to watch. But if round-the-clock coverage sounds like a bit too much, one needn’t worry: all content is available online to catch up on until roughly a week before the next event.
With a commentary team as passionate and knowledgeable as the one found on WRC+, you will always come away having learnt something new, be it the importance of road order or the weight of a spare tyre.
Two completely different ways to watch: one short and sweet; the other lengthy and in-depth, requiring hours to watch from start to finish.
And therein lies the problem: they’re two absolute extremes of rally coverage – there is simply no middle of the road alternative, something that is neither a quick-fix nor an all-out time-sink.
Time For A Rethink
A rethink of what rally highlights could be could not only provide fans with another way to watch but, potentially, the ‘best’ way to watch, given that both approaches have their shortcomings.
The issue with WRC+ All Live is obvious, the hours required to get through it all is the biggest obstacle. With highlights, though, an understandable lack of depth aside, there is another problem that hurts the overall viewing experience. It is something perhaps best illustrated by an example.
Channel 5 highlights, Monte Carlo, 2018. Kris Meeke barrels down an icy road in the dead of night. Suddenly, a voice pipes up: ‘Kris Meeke came unstuck, too’. A few seconds past. Moments later, the Irishman is facing the wrong way, having misjudged the conditions on one of ‘Monty’s’ infamously treacherous roads.
Did you notice the problem? We are teased something happening moments before it does.
As soon as Jon Desborough (brilliant as he is) starts talking, you know something is going to happen. It might be big, it might be small – but something is going to happen. Like watching a film with a friend who takes it upon himself to inform you of all the ‘cool’ moments right before they happen; or who recommends a film because ‘there’s this great twist at the end that you just won’t see coming’.
Only showing clips that are interesting or relevant in some way achieves a similar effect: when you know that what you are watching is only being shown because ‘something’ happens in it, you simply cannot be surprised in the same way.
Watching the action after it has taken place will never be able to compete with the live experience. But the way highlights are currently put together certainly doesn’t help matters.
It takes rally from present tense, enjoyed by those watching live on WRC+, where anything could happen at any time; to past tense, where, over select cuts of the day’s action, an omniscient narrator teases these things happening moments before they do.
A New Approach To Rally Highlights
What’s needed is a new approach to highlights editing, something more akin to the way Formula 1 Extended Highlight are done on Channel 4.
The aim should be to replicate the live experience as much as possible by doing away with a narrator (instead opting for the live commentary track) and cutting stages down to within inches of their lives.
These edited stages should still show all the big moments. But they should also include a healthy dose of the more mundane – the ‘non-moments’.
Perhaps a program like this just isn’t possible, though. Perhaps it’s nothing more than a naive fantasy born of ignorance of the demands of television. Perhaps. But it’s certainly worth a try.