Bringing you the best mountain bike race coverage
01 January 1970
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Hello and welcome to another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast, all matters mountain biking is what we’re about. Of course, as you know by now because you’ve downloaded, thanks very much, I’m Gerald de Kock and 10 minutes of chat about mountain biking. Over the last 10-12 years, if you’ve watched a mountain bike programme on television or an event televised anywhere in the world, particularly the Cape Epic then you would have seen the work of Bigshot Media.
Bigshot television have done coverage of mountain biking in South Africa over the last 10-12 years and they’ve taken it from the early days of a couple of cameras. Rushing around and putting things together in a bit of a scramble to an art and a science. They’ve taken it to a world class level. I’m sitting with the man behind Bigshot Media, Mark Le Roux, thanks for chatting. I know you’ve been in television a while, but the mountain biking thing, how did that really take hold?
Mark Le Roux: It started when I was working at Old Mutual and we started a TV show, some of the oldies remember it, called Old Mutual World of Endurance. We picked up on mountain biking when it started. We covered the first cross country race in PE and it started from there, we took it step by step.
GDK: Most recently, in say the last 10 years the Epic to be fair has probably been the biggest step, biggest gamble perhaps, for you at that stage of your career.
MLR: Absolutely. I was on the verge of actually leaving Old Mutual because we had come to the end of the run with the World of Endurance, it had a 10 year run. I think we were pretty tired. So we took a big gamble and at the same time Kevin Vermaak approached me. We had a long chat and we spoke media etc, unfortunately we didn’t do the first two years of Epic, they had to go to SuperSport.
But things happened and we ended up doing it and we’re still doing it. That has pushed us into a different level but before I say that, I think there’s one guy who has really put us on the map with mountain biking and that was Glenn Haw. He always says he’s made me famous but I always say I made him famous, so I think that’s where it comes in.
Great effort and commitment to covering a race
GDK: That was Sani2c, were you involved in the first one of those?
MLR: We were involved in the very first one of those. Going back with Glenn Haw, it goes back a long way, we did the Imana Wild Ride, one of the original stage races. So it was a natural progression to get involved with Sani from the word go. That really kick-started our mountain biking career properly on stage racing.
GDK: We’ll get to how it’s evolved and where it might be going in a while, but covering and event like this you have to have a certain bit of that adventure. You have to have the drive, the ability to suffer a bit and it’s not like the riders.
You’re out there long hours, you’re in the helicopter, you’ve got your team, your family, your sons are shooting all day out there, so you’ve got to have that eye for the moment. Putting yourself in the hole where you think something might happen.
MLR: Absolutely. I think you also grow with experience and knowing, watching the riders bodies, watching their heads tilting. Knowing, okay, that guy, I’ve been watching one or two of them today, you can see that head tilt and give it five minutes and he’s off the back.
You watch that kind of thing and also, you need to be so sharp with it and also having the ability to do a little bit of mountain biking myself, you also understand where the conditions can go badly wrong etc. Most of that happens where you don’t expect it.
GDK: Quite often it’s the frustration of the sport isn’t it, is that quite often the big moments happen where you’re not and you’ve got to somehow create the story without sometimes having that crucial image. But you have got some great images in your time. Can you recall some of those that are saying, that’s why we do this business?
Some of the greatest moments I have captured.
MLR: There’s a few. One was recent and it was, what’s his name, José Hermida down on a long run where he started down Groenenberg and we managed to track him with a chopper. I don’t know why I chose him cause he was lying in like 12th position or something and I thought okay, let’s just watch him all the way down Groenenberg and he smacked it.
He was passing guys one by one by one as we were going and we just kept the camera on him. He would pass Suzie and he would pass all the big names and it was like an absolutely beaut shot. It’s probably got the most hits I’ve ever had on a single run shot and I’ve really loved that.
GDK: So we get to how the coverage has changed. Not only in those days, the early days, you had 2-3 cameras and that was it. Maybe a motorbike and sometimes a helicopter. Now it’s very different of course.
MLR: Yes, we still use, on the bigger events we’ll use 8-9-10 cameras, sometimes less. But we’ve also learnt to work smarter. On the Epic we would always have a following bike. He might shoot five shots in the day, but if something goes down, he’s there.
It’s a commitment we’ve made on that camera and it’s paid off. We’ve never missed a moment in the Epic, well, I mustn’t say ‘never’ but I mean we’ve always been on the action. Even if it’s three seconds later and the guy is still on the deck or something, that camera is there.
If I’m not getting it the backup camera is getting it, so it’s a way we’ve positioned ourselves and we work smarter now. We’re not trying to cover every two inches of the course. As you said earlier, we’re jockeying them, monitoring them, seeing if something can go wrong. We’ll put all our efforts into it, but now things are changing. As you said, things are changing, so we’re doing a lot of live work now which changes the dynamics in a massive way.
GoPro – the game game changer!
GDK: We’ll get to that, but GoPro has changed the game hasn’t it?
MLR: That was a game changer for us a few years back when GoPro came on board with the Epic. Because it was very contentious in the beginning, there were teams that didn’t want to use it and teams that wanted to and then teams that used it but didn’t roll because out of protest.
Eventually we spoke to Kevin and we got it written into the constitution of the event, so it had to be all top ten pro teams have to use a Full Stop every single one. Then they started using it and now they’re enjoying it. Now they’re actually using it for us and they’ll go and do tricks and get their buddies to ride in front and have some fun. It really has changed the game.
GDK: Drones now, and you touched on the Live, at the Epic in 2016 you did some extraordinary things, you in the helicopter linking up with cameras on the ground. We had Stefan Sahm on the ground with a camera as well, where is it now. Where do you think it’s going to go, the televising of mountain biking?
Where is the future of event coverage going?
MLR: I think we’re in the early days of it, so we’re testing the grounds. We’ve thankfully got guys like Henco at Dryland and Sani, Glenn, they’re allowing us to do small live bits and pieces. But Epic are giving us the whole hog. Saying: Go for it, do what you need to do. Last year we tested it, you were part of it, we feel it was very successful.
They’ve asked us again to do it this year and go bigger and better and what we’re doing is a little disruptive in the general TV/broadcasting game because we don’t pull in big OB vans and massive micro dishes and spend two weeks having the course up. We use a very different technology, I won’t go into that. It’s working and it’s modern.
It’s sketchy here and there, so we need to do a bit of planning, but it’s working and it’s what people want to see. They don’t mind if there’s a glitch or two if they can see the action, the action is there. One of the things we’ve done, we hold the African viewership record for Ironman and that set us up on the map for the kind of technology we’re using. I think in the next 2-3 years, I don’t know, the world is our palette, there’s many things to come I think.
GDK: Mainstream television and what we’re used to for so long sitting on the couch and clicking on the remote and turning the TV, we’re moving away from that in the sport. It’s live streaming, it’s streaming magazine programmes, putting up little inserts and incidents that happen on the route. Going forward, do you foresee mountain biking being almost exclusively on the internet?
MLR: It’s moving in that direction very quickly I think. People are very keen to be able to sit on the bus or on a plane, or ready to board and watch their favourite magazine show or whatever. I think it’s heading in that direction, it’s on tap when they want it.
That’s the beauty about being live now, is we’re live, but once we’ve been live, it’s there, it’s anybody can watch it, it’s on demand. That’s the way it’s going to happen. I think also things are changing. We don’t need all the bells and whistles and all the fancy stuff and all the beautiful studios and that kind of stuff. People want to see it happening raw. I think we’re going to see that shift in the next year or two.
There’s big brands going that way. With clients we’re currently working with, they want to lose the bells and whistles, which is quite cool. The people are loving the rawness of that kind of stuff and we want to tap into that and I think the world is going that way. It’s very much, I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re going to be broadcasting on cellphones in the next three years.
Focusing on more than just the front end
GDK: Finally, a lot of people love the coverage of something like the Epic, but there is the thought that there’s just the races, we don’t see ‘us’ so to speak, how do you react to that?
MLR: That’s always a problem because it pulls us apart. It just comes down to cost. If we can throw more cameras at the back and show that kind of stuff, we definitely need to do more of that kind of thing in the future, it all comes down to money. I think we’ve tapped into that, with the live shows, we’re doing the post-shows, like we’re doing here at the Cape Pioneer at the moment. Where we’ll do a live chat show at say 6:15 in the evening and we pack some material, it will give a news report.
We’ll also chat to any riders that we choose to come onto the show that night and show images of what’s happening out there. These wrap-up chat shows are becoming really popular because it’s all contained, it’s not four hours of live, they can see exactly what happened and tap into the back, see a little bit of the spirit and that kind of stuff. I think that’s where we’re going with that. We’re trying to remedy that fault that we have in our broadcast.
GDK: But it’s the racing and ultimately I suppose that’s what we like to watch. Mark, thanks for chatting, we’ve overstayed our welcome so to speak, on our Old Mutual Live podcast, we could talk for a lot longer on television on mountain biking, but we won’t for now. I’m sure we’ll catch up though at another event in the future. Mark Le Roux, Colleen Le Roux, Douglas and Dave Le Roux, the fulcrum, the base of Bigshot mountain biking television nuts. They make magic when it comes to the screen, thanks for chatting Mark.
MLR: Thanks Gerald and as usual, it’s always nice to do magic with you, thank you.
GDK: Right, I hope you enjoyed our latest edition of Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast, there’s so much about this wonderful sport we could tap into and we’ll continue to do so, if you download. Thank you for doing so, until next time, cheers.