London Marathon

 In News

Written by Heather McLean for SVG Europe

Laurie Beamont, head of graphics delivery at Moov, discusses the company’s involvement in the 2024 London Marathon, and its efforts to enhance the race graphics and storytelling for organisers, London Marathon Events.

Moov was brought on board for this epic annual spectacle by London Marathon Events to offer more comprehensive coverage and improve the look and interactivity of both the domestic and international feeds, for the BBC and broadcasters worldwide.

Start from the beginning. How did you get involved with the London Marathon?

I’ve been at Moov for about 10 years now and ever since I’ve been here, we’ve done the Great North Run, which is on the BBC via FilmNova. We’ve got a really good working relationship with FilmNova doing a lot of Great Runs over the years, and a lot of other events like Great Manchester Run and all of those sorts of things, so we’ve got some road race pedigree.

In the past, we’ve also done marathons such as the Dubai Marathon and the Wuxi Marathon in China, right down to similar sports like triathlons. So we’ve got a contract with World Triathlon and again, we work alongside FilmNova on that to produce their world feed race graphics, which obviously involves a heavy running element.

The London Marathon Events team approached us early in the year on the back of all that good work that we’ve been doing with FilmNova. [The London Marathon] is a BBC production, but we have quite close ties with the BBC as an organisation; we work with them a lot on things like Wimbledon, the Olympics in Tokyo, and we’re going to be working with them again on the Paris Olympics edition this year, so they were happy for us to come on board with the view of trying to enhance the offering, not just on the domestic feed but internationally as well.

Who have you taken over from, and why?

The incumbent was Mammoth, another graphics supplier, and there was a third company involved called netventure, who are another German company that were providing a lot of the templated stuff. There was an agreement between those and a collaboration between Mammoth and netventure to provide the services, which we have now taken just as us.

London Marathon Events wanted to be offering more. Seeing the work that we’d done elsewhere and having conversations with us, we quickly identified what we could offer more of, and I think that’s what they wanted to be driven on.

They felt potentially that the coverage had stagnated slightly from a race graphics point of view and they weren’t necessarily getting as much as some of the other marathons were getting around the world and content-wise. So our aim was to increase the coverage to get on par with the other big events like Boston and Berlin and those sorts of events.

How long is your agreement for?

We came to a three year deal. The next 12 months after the previous event we will spend time developing what we can do and enhancing everything for the following event in 2025. After our wash-up meetings we will formulate a plan based on that.

What was the aim for this year?

For London Marathon Events, their whole desire is to make their international feed a bit more comprehensive; just being able to tell more stories with what’s happening within the races, which they feel is lacking at the moment. A lot of our work, for example on the World Triathlon project, has been trying to do the same thing; that is, how do we explain the stories of what’s happening in quite a complex race with multiple disciplines and illustrate to the audience what’s going on in a coherent way? London Marathon was looking for the same.

We came in quite late for this year, and the agreement for year one was that we would keep the status quo, but then look at how we can then make that better. We’re aiming to offer more than what we had in the past in terms of content and data-driven graphics. We partner quite strongly with mika:timing, who are the German timing company, and they provide us all the mat splits for all of the athletes, and we’re able to draw comparisons and query those.

The whole aim was to get more of that content on screen, both on the domestic feed, which is done in isolation to the international feed, but also making sure the international feed is good.

The whole idea is that moving forward, London Marathon Events would maybe develop and produce their own international feed, which then has greater offerings for sponsorship and all of those sorts of things.

What was the process to preparing for the 2024 London Marathon?

Part of the process would be we look at what everybody else is doing. So we analyse Berlin, the Seville Marathon, see what’s happening in Boston, because each of the different broadcasters in the different territories tend to have a very different approach.

As we all know, with American broadcasts, they can be quite graphics-heavy, and we don’t necessarily want all of that content, but there’s definitely some really nice ideas within there. Then we develop our own ideas, especially from our experiences on other projects that we’ve done.

Obviously we have to develop our software offering around all of that to be able to offer the key content we need. That may be things as complex as athlete comparisons and gaps between athletes, those sorts of things that just illustrate the story of what’s going on a little bit more. But it could also be really simple things, whereas before, whenever we’d go to see Cutty Sark, you’d just see Cutty Sark, but the audience at home may not know where that is on the course and in relation to everything else; is it the start or is it the end? So just little things of saying, “Cutty Sark’s at 6.5 miles”. We ended up using those more than probably any other graphic during the event this year. So it’s just little signposting things.

What have you actually produced for this marathon?

Initially, in this stage, we were all about the quick wins of how can we get more engagement? So we created things like the QR codes that we were putting out on screen that were sending people to WhatsApp and generated more engagement. So it’s not just the race stuff, it’s the audience participation bit as well.

There’s a lot of partnerships involved. So we get the content on screen, but then there’s also the social department at the BBC that get involved. There’s the platform provider Cisco, that creates the software that allows that all to happen. And it all ties into allowing us to put people’s shout-outs on the screen and for the commentators to reference them as well, which is quite key.

Initially, with the timeframes [we were initially working to], we were looking at quick wins, and then we can go into the bigger development cycles for the next edition where we can really make some nice comprehensive data comparison graphics, for instance.

So, you have just completed your first ever London Marathon! What are the challenges you face as graphics provider in an event like this?

So a big thing that’s challenging within road races is at the worst of times, the busiest time of the races, you’ve got four races going on in one go, which are the wheelchair men’s, wheelchair women’s, the elite women and the elite men. We’re jumping around races all the time at that point. You may be on one race for a small period and then you might not see it for 20 minutes and then you’re coming back to it. So we need to illustrate ways of updating the audience on what’s happened.

It’s a very, very interesting show to be a part of because logistically it’s a challenge because there’s an OB at the start, there’s an OB at the finish, and then there’s the world feed up in Salford. So you’re in three very different geographical locations. Data services for the internet is a bit tricky in those places and especially when you’ve got tens of thousands of people rocking up on race day, the cell networks go down.

So coordinating the graphics offering can be quite challenging, but it’s important that we do coordinate it; we’re speaking to the person at the start all the time because during the start of the broadcast we’re contributing graphics from two locations on one linear broadcast, which is quite complex, and then obviously the world feed as well, making sure all our data services are all working.

Can you go into more detail on what you did this year and what we’ll see next year?

This year we had the ability to go, “right, let’s show the last five mile times for the elite women”. The elite women was a really important case this year because they were tipped quite early on to break the women’s-only marathon record, which is about two hours 17 minutes, and they did break it in the end, but the whole language about that [for us] was the pace that they were going at.

So we could say, “right, here is the women’s marathon pace,” so we could see the mile times and all of that, but it doesn’t necessarily give you a lot of context within the race; it gives you good context of the group and how they’re going to get to the finish.

Showing a way that a similar device can be demonstrated, the star British athlete, Emile Cairess, was 13th for a while in the men’s race, and it was all about Olympic qualification and those sorts of things. When you look at it on the face value, when you’re at 30 kilometres and he’s in 13th place, you’re like, “oh, it’s done deal for him”. But then his time started to increase versus the people in front of him, so we’ll be looking to compare athlete A and athlete B and how their times have shifted, how they are in relation to the world record, and all of those sorts of things.

We can then see, “this person’s actually moving through the field now and this person’s dropping back,” because that’s the challenge of understanding what’s going on in the race. Because between 30km and 40km he went from 13th to third, and another British athlete was way back as well and ended up finishing fourth.

You have all these stories, and the commentator – who also doesn’t necessarily know that information until they go over that timing split – needs to pick that up a little bit earlier because then that allows us to advise the directors, and go, “hey, this person’s actually increasing his pace, he’s riding through the field, so you might want to dedicate a camera bike to him at this point if you deem that valuable because that’s where the British story is”.

I think that’s also something that is a bit of a challenge between the domestic coverage and the international coverage. Obviously, the BBC are caring solely for the British athletes. But the international feed has to be a bit more agnostic in terms of who it focuses on because it shouldn’t have any bias. I think those sorts of things, athlete comparisons that allow us to illustrate the story, is the headline and what we’ll be trying to achieve next year.

And how did your first London Marathon go?

I think it was positive. We had the race producer come in after the race and said, “hey, we got so much more out than we did in previous years”. So I think all very positive in that respect.

It’s quite an important partnership between ourselves, the timing provider, mika:timing, and BBC Sport, who do a lot of facilities for us, as well as EMG, who provided the OB, and FluidOne, who delivered a lot of the connectivity as well.

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