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A Force to Be Reckoned With: Gravity Media Thinks Outside the Box

08/06/2021

A force to be reckoned with: Gravity Media thinks outside the box By Michael Burns

Monday, June 7, 2021 - 14:09

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The Women's Football Show is produced at Gravity Media's London Production Centre

Gravity Media is a fairly recent rebrand of a group of companies with a long-standing pedigree in sports coverage. Formally launched in 2019, it comprises the former Input Media, Gearhouse Broadcast and HyperActive Broadcast in Europe, along with Chief Entertainment in Australia. Privately owned and headquartered in the UK, but with a globally dispersed management team, the original company was founded by John Newton, who is Gravity Media's major shareholder and CEO.

So how was running a global company as different nations and states followed each other into lockdown across the world due to COVID-19? Our business has got many levels to it, but our projects businesses is very venue focused, Newton tells SVG. Last March, those parts of the business literally ceased. They've slowly come back. We're certainly not where we would have expected to be this time if there wasn't a pandemic, but we have made good recovery.

Certain areas of our business have been affected more than others, with the sports venue business affected the hardest. The post production business had a bit of a lag. Our production centres, where we've got studios and playout, have been quite resilient. Chiswick produces a lot of sports for UEFA and the FA. We manage their archive, so we were repurposing that for the Best of ' programming, so they've held up pretty well.

But if you spin back 12 months, things that wouldn't have been acceptable to go on live TV then are now acceptable, such as a Zoom call. Budgets have become compressed so people are having to deliver products for less money, therefore they're looking at alternative solutions.

Virtual racing

One such example of alternative thinking is how Gravity handled the Supercars championship, which normally encompasses 15 races that take place in Australia. Gravity Media has been the Supercars Broadcast Services & Facilities partner for the past eight years and the Supercars Technology partner since 2020. However the pandemic slammed the brakes on.

You couldn't race, because everything was locked down, says Newton. Instead we did virtual racing: the Supercars eSeries. Instead of 26 drivers being in 26 real cars racing around a track, they were in simulators in their homes dotted around Australia. A lot of esports, such as Formula 1, tend to use a gaming engine such as PlayStation or an XBox, but this is actually driving a race car simulator, with a chair with the steering wheel and everything. It's supposed to react slightly differently to a conventional gaming engine and the parameters of the driving experience are supposed to be more in tune.

We brought all the 26 feeds back into our studio where we had a presentation team, he continues. We had an adjudication team and a commentary team in different places in Australia. We knitted this show together and it actually looked like real racing. The commentators didn't sound like kids commenting on a game, it was like Murray Walker commentating on Formula One.

John Newton, Gravity Media CEO

The simulation allows crashes to be more dramatic than the real world, something that initially caused the professional racing drivers taking part much amusement.

The drivers were pushing themselves because they couldn't get injured, whereas in a real car when you crash, you risk damaging the car and yourself. They had to reset their thinking to try and be competitive, says Newton.

This thing took off around the world, he continues. When it first started out we thought it would get an audience of a couple of hundred thousand. Then it went on to Twitch and on to Facebook Live, and we were seeing around four million people watching it, which is quite astounding, because the motorsport audience [in Australia] on a really big race is around 500,000. Then we had Formula One drivers like Max Verstappen come on to race.

Sponsorship followed. Rather than the seeing the drivers in their lounges, it moved on to being branded. [Sponsors] started to take it quite seriously because they saw that the audience was huge.

It's a great example of finding another way of trying to produce programming, even if you're restricted by such things as the pandemic, he adds.

The Production Centre in Sydney supplied supportive engineering, audio and MCR crews for the Supercars Pro eSeries

This year Gravity Media is producing 12 real races and 10 virtual races for Supercars as part of the Supercars Pro eSeries. The host and talent were based at the Fox Sports studio in Melbourne and were connected to one of the control rooms at Gravity Media's Production Centre in Sydney. All cameras, audio and video feeds were transmitted between the two sites via high-speed internet on dedicated private circuits, to maintain security and integrity.

The Production Centre in Sydney also supplied supportive engineering, audio and MCR crews, as well as creating the full plan of networking distribution for all incoming and outgoing sources. It is broadcast live on Fox Sports and Kayo, as well as Supercars' Facebook page and Twitch and YouTube channels

Some of the virtual races have got [a mix of] gamers and real drivers. We've got some big F1 stars jumping into it and it could be huge, Newton says. One of the things we are looking at is using technology to integrate the gaming experience with a real race, as we have quite rich data that comes off the cars. We can actually drive a game engine through [that data]. So you could be at home on your Xbox driving in a real Supercars race that is actually happening now, with no latency. There's lots of coo
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