In the penultimate announcement in 10 days regarding the 2017-18 race, the team of 10-12 Onboard Reporters will be more fluid and flexible, potentially being able to embed within teams on a leg-by-leg basis instead of signing on with one team for the whole race as before – and avoiding also the very late appointments by many of the teams in the last edition, which compromised the technical abilities of the OBRs in some cases.
We’re putting the emphasis firmly on the Reporting side of the OBR’s role" - Mark Turner
“We’re putting the emphasis firmly on the Reporting side of the OBR’s role, and we are already up and running with the trialing and training as a result of being able to move forward now. The quality of OBR we believe we can acquire by doing this will also help in what is a difficult task of balancing integrity and acquiring sufficient trust of the sailors – like a war reporter jumping in the front line with the soldiers. We had more than one style of OBR in the last race onboard Dongfeng and it actually worked very well,” said Volvo Ocean Race CEO Mark Turner.
“Having dedicated reporters onboard the boats, embedded in the action, was a groundbreaking step when it was first introduced back in the 2008-09 edition – and now it’s time for the next evolution. Their only job is to tell the team’s own story in as raw a way as possible, to share what remains just a small slice of the incredible journey of the team onboard. We probably still only share 5% today – if we could get to 15% that would be great, and we would not be digging too far into certain sensitive content that should still stay on the boat.
“It’s another part of our commitment to share just a little bit more of the raw and direct story of the teams, and faster than ever before – whilst of course being sensitive to the personal stories onboard. Just like in any professional sport today, this balance is important.
According to Volvo Ocean Race’s Head of TV, Leon Sefton, this is a fundamental shift in the way that content is gathered onboard.
"The ability to rotate the OBRs this way will provide a crucial distance between the teams and the OBRs" - Leon Sefton
“It’s true that the OBRs will not be able to create the sort of long term bond with their teams that they may have done in previous editions, and we could lose some of the storytelling opportunities that are provided by that kind of relationship,” he explained.
“But we believe that the ability to rotate the OBRs this way will provide a crucial distance between the teams and the OBRs that will better enable them to properly perform the role of observational journalist.
He added: “We’ve already begun the process of trialing and training OBRs, and by the start of the Race, we’ll have a pool of top storytellers across the fleet.”
“Of course, this news doesn’t mean that we will rotate all Onboard Reporters, every single leg – if there’s a particularly interesting story or relationship on a particular boat then of course it would make sense to let it play out for multiple legs – but this added flexibility gives us the opportunity to shake things up if we feel it’s necessary.”
No OBR will be on the race unless their basic safety and ability to survive onboard the Volvo Ocean 65s has been well-tested pre-race and signed off by at least two skippers. The actual ambition is in fact for the whole pool of OBRs to actually train on any of the boats to which they might be assigned during the race itself.
Teams have been capturing footage since the first edition of the race in 1973-74 – but originally crewmembers would take turns to perform reporter duties, using 16mm film cameras and homemade water housings.
Full-time Media Crew Members were added to each team in 2008-09 as dedicated story-gatherers, and the role was renamed as Onboard Reporter for the 2014-15 edition.
“We’ve raised the bar in our search for OBRs – applications from 126 countries and the quality is incredible" - Mark Turner
The news of the changes follows a prominent campaign to recruit the next reporters to the storytelling squad, which closed in September. We’ve raised the bar in terms of our search for the next generation of Onboard Reporters ahead of 2017-18,” added Turner. “We’ve received applications from 126 countries and the quality is incredible, with experienced media professionals including war reporters, adventure and nature documentary makers and digital broadcast journalists.”
The Volvo Ocean 65 racing boats are effectively mobile digital production facilities, operating with state-of-the-art satellite hardware and services supplied by Cobham SATCOM and Inmarsat.
As part of a refit process currently underway at the Race’s Boatyard facility in Lisbon, all Volvo Ocean 65s are gaining two new fixed camera angles, taking the total to six positions across the boat. Each Onboard Reporter has additional access to night vision and action cameras, while drone and 360-degree cameras will also be in regular use across the fleet.
“We were the first to use drones from the oceans as part of our storytelling in 2014-15, and led the way with 360-degree footage offshore, as well as streaming live during the Cape Horn rounding,” said Sefton.
“We’re going to continue innovating across the OBR programme. Thanks to our partners we have the ability to go live from anywhere on the planet, at any time, and the OBRs work around the clock to capture and transmit the real story from the boats. As soon as it’s sent, you’ll see it."
Last week, the Volvo Ocean Race made key announcements on crew rules regarding women sailors, a new communicator that will allow the athletes to send social media updates from the oceans, the building of an eighth Volvo Ocean 65 to join the existing fleet, the introduction of bespoke new premium team bases to enhance the pit lane experience in the Race Villages and the use of M32 catamarans to increase the amount of guest sailing at each stopover.
Monday’s news was about an intense period of pre-race qualification sailing that includes the Rolex Fastnet Race, and on Tuesday, Race Management announced changes to the scoring system to encourage strategic risk-taking. Yesterday, the Race revealed that all boats will be fitted with a hydropower generator to provide backup energy in 2017-18. There will be one further announcement tomorrow.