The reason we really love Top Gear, aside from the acerbic wit and entrenched dynamics, is the peerless production value. There are dozens of cameras everywhere, helicopters taking aerials, and graphics wizard-ninja-hybrids to pull it all together. Not that this should surprise, not considering the BBC’s budget for the program, which is estimated to be in the order of $500,000 per episode. Other British automotive media outlets carry the torch with similar fervour. You need not look further than your average Chris Harris (above) or Steve Sutcliffe video for EVO or CAR. They reek of multiple cameramen, a proper director, and a large support staff working tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure that you and I are suitably gobsmacked and left reaching for something to wipe our dribbling mouths with. This is a large part of the appeal of British automotive journalism, and a big contributor to the country’s firm stand atop the podium of Petrolhead Respect. Of course, we mustn’t forget that they can also slew together strings of floral hyperbole that would make an asymptote blush, but no American (and certainly no Canadian) publication can quite seem to match the Brits in video production value.
This is all well and good, except for when it isn’t.
Harry Metcalfe, he of EVO magazine, has put the monarchy back at least 100 years with his video diary of him driving Chris Mason’s Ferrari Enzo from Cotswolds, which is apparently a place, to Col de Vance in the south of France. Metcalfe owns a pretty astonishing fleet of automobiles including a Lamborghini Countach QV, Pagani Zonda S, Maserati GranTurismo, and probably some Land Rovers. Yes, this man with the shaky hands and GoPro minicam owns a Zonda. Amazing, really.
Still, the contents of his garage haven’t prevented Harry from producing something that you might expect to come out of the pages of CarEnvy, if that. Most certainly not up to par for one of the premier establishments in auto journalism. The British Production Value that typically sets them apart from upstart punks like us is simply nowhere to be found.
Whether this signals a turning of the tide, where small digital cameras and wonky iPhone pics take over “journalism”, cannot yet be said with certainty, but the tipping point is right in front of us. This tipping point just so happens to look an awful lot like an old British dude with funky hair and funkier teeth.
Production value will always have its place, and high quality pictures and videos are still immensely satisfying for viewers, but visual documentation is firmly shifting more towards expediency rather than quality. A function of social media platforms (like Twitter and Facebook) and our increasingly short attention spans, of that there is little doubt.
The impact that this will have on automotive journalism has yet to be fully felt, but it will surely lead to a leveler playing field, which can only be good for CarEnvy and petrolheads alike. We’re here, folks, right on the bleeding edge.