Game Creek Video Plays Key Role for ESPN at U.S. Open
ESPN’s interactive-TV (ITV) service seen on DIRECTV and ESPN3 continues to become more refined. At the U.S. Open golf tournament this year, it has Game Creek Video’s Fox A, B, C, and D units all to itself, giving the service three control rooms — based on a Grass Valley Kayenne and two Grass Valley Kayak production switchers — and plenty of room for commentators and other personnel.
“We started with these three trucks at the U.S. Open in 2009, and now we have moved the SportsCenter operations into Game Creek’s Larkspur unit,” says Donald Colantonio, senior director of production enhancements for ESPN.
Traditionally, the ITV coverage has focused on one featured group and signature holes. But Congressional Country Club, which is hosting this year’s Open, is devoid of true signature holes.
“So that allows us to have a second featured group,” says Colantonio.
All NBC camera feeds are routed into the Game Creek units and complemented by six unilateral cameras: two hard cameras and a handheld covering holes 10 and 18, two RF cameras on the first feature group, and a single RF camera on the second group.
“Doing the feature groups requires big routing and switcher capability,” says Colantonio of the need for a top-end production environment. “We strive to create a product that is consistent with network standards.”
Game Creek Video Senior Engineer Kevin Callahan notes that the growth of both SportsCenter and the ITV coverage requires the five Game Creek units to be on-site.
Game Creek Video is supplying ESPN only with 13 unilateral cameras — 10 dedicated to SportsCenter, three to ITV — and three RF cameras shared between the two shows.
“Here, we are taking the feeds from the NEP ESU and NBC and then crossconverting them and integrating them with our own cameras,” he explains. “So we are at the mercy of someone else and just making sure we are getting the feeds correctly, but the ESU is doing a great job.”
The crossconversion is required because NBC Sports is producing the event in 1080i and ESPN broadcasts in 720p. The conversion, which takes place on the output from the router, is done by 70 crossconverters.
As for the ITV broadcasts, Callahan says having three shows operating at the same time in one truck is unique. “You have three producers, three TDs, and three everything,” he points out. “One of the Kayak switchers is in the tape-release area while the second is in what is normally the graphics room. Audio is handled by a Calrec Sigma and Alpha while a radio submix is completed on a Yamaha M7CL.”
The need for high standards extends to the on-air broadcast team, whom Colantonio describes as knowledgeable and compelling. And, while the audience may be smaller than for a traditional broadcast, there is a new opportunity because on-air talent can become more closely engaged with viewers. Apple iPads in the broadcast booth allow the talent to monitor Facebook pages and Twitter feeds for questions and comments and answer them on-air.
“The announcers have warmed up to it,” says Colantonio of the age of social media.
They have also warmed up to a broadcast pace that isn’t about showing as much action as possible, something that viewers can find on the regular network feed. “Dave Stockton welcomes the opportunity to be able to speak about pre-shot routines, setup, and how players prepare and execute a putt or shot,” adds Colantonio.
With the complete ITV service available on DIRECTV and ESPN3, the mosaic channels available on DIRECTV in Latin America, certain feeds streamed at NBCSports.com and USGA.org, and handheld devices, it’s clear that the service continues to grow in acceptance by both fans and partners.
“As the application has grown and rightsholders are more savvy, they have also become more comfortable with it,” says Colantonio. “In the early days, we were on the driving range and the press conferences.”
Not only is the service no longer relegated to the driving range, it is also going to spend much of the next few weeks being a daily reality. Colantonio is due to arrive in London in time for the next ITV project: Wimbledon, which will be followed quickly by British Open golf a month from today.