Live From the US Open: Graphics Key to Tennis Channel’s Enhanced Coverage
It’s a crowded production compound outside USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, and it can be tough to stand out. Tennis Channel is doing just that, thanks to some sharp graphics technologies it’s using for this year’s US Open coverage.
According to Bob Whyley, SVP of production/executive producer, Tennis Channel, the addition of Viz Libero (formerly LiberoVision before Vizrt acquired the technology this year) and a second Sony Hawkeye system has changed the complexion of the Tennis Channel broadcast.
“We always like to grow and do a little tweaking,” says Whyley. “[These tools] allow us to create all of the graphical elements you would expect, like arrows and dots where the ball lands on the court and player movement. We’re really pleased with it.”
Viz Libero is a computer software and analytical tool that takes a handful of sources (iso cameras) and manipulates the live images into 3D. With that, the Viz Libero operator can spin the courts and create the graphic elements fans expect.
The Viz Libero operator is actually not stationed in the production truck but is in the small Tennis Channel operations trailer in the compound area typically reserved for on-site offices and meeting rooms.
As for Hawkeye, Tennis Channel and ESPN have acquired a second Sony Hawkeye system to use on their broadcasts. Although all major broadcasters share the standard Hawkeye system used to determine official rulings on whether balls land in bounds, a second Hawkeye gives Tennis Channel versatility to enhance its on-screen graphics and data offerings.
“We’re able to do the ball marks that are sponsored and are a big deal that we share [with ESPN and CBS], but we’re also able to do our own Hawkeye,” say Whyley. “So if we want to do thermo-imaging to illustrate where the player has been running on the court, we can do that. We can do what we call ‘lasers,’ which track the ball trajectory. All of those little bits of statistical information that Hawkeye can give as data from all of their cameras. The great thing about the Hawkeye is that it keeps all of the information from match to match, and we cover four of the TV courts.”
While Tennis Channel has 30-40 of its own production personnel on hand for the US Open, ESPN and CBS provide a significant amount of the below-the-line infrastructure.
The three broadcasters share the nearly 80 cameras positioned throughout the complex’s television courts: Arthur Ashe Stadium, Louis Armstrong Stadium, Grandstand, and Courts 11, 13, and 17.
“Those are shared cameras, and you’re obviously using different sets of cameras depending on what court you’re in,” says Whyley. “Then, as far as our cameras, we bring in a couple of jibs, one that we put on the plaza that gives us a lot of great shots. There’s also another plaza jib that the whole compound shares. We bring a jib up to our loft for our studio-show programming. We also add an additional three cameras that we use to cut our studio and our booth.”
Tennis Channel, which is regularly contracted throughout the year with F&F Productions as its mobile truck provider, is working out of its GTX-14 during the US Open.
The first seven days of the tournament marked Tennis Channel’s big window, with exclusive live coverage of match play airing from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. ET on all the courts. During that window, the network had control of the cameras. At 1 p.m., when ESPN started its window, Tennis Channel stayed more on the outer courts (Grandstand, 17, 11, and 13) until 7 p.m.
For the entirety of the tournament, Tennis Channel kicks off the day with a daily prematch show beginning at 10:30 a.m. The network has two studio sets positioned throughout the complex. The main studio set is in a loft overlooking the complex, and a supplemental set has been built in the plaza between Ashe and Armstrong.