Home Sweet Home: Tennis Channel Debuts New Central Studio
Tennis Channel launched in 2003, and, in its first decade on the air, the specialty network has never had a centralized studio set to call its own. Until now.
Earlier this week, as a part of its ATP World Tour Finals coverage, Tennis Channel pulled back the curtain on its new Culver City, CA, on-air home.
“We’ve always had it in mind to launch a studio,” says Bob Whyley, SVP, production/executive producer at Tennis Channel “We were able to come up with a concept and make it happen in a relatively short time — two months — from concept to load-in.”
Tennis Channel, which covers more than 100 tournaments throughout the year, deploys a mobile set at all four Grand Slam tournaments, but, when the opportunity opened up to build a year-round home, the network jumped at it. The window to do so opened around the end of the summer when the third floor of the network’s building — where the network has been housed since 2007 — became available.
Featuring four premium rear-projection screens and a state-of-the-art lighting system, the set was designed by Las Vegas-based Scenic Technologies and Emmy Award-winning production designer Andy Walmsley and developed to resemble the on-site set he designed for Tennis Channel’s Wimbledon coverage this year.
“I really came at this with the concept that this new set be the big brother to the more petite little sister back in the UK,” says Walmsley, who has designed sets for American Idol and Who Wants To Be a Millionaire. “We don’t want both spaces to be identical, as that would confuse the viewers, but we do want a similar feel as the hosts in London and L.A. chat back and forth and the picture cuts between the two studios.”
The set features a center stage that rests on a raised platform 12 ft. in diameter with a wraparound sofa enclosing the space in a semicircle, suitable for both group discussions and one-on-one interviews. Two 55-in. monitors flank the right and left sides, and the entire set is anchored by a back wall of painted brick and bamboo with wood-grain trim.
“The big-picture concept of this studio is to make it conversational,” says Whyley. “It’s much more like the Today show than it is SportsCenter. We wanted to make it a comfortable setting.”
As an additional part of the network’s continued expansion, Tennis Channel recently extended its partnership agreement with Vizrt to supply specialty graphics typically seen on the network’s Grand Slam coverage and apply it to more tournaments year-round.
Vizrt’s 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 have come to love.
“One of the things that we have been talking about is being able to have an analytical tool for our talent that can both educate our audience and show them something they may have never seen before,” says Whyley. “In an individual sport like tennis, when you have these kinds of tools, it just pops out that much more. The athletes, for good or bad, are sort of naked out there on the court. They are alone, and everything they do can be analyzed.”
Most weeks, the tennis world follows from one to as many as six or seven tournaments around the world. With the new studio, Tennis Channel now has the freedom to direct its audience to all of them.
“The one thing the Tennis Channel does not lack is live content,” says Whyley. “When we’re at a major, we have the luxury of jumping from court to court; that’s what’s unique about our sport. Having a home base now, we can navigate our audience from tournament to tournament and give interviews during breaks in the action, host a pregame show or postgame show. It gives our audience the opportunity to get really deep into what’s going on in the world of tennis.”
The new set first appeared on-air on Nov. 4, during Tennis Channel’s live, weeklong coverage of the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London. Hosted by Brett Haber, Hall of Famer Tracy Austin, and longtime Tennis Channel analyst Jimmy Arias, the first edition of Tennis Channel Live included such guests as Hall of Famer Michael Chang, renowned coach Paul Annacone, and current players Sam Querrey and Sloane Stephens.
Following November’s men’s year-end championships and Davis Cup Finals, Tennis Channel Live will roll out at selected tournaments in early 2014 and appear with increasing frequency as the year progresses.
Tennis Channel’s Court Report news series currently airs from a smaller stage in the Culver City facility but will move to the new studio set in January.