CBS Sports Coverage of US Open Tennis Continues History of Innovation
Tomorrow, CBS Sports will begin its own broadcasts of the US Open tennis tournament, culminating with the men’s singles championship on Monday Sept. 8. It’s the beginning of the end — ESPN will take over the rights and production duties next year — but that has not prevented the CBS Sports team from ensuring that its role at the center of the production action is anything but top notch.
“We’re not looking to shortchange this show,” says CBS Sports Senior Engineer Nick Muro, who has worked for CBS at the Open for more than 30 years. “We’re bringing the same class of coverage we do to every other event, and we are as committed to doing this show as well as we can.”
This year, coverage of seven televised courts is produced out of a large, double-stacked cabin and a number of remote-production units. Those include F&F’s GTX17, which is handling CBS and ESPN production duties, and GTX16, responsible for Tennis Channel coverage. NEP’s Skyline, SS11, ST27, SS16, and ST28 are covering courts 3, 5, 17, 11, and 13, respectively (ST27 is also sharing two mix effects of the SS11 production switcher). After today, courts 11 and 13 will no longer be televised so that those trucks can service the needs of the CBS Sports Network, which is back on-air this weekend.
“We double-dipped with those trucks,” Muro explains. “They were first used for CBS Sports Network coverage of the qualifying round, then covered courts 11 and 13, and are now back working for the network.”
From a technical standpoint, the addition of F&F GTX17 is the biggest change from last year.
“I think it is one of, if not the, most powerful single truck units on the road,” says Muro. “Certainly, there are two and three truck units out there that can do more, but this is a full-blown single truck complete with a Calrec Apollo console, Evertz routers, and a complement of EVS XT3 servers and Sony cameras. The B unit is very flexible, and the way they built the monitors in that truck let us gain some depth.”
The result is a better working environment and a unit that, when CBS coverage of SEC football begins, will bring an NFL A-game feel to the whole show.
At the Open, AVS is once again providing RF audio and HD video via two HD RF camera systems (one with a Sony camera head, the other with an Ikegami head). In addition, fixed-wing aerial coverage will provide signals received by a roof-based receiver and transmitted to the compound via a new fiber camera run. In terms of camera specifics, coverage from Arthur Ashe Stadium will feature 14 Sony and two Ikegami cameras and a Grass Valley super-slo-mo camera that records at six times regular speed.
“Operationally,” Muro notes, “the Grass Valley camera has more-seamless integration and can be put together and operate just like a regular camera but approach the frame rate of higher-speed cameras.”
Armstrong will have 14 Ikegami cameras; court 3, 10 Sony cameras; court 5, 10 Ikegami cameras; and court 11, 12 Sony cameras.
“Operations are very similar to last year, and the biggest difference is the addition of court 5 as a televised court,” says Muro. “It’s a brand-new court so setting up during construction presented a unique challenge as it is difficult to plan facilities when you don’t know what infrastructure would be there.”
Dealing with construction may well be the mantra for the next couple of years. A new Louis Armstrong Stadium, a new Grandstand Court, and a roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium are scheduled to be built between now and the toss of the first ball for the 2018 tournament.
Work is already having an impact on broadcast operations. The pillars for the Arthur Ashe roof footings are being put in place, and a portion of the main compound has been leveled. And, for example, a telephone panel that was moved as a result of the pillar construction had to be relocated again because it sat in a prime spot required for the TV-production facilities.
The change that comes with construction exemplifies the change that is coming to the entire US Open. Starting in 2015, the Women’s Semifinals will be played on Thursday in prime time, with the Men’s Semifinals taking place on Friday. The Women’s Final will be on Saturday; the Men’s Final, on Sunday.
Next year, ESPN will begin a new chapter in the history of US Open broadcasting, similar to the one CBS Sports began in 1968. There will no doubt be plenty of technical firsts (first US Open in 8K in 2022?) just as CBS had with digital, tapeless workflows, HD, and 3D.
But there is one more first among all the lasts: a 4K collaboration with LG Electronics and VER’s Vince Pace that won’t be a broadcast but will record the action in 4K to be edited down for future needs.
“Vince Pace is building three 4K Shadow rigs that will be on the main play-by-play camera in Arthur Ashe and two net cameras,” Muro explains. “So, even on our last go-round, we’re pushing the entire industry forward.”
He says he will miss the history of the US Open and the chance to be part of a team that has responded well to the unexpected: for instance, a crippled power grid in 2011, bubbling courts requiring cameras to be moved at the last moment. And then there is the ability to keep on adding anecdotes.
“When I took the train out here for my first US Open, I got off the train and asked the guard where the TV trucks were,” Muro recalls. “He looked at me and said, ‘Son, this is Forest Hills. The trucks are in Flushing Meadow.’ So I hopped in a taxi.”
He won’t have a chance to help turn out the lights following the Men’s Final on Sept. 8. “I’ll be leaving the morning of the Men’s Final to go to Baltimore for Thursday Night Football. But that’s how it is. When one door closes, another one opens.”