ESPN, Australian Open Begin New Era of Tennis Coverage
The Australian Open is only days away, and with it comes a new era in the sport: Tennis Australia is taking over all host-broadcast duties, a first for a tennis major, and is also massively expanding court coverage. And, for ESPN, the Australian Open is the next step in preparing for its own host duties at the US Open later this year, with Gearhouse Broadcast playing an important role in both events for the network.
Terry Brady, director of remote operations, ESPN, says the transition from Channel 7 Australia as host broadcaster to Tennis Australia has been seamless.
“Tennis Australia has done some interesting things [with the event],” he says. “There are seven TV courts, but they are also using Sony’s Hawkeye automated system on six other courts. And then three additional courts have three robotic cameras on each, with the camera 1 position a fixed camera and then two net cameras controlled via joystick.”
The Hawkeye system was used last year on three courts at Wimbledon and was demonstrated at the US Open in New York. The core technology relies on visual-based tracking, with the user first capturing a couple of clips of the players. Once the system is able to identify the player or players, it can track them as they move. One improvement is that the system can now easily track players wearing any outfit or uniform; its initial use was at Wimbledon, in part, because all the players wear white. And, even if an outfit is changed, the system can quickly be recalibrated to track the new outfit.
Other improvements include the ability to adjust the sensitivity of the motion tracking as well as some forward predicting based on which direction the player is moving.
The use of Hawkeye and robotic cameras gives the Australian Open fan a chance to see action from 16 courts, the largest court coverage of any major to date. The courts covered with robotics also have the ability to add an RF camera in case important events transpire.
“It’s positive for the sports fan, for sure, as they have more access to content,” says Brady. “If you’re a fan and want to watch a particular player or an up-and-comer, you can do it.”
Another change from last year is that broadcasters are now in two-story cabins reminiscent of those used at World Cup venues in Brazil. The ESPN cabin is nearly 7,000 sq. ft. and houses three control rooms (one each for ESPN Domestic, ESPN International, and Tennis Channel), two six-channel EVS ingest servers, six six-channel EVS playout servers, 25 EVS IPDirectors, three Avid editing suites, and seven unilateral cameras. ESPN has access to 21 host feeds as well as 23 isolated camera feeds.
This is the fifth year that ESPN has worked with Gearhouse Broadcast at the Australian Open, and Brady says the two entities have an excellent relationship. Gearhouse also is providing technical support for Tennis Australia.
“They are very familiar with the Australian Open, and a lot of what we have here will be taken to the US Open and will benefit us,” says Brady. “So we are using this time to do some planning as the general workflow will be the same.”
The big technical change for ESPN is the use of ESPN Net, providing 23 outbound video circuits to transport signals back to Bristol, CT; Argentina; and Brazil. The system is also being used for file transport at speeds of 400 Mbps.
“It gives us cost savings and a lot of flexibility as well,” says Brady. “When we discovered there were additional courts to cover, we could go to our own group and then easily add eight more feeds.”
ESPN will also have a new set this year, and the set inside Rod Laver Arena also has expanded.
“Like at Wimbledon,” says Brady, “it is behind the baseline, and the talent really gets an idea of what is happening on the court.”