Live From The Open Championship: A New Era Begins for the R&A
If all had gone to plan following last year’s 144th Open Championship in St. Andrews, Scotland, the 145th Open Championship currently ongoing at Royal Troon Golf Club in Troon, Scotland, would have been a swan song for the BBC as host broadcaster and domestic broadcaster and for ESPN, which held the U.S. rights. But that swan song actually turned out to be last year’s Open: both organizations bowed out of the final year of their contracts late last year, setting in motion a large number of changes.
The chain reaction impacted production planning for the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews (R&A) and ultimately led to selection of European Tour Productions (ETP) to provide host-broadcast facilities. It also meant that Sky Sports, the domestic UK broadcaster, and NBC Sports, the U.S.-rights holders, needed to be ready a year earlier than planned. At the center of it all is CTV OB, the outside-broadcast–facilities company that works with Sky and ETP week in week out during the European Tour, and it’s all hands on deck for the championship. As for nearly everyone in the broadcast compound, the changes late last year had personnel working extra hard to meet deadlines within a compressed schedule.
“We managed to keep to our schedule and new budgets and have delivered, no two ways about it,” says Hamish Greig, technical director, CTV OB.
The compressed schedule began with setting out a technical overview from ETP about how to approach coverage. Subsequent meetings with Sky Sports and NBC Sports and other rightsholders gave CTV OB a sense of all the parties that would be in the international broadcast compound and how it needed to be laid out and rigged and what services would be needed.
The compressed schedule wasn’t the only challenge for CTV OB, with the championship falls in the middle of three key sports events: Wimbledon, the Euros, and the Summer Olympics in Rio.
“Those events had a big impact,” says Greig. “A lot of people are busy working for them, plus sourcing-of-equipment issues: for example, the bulk of RF inventory was at the Euros or is already in Rio.
Those issues, however, have been overcome, and this year’s Open is arguably the most technically sophisticated and comprehensive ever for a number of reasons.
First, the teams at ETP and CTV OB do a tremendous amount of golf coverage on a tour that is nearly a full calendar year long, providing ample experience for a top-notch world feed. Then there are the two new top clients, Sky Sports and NBC Sports, which are also well-versed in golf coverage and pushing the limits with the use of augmented graphics, statistics, and ancillary-camera coverage to bring their respective audiences closer to home-country heroes. And there is the R&A itself, which has embraced non-traditional systems like a wire-cam system alongside the 123-yard hole 8, offering a completely new perspective on golf coverage.
“I think it works well,” says Greig,“and it’s great when you can see the perspective as it tracks along the players.”
CTV OB has been involved with the Open for more than 30 years, providing production facilities to IMG and ESPN. One of the biggest additions, in fact, is a result of subtraction: for more than a decade, the BBC and ESPN basically produced the event side by side because of creative differences on golf coverage. The need for camera positions to be doubled around the course limited the ability to bring in specialty cameras. This year, however, the ETP world-feed production is being relied on by both Sky Sports and NBC Sports, giving ETP the ability to deploy more cameras for the world feed.
“We have around 175 cameras onsite, 99 of them for ETP,” Greig notes. Sky Sports has 17 cameras; NBC Sports, approximately 40.
At the core of the production facilities is a broadcast center that has three main areas for the world feed: a main production gallery, a main submix, and a super-iso/replay room. It also has a production area for NBC Sports that includes a main production gallery, iso/replay gallery, and main audio-mix area.
The team in the super-iso room is one of the most important in the compound, ensuring that the main production gallery never misses a shot on a green and more via three eight-channel EVS XT3 replay servers. The super-iso team also keeps an eye on the vast majority of the players on the course so that the main production gallery can zero in on those at the top of the leaderboard.
“The super-iso room has six pairs of personnel, with each pair comprising an EVS operator and an assistant producer,” says Greig. “Each pair handles three holes and records all the green cameras on three channels and then, on the other channels, does a cut of other shots. There is also a super-iso director, who previews the replays and then feeds them via two lines, X and Y, into the main production gallery [along with] the three-hole coverage, marquee group, and first-tee feeds.”
All EVS channels also have eight channels of stereo audio, captured by tee mics, fairway mics, green mics, and grandstand mics.
“No matter which camera is chosen,” says Greig, “it will have eight channels of audio.”
Next door to the super-iso/replay area is the main replay-submix area with two directors and four EVS operators creating features and additional replay packages via four eight-channel EVS XT3 replay servers.
“Between the two rooms, there will be about 12 storylines going on so the main production team doesn’t miss anything,” says Greig. “Plus, there is another EVS that takes in specialty cameras.”
The third component in the broadcast center is the main production gallery, featuring a Grass Valley Kayenne production switcher with five mix effects and 10 DPMs.
Also housed in the broadcast center is NBC’s core operation: the main production gallery (also with a Grass Valley Kayenne production switcher), a large replay/iso area, and a main audio-mix area.
All the technical facilities in the compound are connected to the Technical Operations Signal Circuit Allocation (TOSCA) cabin. The cabin houses two Snell Sirius 800 routing switchers, with all audio and video signals (each providing a backup for the other), 84 Evertz multiviewers, more than 300 AD/DA converters, and more — all under the control of an Axon Cerebrum control system.
“Everyone is taking more signals and requires more distribution,” adds Greig. “Even TV Asahi takes 105 sources, and the BBC takes 80-odd sources for its daily highlights program.”
The compound is overflowing with OB units.
Telegenics T23 handles the audio-effects submix and houses a production area with an eight-channel EVS XT3 server for creation of 10-minute hourly highlight packages for South Africa, Australia, Korea, Japan, and Scandinavia.
“It’s been an offering from the R&A,” says Greig, “but the ETP has just refined it this year.”
Also housed in T23 is the operations for Aerial Camera Systems (ACS) and its fleet of 20 specialty cameras, including rail cameras, bunker cameras, and the wire cam that runs along hole 8 and the practice range.
“Each area of every truck is maxed out,” says Greig.
CTV OB10, meanwhile, is onsite for coverage of the marquee groups as well as for scoring operations and the main audio mix. The production area also serves as the ultimate backup in case of catastrophic failure in the main production center, with all the cameras available through its router.
CTV’s OB3 produces the three-hole feed (with complete coverage of holes 6, 7, and 8). That truck has access to 48 sources, including five bunker cameras in the bunkers on hole 8.
Also being produced this year is a channel that covers nothing but the first tee. Produced out of MVT1, the coverage has its own commentary and also offers the world-feed production team a chance to simply grab it and drop it into the main production.
CTV’s RAT (Roving Antenna Towers) mobile unit is onsite, with three production areas dedicated to marquee-group commentary; ChyronHego distance-marker insertion, Virtual Eye, and ARL.
MST Systems is on hand in a cabin for scoring graphics for Sky Sports, Golf Channel, and the world feed. A team of 17 makes use of 15 ChyronHego graphics channels and three Vizrt graphics channels, as well as bespoke software to drive different graphics systems from a single laptop. NBC Sports has its own ChyronHego graphics operations for its network coverage.
An RF-camera cabin onsite handles all the control and transmission needs of 25 RF cameras on the course (five systems are owned and operated by CTV, 20 by CTV sister company Broadcast RF). An RF-audio cabin handles 72 channels of duplexed communications, 49 high-power radio mics, and 40 additional wireless mics as well as frequency coordination.
OB6 is on hand for the Sky Sports coverage of The Open Zone alongside a Telegenic truck that is part of Sky’s ongoing ETP golf coverage.
NBC Sports is also making use of CTV OB units. OB9 handles audio communications and the audio-effects mix, ChyronHego Mosaic graphics operations, and the racking and shading of the 24 cameras. OB7, which arrived at the Open straight from the Scottish Open, handles early-morning transmission for the Golf Channel, and OB1 is a full production area for Golf Channel.
“Previously, they only had six cameras,” says Greig, “but, this year, they have 12 as the studio and range operations have expanded.”
As always, event operations are constantly in motion, responding to the needs of onsite broadcasters as well as to changing conditions. Earlier this week, one of the railcams planned for the 10th green was moved to the fifth green, which provides a more dramatic shot of the Atlantic Ocean and surrounding countryside.
“The hard part is, you have to be completely versatile but also lock things down because it’s a complex system,” Greig explains. “We have had a few workflow bottlenecks as we want to deliver things faster but we can’t because signals have to go through certain routes. So, next year, we want to spread the load a bit. Like any large production, it’s ever evolving and you never quite finish as there are always tweaks to be done.”