Live From Wimbledon: NEP Efforts Drive WBS, ESPN Productions

Year two of NEP-WBS relationship sees minor, mainly geography tweaks

This year’s Wimbledon tournament marks year two of a four-year relationship between Wimbledon Broadcast Services (WBS) and NEP, whereby the former is providing technical gear and engineering services for the tournament. And, although the second year of a deal can occasionally see some major changes and overhauls, the Wimbledon technical plan has seen only minor alterations because the initial efforts last year were forward-thinking, embracing such technologies as ST 2110, UHD, and HDR.

NEP’s Timothy Allsop (left) and Richard Lancaster outside Emerald truck

“We improved on some things, but, technology-wise, it is the same,” says Richard Lancaster, technical project manager, Wimbledon, NEP UK. “But there were some geography changes, like moving our engineering office out of the master-control–room area.”

Another location change is that the Trace operations for the seven outer courts, which are produced using Simply Live production systems and camera systems from Fletcher, moved into the Broadcast Centre. The systems were also improved via software tweaks and additional features, such as a Snapshot function that allows the operator to swap between, say, foreground and background players when working with automated tracking. Operators are also able to work on multiple courts at once, with three operators handling all seven.

“Those productions finished up last Saturday, and they had a clean week,” says Lancaster. “We also changed the cameras on those courts from Sony P43 cameras to Sony P50 cameras.”

At the core of the WBS facility provided by NEP inside the Wimbledon Broadcast Centre once again are two completely redundant Grass Valley IQ modular systems working in conjunction with Arista Networks switches. The router is decentralized, with nodes around the Broadcast Centre for the various rightsholders. Outside, there are three NEP mobile production units — Venus, Ceres, and Emerald from NEP Ireland — producing matches on Centre Court, No. 1 Court, and No. 2 Court.

“Emerald is replacing HD10 this year as HD10 is being refitted,” says Lancaster. The truck houses a Calrec Artemis Light audio console, three EVS XT3 replay servers, and a Sony MVS8000 vision mixer.

Year two also saw an improvement in cabling and rigging, with the team able to get a jump on those efforts and also to recommission the fiber at the beginning of the year. More fiber and cabling were added to the master-control room, and the rigging process was adjusted so that rightsholders could start plugging equipment in earlier.

ESPN’s front bench in Gallery A at Wimbledon

The broadcaster has three of its own production galleries onsite, producing content for ESPN and ESPN2 as well as for its ITV service and ESPN International. There are also three studios, one of which is shared with BBC: ESPN uses it in the morning for Breakfast at Wimbledon; the BBC, in the evening for a wrap-up show.

The ESPN team hits its highpoint on July 8, which is known as “Manic Monday” because it is the day after a Sunday that has no play. All three galleries are busy and making the most of the Grass Valley K-Frame Kayenne vision mixers, Calrec audio consoles, twin Harris IP3 routers, and a large EVS environment where ESPN staffers log content and provide replay operations for the front-bench team.

“This year, ESPN has slightly less on-court cameras, as they have one robotic and two big-lens cameras on Centre Court and three cameras on Court One,” says Timothy Allsop, technical project manager for ESPN, NEP UK. “ESPN also has nine robotic cameras, including the cameras that cover players coming on and off the court, and those are shared with WBS.”

As the tournament heads into its closing stages, Lancaster notes that the NEP staff has been great. “It’s such an epic project, and it isn’t until you have done it once that you can see the things that you can improve on in year two. It’s an event we all love doing, and everyone brings their A game.”

Much of the kit at Wimbledon will be heading to Japan for the Rugby World Cup, which begins in September.

“The Wimbledon flypack is four midsize flypacks,” Lancaster explains. “In a couple of weeks, we will split it down to four flypacks that will be sent to Japan. And we will also be involved with the IAAF World Athletic Championships in Doha [in the fall]. So there is a lot going on as we also have two new truck builds.”