Live From The Open Championship: CTV OB Tackles New Course, IP

The 148th Open Championship is into its second day of competition at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland. The last time the Open was played at the course was 1951, so it’s giving some fresh energy to the CTV OB and ETP Production teams. And the effort has seen some Open Championship firsts for the production, including the compound’s location on a beachside parking lot and the compound’s shutdown due to serious flooding caused by biblical rains during a setup day.

The compound at The Open Championship at Royal Portrush is the first to be on a parking lot.

“We literally had to shut down the compound and then, the next morning, raised all the power onto platforms,” says Alan Jessop, technical producer, CTV OB. “We solved all the issues and then brought everything up again.”

The rain has continued off and on during the tournament, but it has not affected operations. One blessing is the paved and level compound, which is a first for an Open, at least as far as memory serves.

Richard Morton, head of projects, CTV OB, says he has not come across anyone who has not enjoyed working in a regular shaped and paved area. “It enables us to be parked together closely in a tidy fashion. Often, on a golf course, the compound is on undulating ground.”

The beachside parking lot is home to 11 CTV OB production trucks, 17 support units, catering, and office trailers. At the core of the production are 175 cameras.

CTV OB CEO Hamish Greig notes that the tightness of the course allowed a reduction in the number of cameras. “You are always looking to make savings where you can but not let it be seen on-screen.”

RF cameras and mics are also part of the mix, with 29 RF cameras, 79 low-power radio mics, 50 high-power radio mics, and more than 600 walkie talkies. There are also 35 EVS XT3 servers and an EVS VIA server, which is being used for UHD and HDR coverage of Holes 5, 6, and 7.

“We have 13 UHD Sony HDC-4300 cameras and a Sony P50 camera there shooting in HDR hybrid log gamma [HLG] for DirecTV [in the U.S.],” says Greig.

CTV OB’s Paul Francis (left) and Richard Morton are at the center of technical operations at The Open.

CTV OB CTO Paul Francis says the VIA servers is an upgrade from the XT4 used last year.

“It has two more inputs so they can follow more golf in UHD and HLG,” he explains. “If you walked up to the control, you would not know anything was different, but it has eight times as much bandwidth. It’s quite impressive.”

A lipstick camera is located at the first tee box, and rail cameras are at Holes 1, 3 (at the tee box), 6, 13, and 16. Four locked-off POV cameras, one Smarthead POV camera, and nine bunker cameras are also part of the plan, and 11 holes are cabled for Toptracer (there are also two RF Toptracers: one for NBC and one for host-feed producer ETP).

Entities in the compound include ETP, Sky Sports UK, NBC, The Golf Channel, TV Asahi, the BBC, and BBC and IMG Radio. Studios are located across the course for NBC (host and main studios), a Golf Channel studio for Live From The Open, the Sky Sports Open Zone set on the practice range, and a BBC studio.

The Infrastructure

Hamish Greig (left) and Alan Jessop of CTV OB at The Open Championship in Royal Portrush.

Royal Portrush has held its share of tournaments, including the Irish Open and the Seniors Open. That means there was an existing fiber infrastructure, but Boston Networks, which is hired by the R&A to provide fiber infrastructure, worked closely with Jessop and the CTV team to install two rings of fiber around the course. Those rings are managed to provide redundancy in case of an incident like a fiber cut, and they provide more than 1,500 strands of connectivity. There are 17 nodes across the course, enabling various production resources to tap into the fiber and deliver video and audio signals.

“Some of them are main nodes that are in concrete and will remain in place but out of sight, hidden under gorse bushes, etc.,” says Jessop, adding that there are subnodes are under things like grandstands or scoreboards.

Power requirements are being met by Aggreko and FTVS, which supply power to the compound as well as to the nodes around the course.

“The density of facilities on each requires good-quality redundant power,” notes Jessop, “so we have twin generators that are monitored.”

There have also been a couple of improvements, one of which is that all the audio needs were streamlined and are now in one cabin. “We have audio submix with RF audio and MADI all together with Ian Smith, head of audio, in the middle of it all,” he says. “Bringing all of audio together is a great advantage.”

Broadcast RF gear now resides in the OSCAR machine room area.

Another change is that broadcast RF has also been integrated into the OSCAR (Outside Source Central Apparatus Room) main distribution center, a move that eases compound cabling and improves operations in other ways. Last year, the MST graphics for the world-feed machines moved into the OSCAR.

“Having MST graphics for the world feed along with Toptracer computers and broadcast RF racks alongside the EVS servers in one room helps communication, lengths and amount of cabling, and also offers more compact architecture for the system,” says Morton. “It’s also more comfortable for the engineering and production teams to work; the production team doesn’t have the noise of machines.”

Adds Francis, “Third-party suppliers are coming to us, and they want to bring their kit into the machine room and have it in the racks with everything else. They are seeing the benefits of being in the production area without the whir of computers. There is more space to work, and they can focus on the production needs.”

The Move to IP
CTV OB will take a big step forward next year when it rolls out its first all-IP truck in the first quarter.

Francis notes that the company has taken a long but very deliberate road to IP-based facilities and that SMPTE ST 2110 is an important part of the move. “It is based on the Euromedia 2020 style of unifying networks and having easily expandable facilities that are building blocks.”

As part of the journey to IP, the CTV OB team has taken small steps to test and become accustomed to working in IP. Morton says that the team is creating as many opportunities as possible to test specific elements and different layers of the systems that will come together to form the IP-based truck.

“The NBC tape room here has video monitoring in baseband SDI,” he says, “but all of the EVS controllers, intercom, audio monitoring, KVM, and the router control panels are sitting on one common network with distributed network switches in each desk position. This is how we see the new truck working. Testing all of those control aspects and having them trunked back to the MCR on a couple of redundant fibers rather than dozens of Cat 5 cables is a good example of that testing.

“Elsewhere,” he continues, “we are using IP multiviewers to fulfill monitoring requirements so we can pick up signals from remote and distributed locations around the compound and bring them into one small IP area and then distribute accordingly. It’s helping us to smarten up the infrastructure but without going all the way for a show of this scale.”

According to Greig, the efforts around IP will take another step during a tournament in the coming weeks. “We are going to do a marquee group production via remote IP and iron out some of the wrinkles on things like managing bandwidth and see if it can be a feature going on from there.”

That effort will involve parking the OB unit a mile from the compound and using fiber tie lines to tie it back to the main compound.

Francis says the ongoing efforts will also benefit technology partners involved in the OB build, enabling them to give feedback to the manufacturers that will ultimately better meet CTV OB’s IP production needs.

According to Morton, the goal during the transition to IP is to give the production and technical team and third-party partners as many chances as possible to become familiar with how IP affects different areas and job functions. “Everyone is starting to get familiar with it and join the journey to the new truck and learn hands-on how the technology reacts and performs.”

For the next 72 hours, though, the focus is on Portrush and the 148th Open Championship.

“CTV OB as a company builds this whole compound,” says Jessop, “and they manage this whole compound and even specify right down to the drains. We bring a lot more than our technical expertise, which we’re very proud of, but it’s very much a one-stop shop.”

Adds Greig, “Our team has been phenomenal, and I cannot praise them highly enough. How they do it amazes me.”