Live From the US Open: Tennis Channel Wraps Up Another Busy Year in Flushing
From dedicated control room onsite, the network produces daily show and match encores
Tennis Channel will close out its 11th year at the US Open this weekend, and the network is churning out more content than ever, with more than 160 hours of linear content and a cache of digital content coming out of Flushing, NY, over the past two weeks. Tennis Channel once again has a dedicated control room at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center to produce its daily lead-in show, Tennis Channel Live at the US Open, and encore airings of matches throughout the night.
“There’s no other [broadcaster] here who does what we do: starting our TC Live pregame show three hours before play starts every single morning. Plus, we [produce] encore matches airing at night. It is an around-the-clock operation for us,” say Tennis Channel Executive Producer Ross Schneiderman. “Every year, we try to improve our content and increase our content here. It’s a lot of work and a lot of hours, but it’s what we do. Everybody’s passionate about producing tennis around here.”
Facilities provider VER (now owned by PRG) is once again serving as Tennis Channel’s facilities provider, building a flypack featuring a Grass Valley Kayenne 5M/E switcher and NVISION 256×577 router, four eight-channel EVS XT3 replay systems, two ChyronHego graphics systems, Evertz VIPS for multiviews, eight Lawo VPRO 8 video processors, 30 Cobalt UDX cards, and a 40-fader Calrec Artemis audio console.
Tennis Channel has roughly 70 personnel onsite for the linear production — 60 crew members and 10 talent — plus seven people dedicated to creating digital and social-media content. Leading the team are Tech Manager Michael Forman, Audio EIC Patrick Daly, and EIC John Bagtatlyan.
“We have a very small and efficient team for a Grand Slam [given] the magnitude of our production,” says Le An Hinh, executive director, production, Tennis Channel. “And VER gives us a huge advantage here. In a normal truck, you would get a few multiviewers, but here VER takes care of us with 20 multiviewers. That gives us the flexibility to be as big as we want and go as deep as we want.”
Although Tennis Channel’s US Open operation doesn’t compare with its massive presence at the French Open (it’s roughly half the size as the Roland Garros production), it remains a sizable show. The network is taking in a total of 69 sources: seven show courts, nine outer courts, and 26 ISO feeds (clean and dirty).
“Even though we’re not covering the live tennis, we’re still trying to make it as big as possible for our live studio show, Tennis Channel Live, which requires a lot of content,” says Hinh. “Our team has to churn out a lot of content for that, as well as handle the encores.”
In addition to its edit team onsite, Tennis Channel also has a 1-Gbps fiber path for data transfer to its studios in Culver City, CA, where editors produce additional content for linear and digital platforms.
Tennis Channel Live Inside Ashe With Virtual Advertising by SMT
Tennis Channel Live is back at its traditional studio-set location in Arthur Ashe Stadium. Although the slick set offers a beautiful backdrop of the grounds, its small footprint is always a challenge, with talent having to ascend a small spiral staircase to reach the lofted set.
“We’re maneuvering eight talent in a [studio] space equipped for four people,” says Hinh. “It’s a lot of juggling.”
The network was tasked with an additional last-minute challenge, when the USTA instituted a rule barring logos of non-US Open sponsors from appearing anywhere on the grounds. Tennis Channel had already sold a TC Live sponsorship to ROKIT, so the operations team enlisted SMT to create a virtual logo for the set.
“It was a challenge for us because Ad Sales had already sold that spot,” says Hinh. “We had to come up with a solution to make the logo visible. SMT utilized their camera tracker and their virtual-rendering hardware to superimpose the logo onto our desk using a jib with camera tracking. That was a last-minute challenge for us, but we had to get it done.”
US Open Series Is Bigger Than Ever for Tennis Channel
Although Tennis Channel did not carry the US Open qualifying tournament this year (it had done so in the past), the network did provide live coverage of all six US Open Series tournaments leading up to the Open (July 22–Aug. 24). Tennis Channel was the exclusive television home of four of the six tournaments: the BB&T Atlanta Open, Citi Open (Washington, DC), Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic (San Jose, CA), and Winston-Salem Open.
“It was a big increase in events this year for us with the Series,” says Hinh. “We were the host broadcaster [onsite] in DC, and then we fired up two control rooms [in Culver City] and SimplyLive [semi-automated production systems] to handle the other feeds.”
New Broadcast Facility Set To Open at USTA National Campus
Although the 2019 Grand Slam season comes to a close this weekend, Tennis Channel remains a nonstop operation. Later this month, the USTA and Tennis Channel will launch a permanent broadcast facility at the USTA National Campus in Lake Nona, FL. The facility will produce live coverage of USTA professional, collegiate, adult, and junior-level events on a year-round basis, beginning with the Junior Davis and Fed Cups (Sept. 24-29).
“They are just putting the finishing touches on it now,” says Schneiderman. “Lake Nona will become yet another arm of our production capacity. We’re really excited because it’s a great partnership with the USTA and along with their mission statement of promoting and growing tennis. That’s a perfect place to do it because there are things happening at that campus every week of the year.”
Following the Junior Davis and Fed Cups, Tennis Channel’s productions of College MatchDay and the NCAA Tennis Championships will originate from the Lake Nona facility. In addition, the network will cover the American Tennis Showcase in December. According to Schneiderman, Tennis Channel plans to air live reports focused on American players two or three times a week from Lake Nona.
“There are always pros that are training down there, so we can have that kind of immediacy to be there while they’re [training],” he adds. “We’ll have somebody onsite there reporting and providing updates on what’s happening with USTA players. It’s another great location for us as we span the globe.”