US Open 2020: NEP Group Presence Expands Beyond the Compound
NEP Group has a big presence at the US Open and it has involved more NEP brands than ever. Not only are there production trucks on site but the company built out a virtual Flash Interview Studio, was involved with a video conference-based press room, oversaw the ACES outer court infrastructure, and provided NEP Home Studio tech for both ESPN and the USTA. Their involvement even extended to the NEP hub in Washington, DC, which is home to Mediabank and NEP’s Virtual Editing platform, enabling users to work from anywhere.
“We established a 10 Gbps connection between the NEP DC hub and NEP Chromium, the world feed truck,” says Jay Deutsch, NEP Group, director of media solutions. “We worked with the USTA, Veritone and THUMBWAR for a workflow to get content quickly into Mediabank so that users at home can access it.”
The 10 Gbps circuit was tied into a larger project that NEP Group undertook prior to the tournament: laying in fiber infrastructure in the new USTA broadcast building.
Nick Romano, NEP engineering manager, says the NEP Integrated Solutions fiber team came in early to install permanent single-mode fiber.
“That will save a great deal of time and cost in supporting future US Open’s for the broadcasters,” he says. “Not having to run temporary wires and strands really will help make things more efficient.”
Romano is on site at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center overseeing the technical operations. The coordinated effort with Veritone and THUMBWAR includes the nearline server that brings together the media from NEP Chromium, which is handling the World feed, and couples it with Veritone logging metadata so when it arrives at Mediabank servers in the DC Hub it is ready for use.
“It’s safer for the content to land on this server first and so far, the plan has worked incredibly well,” he says. “None of the editors are on site,” says Deutsch. “In the past they would have an edit tower but this year 12 editors are working from home with our NEP Home Studio edit packages.
“And it’s not just a few clips,” says Deutsch. “It’s all the clips like melts, pressers, highlights, ENG, and more. After day three people requested everything and we had over 2,500 clips in Media Bank within 24 hours.”
“Some roles will stay at home, not all of them, but it is possible to work and produce content from home and even to do TV from home,” he explains. “The technology speaks to the difficult time we are in right now where everyone had to react very quickly. And with our partnership with the USTA we were able to complete it.”
One of the most impactful advances at the Open is the Virtual Flash Interview Studio. Typically, US Open Global rights holders would request their interview the day before and then depending on who wins they would interview the player on court.
“Doing multiple interviews and distributing internationally would have been very challenging, as they would need to be done for every match,” says Patti Fallick, USTA, Managing Director, of broadcasting. “So, we came up with the idea of a virtual studio and we are very happy how it turned out. We have done almost 100 interviews out of the virtual flash studio for our global rights holders. “
Romano says NEP did not have a lot of time to come up with a solution, but Jason Newman of NEP live events company Creative Technology led the charge to create a system that used greenscreen to wrap around the player.
“Lightborne Communications, who we’ve partnered with to create our Nashville LED smart studio, made the background that we use in a very short period of time, working with the USTA’s creative team. They did an outstanding job,” says Romano. “What the Flash studio comes down to is three cameras and media servers sending the background to the green screen. There is a monitor so people can see who they are talking to and then an IFB so they can hear them. All of the cameras are robotic so there is a clean environment protection the players and the crew.”
Rights holders access the studio via an individual video conference number, and it takes about 30 seconds to get things like lip sync set up properly.
An IFB app, adds Romano, has done a great job and NEP also has provided a coordination phone line so that the production people off site could talk to the people on site.
“We didn’t want them to feel like they were on an island,” he adds.
Eurosport has taken the use of the system to the next level for its Virtual Cube studio. That system allows on-air talent in any Eurosport location to be inserted into a virtual room where they are standing with the player they are interviewing.
“We’ve been pretty happy with the signal we are providing them after several hours of testing to get it to fit into this environment,” adds Romano.
Most importantly, feedback from the players and the rights holders has been positive, as more than 90 interviews have been done to date.
“The players have accepted it and all around the team did a great job putting this together,” says Romano.
Other NEP elements in play the past few weeks include NCP VIII for the Western and Southern Open, ESPN’s ITV needs, and back up control room for the Finals; two robotic techs for the practice courts and then the 10 crews for ACES on the outer courts; the NEP Home Studio boxes for ESPN and the USTA.
“It’s been a great partnership over the years, and it is very cool to bring people together from across our company for a great client,” says Michael Pean, NEP Group, director of sales.
The US Open is an interesting ecosystem as competitors come together and work side by side because the show is simply that big.
“I’m proud of everyone who is here, whether it is us or ESPN, Gravity Media, the USTA, and all the other vendors,” says Romano. “Everyone has done a successful job of weathering the environment and working through two tournaments, one of which didn’t have anything to do with the other.”
Adds Vanessa Piraino, NEP Broadcast Services, senior account manager: “Working with broadcast partners like the USTA is always important on any level, but to come together on a project of this magnitude with the constraints everyone is working under really made the USTA and NEP become one team.”