Tennis Channel Moves to Sinclair’s Santa Monica Facility With IP-Based Workflows, New Studio
Devlin Design Group is responsible for the look of the new studio
As the home of 24/7 tennis, Tennis Channel spent an extended time at its headquarters in Culver City, CA. One pandemic later, the network has moved to owner Sinclair Broadcast Group’s operations center in Santa Monica, CA, to leverage a full SMPTE 2110 IP backbone and a new studio designed by Devlin Design Group.
“This is a state-of-the-art facility,” says Bob Whyley, SVP, production/executive producer, Tennis Channel. “Where we were [vs.] where we are now is black and white. Our first live show was a month after [the building opened], and we never would’ve been able to do that in our old building.”
COVID-Era Construction: Safety Protocols, New Workflows Serve Up Challenges
The project began two years ago. The initial stages progressed without many issues, but then the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in the Los Angeles metro area and halted construction. Once the project was back online, staffers and third-party vendors had to adhere to stringent safety protocols established not only by the company but also by local and federal agencies.
Near the end of the process, in October 2020, Sinclair Broadcast Group VP, Engineering and Technical Operations, Bruno Brunelle joined the company to push this ambitious endeavor over the finish line. With him on board, the network worked closely with Diversified to install an Imagine Communications IP-based infrastructure comprising the company’s Selenio Network Processors, Versio playout platform, and Magellan SDN Orchestrator. COVID-19 presented its own set of issues, but these new SMPTE 2110 technologies meant a difficult learning curve.
“You have to be fearless to go in with the new technologies,” says Brunelle. “They sometimes don’t communicate, so the translation that happens [requires] a lot of support. It was quite a challenge, and we needed to be organized.”
The resulting organization prompted development of certain tech redundancies. As the Tennis Channel slowly closed out its former home in Culver City, Brunelle and his tech team created a copy of each of the new products now in the Santa Monica facility to practice with before making the move. This decision also synchronized crews in the old building to the new building during the transition, and, with Sinclair improving workflows throughout the year, the facility now houses other operations besides Tennis Channel.
“We had some connection to [Tennis Channel] in order to track the activity in each of the two buildings,” he says. “We changed a few things [to flatten] the learning curve, but, as we started progressing, we’ve added another control room and studio for Bally Sports West.”
Santa Monica Studios: New Set Features Dynamic Movement
The Santa Monica facility is now being used more than 300 days a year, but a packed tournament schedule has made Tennis Channel one of its busiest occupants. To usher in a new era of the network, Whyley; Tennis Channel Executive Director, Creative Services, Chris Hiller; and Sinclair Director, TV Production, Mark Nadeau recruited Devlin Design Group (DDG) to construct a new-look studio. Because the project was greenlighted by Tennis Channel and Sinclair at the onset of the pandemic, weekly discussions about the design happened over Zoom. The resulting concept invoked the kinetic energy and dynamic movement that have become synonymous with tennis.
“We had to create not only a very immersive environment for tennis fans but also a flexible environment that blends design with technology,” explains Kartik Dakshinamoorthy, VP/scenic design director, Devin Design Group. “The contemporary and modern materials are inspired by the sport, including the organic shape of the desk that looks like the arc of a tennis racket and background elements that represent the strings of the racket.”
Other tennis-centric elements are a background with a changing dot pattern to emulate the bouncing of a tennis ball, Tennis Channel’s branded colors, and white accents exemplifying the white lines on a tennis court.
To encourage large-scale movement, DDG constructed 18-ft.-high ceilings to allow sweeping shots with a jib camera. In addition, the studio features four storytelling backdrops representing the tennis majors: the color of clay for the French Open, green and purple for Wimbledon, etc. DDG wanted the on-air talent to feel comfortable enough in their new home to interact with these elements and use every square foot of the studio by moving around the set.
“We wanted them to have the freedom to walk and talk around [the set],” says Diane Fiolek, VP/creative services director, Devlin Design Group. “[Tennis Channel was] going through a rebrand that was much more dynamic, so it felt like a whole new channel.”
The new studio has become something of a symbiosis: the physical set is inspired by the on-air look, and the graphics package reflects some of these physical elements. Overall, Tennis Channel and Sinclair Broadcast Group are satisfied with the result.
“Both the clients and the fans have enjoyed this look,” adds Dakshinamoorthy. “We’re extremely proud and fortunate to have gotten this opportunity.”
Under One Roof: Tennis Channel Moves Forward With Centralized Operations
Tennis Channel has come a long way since its founding 20 years ago. From a technological perspective, this facility is more advanced than most, but Brunelle is bullish on improving it with even more high–quality workflows for an increased number of remote productions.
“I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished so far,” he says, “but we’re still changing and integrating technologies. It has been working really well for us so far.”
From a production standpoint, the project couldn’t be done without the support of Sinclair SVP/CTO Del Parks and VP, Sports Engineering and Production Systems, Don Roberts.
And Whyley credits the hard work and effort of the entire production staff: “From our social/digital team to our production-management team, I couldn’t be prouder of everyone’s fortitude to never stop, even through COVID and changing from one facility to another. Technology has been fast-forwarded, and they’ve embraced the fact that the world has changed.”