The Players Championship: PGA TOUR Entertainment Live Production Takes Major Leap to the Cloud
‘Every Shot Live’ is back and relying even more on cloud workflow
Between NBC’s and Golf Channel’s linear broadcasts, PGA TOUR Live on ESPN+, PGA’s Every Shot Live coverage, the TOURCast advanced shot-tracking app, and a wealth of highlights options, golf fans have more ways than ever to watch The Players Championship live this week from TPC Sawgrass. And with each added layer of distribution, PGA TOUR Entertainment has taken on more responsibility for producing that content.
“We always are looking to provide more and more content to our fans,” says David Dukes, senior director, technical operations, PGA TOUR Entertainment. “It grows each and every year in terms of what we’re being asked to produce and provide. There was a time when all we had to do was provide support for the [domestic] telecast and a couple of our international partners in the compound. Then, around 2000, we did a ‘Live at 17,’ which was the first time anyone had streamed golf. Fast-forward to today, and we’ve got four concurrent streams on ESPN, enhanced coverage domestically, and Every Shot Live internationally — plus the broadcasts. It’s amazing to see how it has grown.”
Launched in 2020, Every Shot Live offers fans an opportunity that seemed unprecedented just a few years ago: watch every shot by every golfer live. That means PGA TOUR Entertainment will deliver every single shot from 160 rounds of golf totaling more than 750 hours of live content. Add in PGA TOUR Live streaming on ESPN+ and the linear broadcasts on NBC Sports and Golf Channel, and the total exceeds 1,000 hours of live coverage.
Production Workflow: Taking the Next Step to the Cloud
Now, in its third year of existence, PGA TOUR Entertainment relies heavily on Sony Hawk-Eye automated production, with each group produced by a team of Hawk-Eye operators located at Hawk-Eye headquarters in Basingstoke, UK.
The Hawk-Eye interface allows the operator to simply hit a button to switch all the camera feeds from one hole to the next. Every hole has a minimum of three static cameras available to the production teams, in addition to the camera feeds that NBC and Golf Channel use for coverage.
The big difference this year is, PGA has brought the entire Every Shot Live operation even further into the cloud. Although NEP Supershooter CBS mobile units are onsite to manage the 120+ camera feeds for Every Shot Live coverage, the bulk of the heavy lifting is now done in the cloud. Last year, Hawk-Eye and TrackMan located their equipment and servers onsite and pushed all the program feeds directly into AWS for distribution both internationally and domestically. This year, that is all being done in the cloud, with camera feeds and embedded content pushed directly into AWS.
“The big difference this year is, we’re taking the 80+ camera feeds for this show and pushing them directly into AWS,” says Michael Raimondo, VP, broadcast technology, PGA TOUR. “From there, we’re spinning up servers for both Hawk-Eye and TrackMan in AWS and producing the entire show in AWS, passing it along to be distributed through AWS as well.
“Interconnects are different as well,” he adds. “For all the [shot tracing], we’re no longer doing a key and a fill. We’re actually doing an HTML5 graphic. TrackMan is getting its data (which is already in AWS) from our ShotLink team, pulling that in, building a trace with their graphics engine, and handing that off through HTML to Hawk-Eye. And, instead of the Hawk-Eye people in Basingstoke [being remoted] into the TV compound like last year, they’re actually plugged directly into AWS and producing the show that way.”
This fully cloud-based workflow has streamlined operations, Raimondo notes, because his team can preconfigure the production setup in the cloud well in advance. AWS Elemental encoders are set up onsite to push the camera feeds to the cloud, and Haivision encoders pull feeds down in case they are needed in the compound or for hospitality needs.
“The setup has become a lot different,” he says. “We can now pre-build stuff weeks beforehand since it’s all cloud-based. Once you get onsite, [we just put] our camera feeds into elemental encoders, and we’re ready to go. We are probably a day or two ahead of schedule compared with last year because of not having to do as much connectivity.”
In terms of distribution, rightsholders like ESPN and international partners can use AWS Media Connect, be given access by PGA TOUR Entertainment, and take what they need.
“The beauty of it is,” Raimondo explains, “whatever any of our partners need we’re able to create for them. Moving to AWS has given us a whole new level of flexibility. When we need something, we can spin it up in the cloud and be able to create something new. In the past, it would have taken a lot of time and resources to do some of the things we’re doing. The flexibility alone has not only reduced the amount of time it takes us to build onsite but also given us the ability to add features year to year.”
Raimondo and company are also taking ShotLink data and marrying it directly to the video for archiving. As a result, PGA no longer has to live-log 160 rounds of golf tournament over the four days.
“Working with AWS has been a hugely positive sea change in how we approach all of this,” says Dukes. “All the flexibility that you get moving into the cloud is huge when we’re asked to produce more and more [content]. Ultimately, if everything is running centrally in the cloud, you can be much more flexible with it. We’re not there 100% yet, but we’ve learned a tremendous amount in the last two years working with AWS that can only enhance what we’re doing.”
In addition to Every Shot Live, PGA TOUR Entertainment took over coordination of the onsite production facilities this year and is managing the production of PGA TOUR Live on ESPN+. The PGA TOUR Live production deploys three NEP mobile units at PGA TOUR Entertainment’s home facility in St. Augustine, FL, plus another mobile unit onsite to produce the four feeds each week for ESPN+. (Stay tuned to sportsvideo.org for a more in-depth look at PGA TOUR Entertainment’s PGA Tour Live production workflow in the coming weeks.)
Every Shot Live Experience: New Rights Deal Impacts U.S. Viewers
With new rights deals this year, the domestic and international availability of Every Shot Live has been tweaked for The Players Championship. In the U.S., PGA delivers its “enhanced coverage” to ESPN+ in the morning, with the standard four Featured Group/Hole feeds available on PGA TOUR Live for every tournament plus up to 21 live streams of enhanced coverage as part of Every Shot Live.
At noon, when NBC/Golf Channel/Peacock begin their coverage, Every Shot Live will be available only outside the U.S. All the production crews will remain in place, but, because of the new rights deal, bonus groups will not be available to stream in the afternoon within the U.S. The four streams will be accessible on ESPN+, however, including every shot from TPC Sawgrass’s iconic 17th hole.
“We’re excited to have [Every Shot Live] back this year because it allows us to document every shot hit at the entire tournament,” says Scott Gutterman, SVP, digital operations, PGA TOUR. “Internationally, everybody will still be able to see every shot, and the [U.S. viewers] are still going to have a fantastic experience. We continue to think that this is going be the way golf [coverage] eventually will be every single year.”
In addition, WSC Sports automatically creates highlights by clipping every shot. Every single shot is published within 2½ minutes and made available to PGA TOUR rightsholders. In addition, WSC Sports’ efforts provide rightsholders with a 5- to 10-minute “speed round” for each golfer as soon as their round is over.
“We’re pretty excited about it because fans are getting far more than they get every single week,” says Gutterman. “We’ll easily have three or four times more highlights this week than we do every other week because we’ll be covering every group.”
PGA TOURCast: Green Grids, True Putt Paths Added to the 3D Mix
The PGA TOURCast platform is also back, assembling video clips of each shot with a graphical representation of each hole and 3D trails of each shot, along with club-head speed, ball speed, smash factor, spin rate, apex, and other metrics.
“TOURCast continues to be a heavily used product; it’s our second-most-viewed product of all our digital platforms,” says Gutterman. “Fans really enjoy it, and it continues to be a great avenue of video consumption to let fans follow players that they can’t see otherwise on television.”
At the end of last year, TOURCast debuted rolled green-grid graphics similar to those seen in golf videogames, allowing fans to see the contours of each green. This week, TOURCast is launching “True Putt Paths,” deploying ShotLink technology to show the actual movement of the ball across the green rather than just straight lines.
Beyond The Players: Preview Shows, World Golf HOF Add to Operations Effort
In addition to the hundreds of hours of actual tournament coverage, PGA TOUR Entertainment also produced a pair of preview shows from TPC Sawgrass on Tuesday and Wednesday, the World Golf Hall of Fame on Wednesday night, and the Kelsey Ballerini concert at The Players Championship Appreciation Day on Tuesday.
“We continue to add to what the live team’s being asked to produce,” says Greg Hopfe, VP/executive producer, PGA TOUR Entertainment. “The preview shows this week were very challenging because our trucks were just coming up from [the Arnold Palmer Invitational at] Bay Hill Golf Club last weekend. Typically for a major, the trucks are [onsite] and ready the Friday prior to the tournament, so a lot of set up is done ahead of time. [This week,] we had to be ready to go about noon on Tuesday to do 10 hours’ worth of content live before we even started the tournament on Thursday morning.”
The World Golf Hall of Fame, which aired on Golf Channel on Wednesday, received increased attention this year thanks to Tiger Woods’s induction. PGA opted to roll out a dedicated Live Media Group mobile unit to produce the HOF broadcast and was able to bring in crew members already scheduled to work The Players this week.
“There was a lot of attention on it, given that it’s Tiger Woods,” says Hopfe. “It creates some challenges because [the venue is] more of an office place than a [broadcast] facility. There is a lot of glass and some audio challenges. With Tiger and others going in, it’s very exciting to have in our backyard.”
Looking Back: How Content Output Has Exploded at The Players Championship
As The Players Championship celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, Dukes, Gutterman, Hopfe, and Raimondo all say they’ve taken a moment to reflect on how far the media and streaming operation has come. PGA TOUR Entertainment’s current live-content operation was unimaginable in 2000, when the tour was first to livestream golf with Live at 17 at The Players Championship.
“This is always a fun reflection for me,” says Hopfe. “We started the first golf streaming ever in 2000 with Live at 17, and, frankly, the experience wasn’t very good: your computer was always buffering, and there were constant glitches in the streaming service. Look at what we are doing with ESPN+ and Every Shot Live: it’s a whole new world. Every year, when we come here, it makes me think about how far we’ve come with this event.”
Gutterman adds, “When I first arrived here [in 2005], people thought about engaging with golf three or four hours a day on television. It’s really different now: this is a 24/7 media operation because that’s the way people engage with the sport today. We’ve gone from [streaming on] one website to having about 30 different ways to consume The Players Championship. It’s amazing that you can watch the event now from almost anywhere at any time. We’re very proud of that.”