Live From The Open Championship: EMG UK Efforts Power World Feed, Unilateral Rightsholder Operations
An EMG team of 600+, specialty cameras help make the 150th anniversary memorable
The 150th Open Championship is under way, and, for the team at EMG and all the rightsholders, the important anniversary brings with it additional production challenges, including having facilities ready to go not only for the first round of play on Thursday but earlier in the week for the extra events.
“There are a lot of extra toys and extra facilities for the 150th,” says EMG UK Deputy CEO Hamish Greig. “On Monday afternoon, there was a Celebration of Champions, and it was a 35-camera show on Holes 1, 2, 17, and 18. But it was still a very high-spec show, with all the specialist cameras we would have for the main show. That meant we had to have the whole IBC infrastructure up to be able to facilitate it as we didn’t want to double up by configuring a truck and then having to reconfigure it and reroute it. That just didn’t make sense, but we had to bring crew and the build forward by two days.”
A team of more than 600 is working across the Old Course and in the compound (adding rightsholders to the total credentialed brings that number to around 1,500). The team is using 56 Sony hard cameras, 12 Toptracer cameras, 29 Sony RF cameras, Panasonic POV cameras, and two super-slo-mo cameras to help bring the story of the 150th Open Championship to viewers around the world. The biggest new toy is a 550-meter-long CamCat wired camera system flying over what is known as “The Loop,” which includes Holes 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11 and features crisscrossing fairways, shared greens, and a location right on the water.
“That was a request by [world feed producer] Jim Storey, who wanted to make the production special,” says Greig. “It’s just a beautiful location.”
ACS (Aerial Camera Systems) is overseeing operation of the CamCat system, and, according to ACS Operations Manager David Whitlock, its advantage is that it can carry a larger camera package.
“The bigger the camera package, the more stable we can make it,” he explains. “This is carrying a Cineflex gimbal that is the same as you would have on a helicopter, making it as stable as you can get. Especially with the wind, there will be vibrations, and you need a system that can match the conditions so you can get more out of it. We can also cover five holes with it, which will help make it worthwhile.”
Another new specialty item is a 70-meter-long Railcam riding along the wall that is on the Road Hole.
“It has a Cineflex gimbal as well,” says Whitlock. “GL built a platform behind the wall, and the key was to get it at a level that was the same distance from the top of the wall for 70 meters and we can get some foreground elements to give a sense of moving.”
ACS also installed a lipstick camera on the first tee, looking back toward the players teeing off, and four bunker cameras on the course. Golf Channel and Sky Sports have bunker cameras located in the practice area.
“The 17th bunker cam has a new camera, the Antelope Pico, which is a high-frame-rate minicamera,” says Whitlock. “We are shooting at 350 fps, and we’ve never done that before in a mini-cam.”
Inside the Compound
The Open Championship compound is based in a building that is home to the world-feed IBC and NBC’s unilateral production facility. One of the improvements to the IBC is the addition of Imagine routers, which have built-in multiviewers.
“We use a lot of multiviewers,” says Greig. “There aren’t enough available in the hire market, so we had to address the problem by using the Imagine routers. We’re also doing a lot embedding and de-embedding.”
Complementing that facility are trucks that handle other functions, such as Featured Groups and coverage of three holes in UHD HDR. The traditional EMG golf green-branded fleet, which is a mainstay at The Open, is joined by one truck and two containers from the EMG white-branded fleet.
Capacity mandated use of the trucks, according to Greig. “We’ve always had two or three sister trucks here to help us with setting up infrastructure for comms, get cameras going, and be a place for ACS to set up. Sky need lots of infrastructure, and TV Asahi again have gone for a flypack option, which we’ve provided.”
On the audio side, there are 30 on-course commentator mics as well as 25 high-power on-course effects mics and another 80 stereo mics for the tees, greens, and general effects.
“We also have about 60 low-power radio mics, 55 high-power radio mics, 72 duplex channels, and over 650 radios,” adds Greig.
EMG has a couple of new clients: IMG’s Live at the Range and Netflix. And Sky Sports is once again producing its coverage from a gallery at its Osterley, UK, headquarters.
“It’s year two of the Sky remote,” notes Greig. “It has worked very well as it’s similar to last year except with added facilities like an extra studio for the 150th Open. We also have some Toptracer operators in Sweden, some ARL operators in New Zealand; TV Asahi has a remote flypack, with their main program finished in Tokyo. There are also remote Hawk-eye operators in Basingstoke, UK, and for NBC back in America.”
EMG’s support of Sky Sports coverage has transitioned from a truck to portacabins housing engineering, routing, edit, and Hego graphics operations.
Terry James, managing director, operations, EMG, says the cabins typically do light entertainment shows and have a healthy sound area as well.
Last year, when Sky Sports did its first production remotely, a full production truck was used.
“They weren’t using the production area,” says James, “so we put the three- hole coverage into the same truck. But this is a more elegant solution because it doesn’t compromise the operation by having something else using the same router.”
With the number of events that need a full production truck, using cabins frees those trucks for other work. “We’re heavily committed to the Women’s Euros and have four venues for UEFA,” says James. “We’re very busy.”
Three-Hole UHD HDR Coverage
As for next-generation developments, EMG is supporting coverage of three holes in UHD and HDR.
“The three-hole coverage has 14 cameras,” says Greig. “The basic three-hole coverage is one camera dedicated to cover each green, but any other cameras on those holes have also been upgraded to UHD. We use the UHD outputs for the UHD HDR feed, and the HD outputs feed the normal golf infrastructure. So the main director directs his normal cameras. The three-hole director has his green camera and supplements it with the cameras already on that hole as those holes are covered every minute of the day.”
Every camera is also iso’d, and camera operators operate as if they are live all the time. This removes the need to do a lot of side-by-side production, which was the norm at The Open only a few years ago because rightsholders needed more dedicated resources.
“We’re also trying to clean the course and not have as many side-by-sides,” says Greig. “[That] is a benefit of NBC and ETP being so close together and working so well together. We were able to clear another 20 cameras off the course.”
The Open falls in the middle of what has been an extremely busy time for the EMG golf-production team. The week prior, there was the Scottish Open and the JP McManus Pro-Am in Ireland; next week is the Evian Championship in France, the Cazoo Classic for the DP World Tour, and the Senior Open Championship in Scotland.
“We have a triple-header next week,” notes Greig. “It has been a very busy little time.”
As for the team’s performance, he is impressed as there are a number of variables that have made it a very challenging time.
The team’s performance has impressed him, given the number of variables that have made it a very challenging time. “I don’t know how they do what they do. They have worked incredibly hard and really delivered. We’ve had some people catch COVID, so they’ve obviously had to go home and others have been doubling up. The beauty of having one supplier doing everything is, we can address things and shore up with a pool of resources to help.”
The biggest challenge this week has little to do with technology or weather and more to do with simple logistics.
“We’ve got disruptions in all areas: car hires, flights, and trains,” says Greig. “Having to rebook those things is a nightmare, or things like cars have tripled in price. Things that used to be a five-minute phone call can now take two weeks to sort out. And that’s on every production.”