Despite Crew Crunch, U.S. Open Sends HD Worldwide
By Carolyn Braff
Finding a full broadcast staff to work a two-week-long tennis tournament in late August is never easy, but, with the Summer Olympics and the Democratic National Convention competing for crew members, organizers of the U.S. Open should have been panicked. However, with effective planning and dedicated staffers -– some of whom flew directly from Beijing to Queens, N.Y., to work the Open -– this year’s event not only opened on Monday without a hitch but spread its HD wings as well.
“Crewing was hard for everybody this summer,” says Steve Gorsuch, director of broadcast operations at the USTA Billie Jean King Tennis Center, home of the U.S. Open. “A couple of guys that I use for my integrated feed were over in Beijing doing tennis and, after being on the road for five weeks, could not commit to another two weeks here.”
For Nick Muro, head of on-site technical operations for CBS Sports, “the biggest challenge with this event is the grind. We’re on the air for 14 days, sometimes 14 hours a day, and maintaining that level of concentration is very difficult.” Plus, he adds, “some of our main people flew directly from China to here, and that plays into the whole mental-fatigue factor. That’s a big challenge.”
Another big challenge this year is increasing the reach of high-definition. The main courts in Arthur Ashe and Louis Armstrong Stadiums have broadcast domestic HD feeds for a decade, but this year, the dozen international broadcasters on-site will have access to an HD world feed.
“A lot of Europe is now watching the coverage in high-definition via Eurosport, and then they have a lot of sub-licensees,” Gorsuch says. “In the second week, WOWOW, the Japanese broadcaster, will broadcast the semifinals and finals in HD.”
The HD signals from Ashe and Armstrong stadiums are sent to a single distribution center where each international broadcaster can choose which feeds to utilize.
“All of the cameras from Courts 1 and 2 get sent over to international distribution point, and they hand off feeds of whatever anybody needs,” Muro explains. “We hand it off once to them, and they handle the downstream distribution.”
The USTA also produces its own world integrated feed that airs primarily in Africa, South America, and Asia. With full commentary on Ashe and Armstrong and a swing booth that covers action from the Grandstand and Courts 11 and 13, the USTA produces a show for the world that mirrors the top coverage from the CBS/USA domestic broadcast.
To bring that HD distribution to the world, CBS -– which shares domestic broadcast rights with USA Sports -– had to reconfigure its international control room with HD-compatible equipment, which Gorsuch expected to be quite difficult due to this summer’s Olympic demands. “Gear was not as much of a problem as I thought, given other sports and conventions,” he says. “We procured everything early, but I thought it was going to be more of a challenge.”
Bexel is providing the majority of the broadcast equipment for CBS, including the HD control room facilities for CBS’ international coverage of courts 1 and 2.
For the 11 courts that are not broadcast in HD, the standard-definition feed is being shot in 16:9, instead of 4:3, which makes for a smoother transition in the early days of the tournament, when USA and CBS switch among the two stadiums and the outer courts.
“When we jump to the outer courts, we have to use an upconverted feed,” Muro says, “but at least now it’s 16:9.”
All together, the production uses 40 cameras, about half of them HD, including four robotic cameras. In addition, 14 EVS devices, two Avid rooms with LAN unity, three Vizrt graphics systems, four HD Pinnacle 3000s, two HD Kayak switchers, and two Yamaha digital audio consoles operate behind the scenes.
Nearly a dozen shotgun microphones line the main courts for CBS’ 5.1 surround-sound coverage, including three along each baseline, two net microphones, and an on-court shotgun operator.
Production support is spread among several vendors. NCP VIII houses the domestic control room for CBS and USA coverage, as well as the HD cameras for Arthur Ashe Stadium. F&F’s GTX 15 truck is home to the USA studio and the HD cameras for Louis Armstrong Stadium. Corplex, NEP, and Sure Shot also have mobile units on-site, and All Mobile Video is supplying the international transmission center, as well as all the flypack equipment, for the USTA’s world integrated feed.
Returning for this year’s coverage are the Chase Review player challenge system, which has become industry-standard and requires little technical operation aside from on-site calibration, and AMEX Vision, incorporating WiseDV technology. With AMEX Vision, WiseDV-powered handheld devices allow fans in the stands to watch up to six matches on an MPEG-4 video player.
The system also requires minimal technical brawn, as it is run from the back booth of an existing office trailer. “Basically,” Gorsuch says, “it’s their headend to do the channel ingestion, and that’s it.”
Coverage of the U.S. Open continues through Sept. 7 on CBS and USA.