Now in HD, NYC Marathon Rebounds From Last Year’s Cancellation With CP Communications

A year after Superstorm Sandy stymied the Northeast and forced the cancellation of the ING New York City Marathon, race organizers, broadcasters, and runners have returned to the hard-hit city. This Sunday’s Marathon — the first live national telecast of the Marathon in 20 years and the first in HD — promises to be one to remember.

“Producing marathons is extremely unique. For us, it’s a thrill,” says ESPN producer Steve Mayer. “But to this year add that the Marathon returns [after] all that’s happened in the past year: what happened last year in New York with Sandy and then [the bombing] in Boston [in April]. For us to be able to have the stories of inspiration that we will talk about throughout the day [and] be able to cover a race of all the best runners in the world, it’s quite a thrill.”

CP preps the new motorcycles, lead trucks for Sunday's Marathon.

CP preps the new motorcycles, lead trucks for Sunday’s Marathon.

Last year’s race was scheduled to be both the first nationally televised New York City Marathon and the first broadcast in Full HD. However, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s decision to run the Marathon as planned amidst Sandy’s aftermath quickly drew ire from city residents, and he canceled the race on Friday afternoon.

This Sunday promises clear skies for the 43rd NYC Marathon and several technological enhancements geared toward streamlining production, including two new motorcycles, two new lead trucks, three helicopters, and a complete overhaul of the receive-site setup.

Says CP Communications SVP Kurt Heitmann, “The bar has been raised again.”

Covering a Field of 45,000+
Wending its way for 26.2 miles from Staten Island, through Brooklyn and Queens, into Manhattan, up through the Bronx, and then back down into Manhattan before ending in Central Park, the Marathon is an extraordinarily daunting feat for broadcasters and runners alike.

CP Communications has added two BMW R1200 motorcycles to its fleet for a total of six, which will be used primarily for the wheelchair race but circle back for the footrace, and new men’s and women’s lead trucks equipped with gyro-stabilized Cineflex HD cameras.

“We’re actually going to put the Cineflexes up higher so they can get a panoramic, 360-degree view as opposed to just being behind [the truck],” says Heitmann. “They’ll get more beauty shots when they’re out there [and] can get a little more creative.”

A total of 43 cameras will cover the race, including the six motorcycles and three helicopters. ESPN will broadcast the race live to a national audience on ESPN2, ESPN Deportes, and WatchESPN; WABC-TV will broadcast the race locally. Hannah Storm and John Anderson will co-host the coverage, joined by reporters Jeremy Schaap and Lewis Johnson and analysts Tim Hutchings and Carrie Tollefson. Coverage begins at 9 a.m. ET.

From Three Buildings to Two
Besides the upgrade to HD (CP will broadcast in 1080i), the most noticeable change at this year’s Marathon — at least, to those charged with broadcasting it — is the streamlined plan for city-wide receive sites. Previously, receive sites set up on three buildings — the CitiCorp building in Long Island City, Queens; Bay Ridge Apartments in Brooklyn; and GM Building in Manhattan — were responsible for three separate legs of the race.

This year, instead of transferring signals from rooftop to rooftop and down to a production unit parked at the finish line, CP has eliminated both CitiCorp and the GM Building. As a result, CP will use less equipment and require less personnel.

The antennas from both buildings will be combined on the rooftop of Bloomberg Tower, located at 731 Lexington Ave., a higher building offering better line of sight. Bay Ridge will continue to handle signals from the start line to mile 8, and Bloomberg will cover the rest.

“That’s a lot of coverage from [miles] 9 through 26, so what we’ve done is split the rooftop on Bloomberg,” Heitmann explains. “Bloomberg has [antennas directed towards] Brooklyn/Queens, before [the runners] come over the 59th Street Bridge; then we have a north and northwest look, which will finish [the race] in Manhattan and the Bronx.”

Instead of the HDRF5 production unit deployed in years past, CP opted to send its newly rebuilt HDRF1 to the finish line; at 33 ft., HDRF1 is a smaller truck specifically designed for events like marathons and parades.

After last year’s frenzied load-in (and subsequent load-out), this year has CP back on schedule. The company parked HDRF1 on Monday, set up Bloomberg on Tuesday, Bay Ridge on Wednesday, and start line on Thursday before full rehearsal on Saturday and race on Sunday.

“Everything’s changed for us. It’s almost like Sandy just wiped everything away,” says Heitmann. “For us, it’s always about trying to take the next step to better technology, better coverage. We don’t want to stop. We’re not happy until maybe we get it to one rooftop at a 100% course coverage.”

Tracking the Pack
Not to be forgotten, the ING New York City Marathon features more than 45,000 participants, ranging from elite runners to those looking to cross “marathon” off their bucket list, each with a unique story. Although ESPN has plans to highlight some of these runners, every participant will be pinpointed on a Google map shown throughout the telecast, and names will scroll across the screen as they cross the finish line.

“We know where all the runners are, and, therefore, we also track [them], which we’re going to do in the broadcast as runners finish,” says Mayer. “After the elites come in, you’ll see a scroll of all the runners who finish. … We’ll also be able to point [out] and track individual runners who are in a pack. [It is] subtle but, for us, makes big differences in what you normally would have seen in a broadcast and how it’s changed in the last five to 10 years. We’re integrating all of that into our broadcast on Sunday.”

The Future Is IP
When it comes to innovating, CP is far from finished. In addition to the revamped receive sites and new vehicles on the road, the company plans to experiment with a new mesh technology that allows the company to place nodes on buildings throughout the course; triangulate, or mesh, them together; and transmit the signal to the production unit parked at the finish line.

“This, in our opinion, is the beginning of going to a full IP mesh network, which is CP’s ultimate goal,” says Heitmann. “We’re very hip on IP. The entire rooftop-communications and data plan is all IP-based this year. We think that’s the future.”

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