Live from The Open: ESPN, IMG Media Innovate with Rotating Studio

ESPN’s production partner for The Open at The Old Course in St. Andrews is once again IMG Media and, once again, the two organizations have collaborated to create some new innovations that will give viewers in the U.S. all-new perspectives and views of the world’s most iconic and historic golf course.
“It’s basically a duplication of the compound facility we have had in the past but we have a new compound here that is a huge improvement as we have almost five acres of room,” says Bill Lacy, IMG Media, SVP, production. “We’re very happy to be here.”

Taller Structures built a circular track under the ESPN British Open set that allows it to turn and offer different backdrops.

Taller Structures built a circular track under the ESPN British Open set that allows it to turn and offer different backdrops.

The big innovation this year is a rotating on-course studio that is located at the end of the famed Road Hole and behind the 18th tee box. It sounds like the kind of luxury that often ends up on the cutting room floor but Lacy says there is a very practical reason for doing it.

“No one has seen that view up the 17th hole before as you can see the hotel, grandstand, and the entire hole,” says Lacy. “And then when you look back towards 18 there is the sea of fans in the stands in the background. So there are easily three or four good backgrounds to choose from.”

The idea of a studio that can turn is not new as when The Open was played at Royal St. George in 2011 ESPN and IMG Media employed something similar to what is being done this year. At that time space constraints required the ESPN Sportscenter studio and The Open coverage studio to be stacked on top of each other. Dirk Jager, owner of Dublin, Ireland-based Taller Structures, the company that designs the studios for The Open, came up with the concept of the top studio being placed on a manual turntable that allowed the studio to be turned to a different angle and then locked into place for the tournament.

Rollers riding on a steel track provide a smooth ride for those in the ESPN British Open studio set.

Rollers riding on a steel track provide a smooth ride for those in the ESPN British Open studio set.

“We got the different view than the Sportscenter set and knew we would run into the space challenge again so we held this idea in our back pockets,” says Lacy.

This time around the studio set is once again on a turntable but this one has a motor and joystick control that is under control of ESPN lead play-by-play announcer Mike Tirico.

“Dirk built it and perfected it from that first build and when it moves it is silent and very smooth,” says Lacy.

There are some safety concerns when rotating the studio as the railings outside of the studio need to first be taken down. Plans call for the studio to rotate once a day and then parked into place.

On The Course
Each location for The Open Championship has it’s own plusses and minuses and the plusses related to The Old Course are that it is easier to get around the course as The New Course, which runs right alongside of the entire Old Course, is closed so moving up and down the course is quite easy. The only real difficult area, says Lacy, is the area between holes 17, 18, and 1 as that large swath of fairways and green is under fairly tight control. And the fact that some of the holes share greens and even cross each other also makes things challenging.

“From a production standpoint it is more complicated than others because you have more cameras in the shots and it is harder for the cameraman in the airplane to shoot the greens and fairways as you really have to know the golf course to know what is going on, especially when you get out to the loop,” says Lacy, referring to holes 7 through 12 out at the end of the course. “And it’s also always windy at the Loop.”

ESPN's control room at The Open offers plenty of space  for the production team.

ESPN’s control room at The Open offers plenty of space for the production team.

ESPN’s coverage originates from a main production building that houses two control rooms. Also built by Dublin-based Tall Structures, the width of the building is 10.25 meters and the depth is 8.2 meters.

The main production area houses three rows of production seating and desks, including an expanded front-bench area with a Grass Valley Kayenne vision mixer 18 40-inch LCD panels each served by an Evertz multi-viewer. Across a small hallway is the expanded EVS area that is home to operators controlling some of the 16 networked EVS XT servers (a mix of XT3 and XT2 models) and 17 EVS IP Directors.
With respect to on-course coverage ESPN has 80 unilateral cameras at its disposal plus access to more than 50 camera feeds from the BBC.

The Road Hole once again is providing an opportunity for innovation as an xMo from Inertia Unlimited has been placed on the roof of the shed that player’s tee shots pass over.

An xMo camera system is located on the roof of the shed on the Road Hole to capture shots of balls flying over it.

An xMo camera system is located on the roof of the shed on the Road Hole to capture shots of balls flying over it.

“That camera will be able to capture high-speed images of the ball flying over it so that should be pretty cool,” adds Lacy.

There are also three Sony HDC-4300 cameras operating in high-speed mode, with one located low at the first hole, a second along the ninth hole/10th tee, and a third that can move between shooting low at 17 and on the 18th tee box.

“We get three good operating positions out of that and have them connected to a nine-channel EVS system that was modified as we need eight channels of playback,” adds Lacy.

Six bunker cameras, provided by AVS, are also on site. And Inertia Unlimited has also provided a “Turf Cam” that has been buried in front of the first tee box. It measures 4-3/4-inches in diameter and is 8-inches tall but after it is buried it only rises above the ground by three-quarters of an inch.

Six robotic cameras are also in use at the first tee, the Road Hole, the 18th green, the walkoff area where scores are recorded, high on the 18th grandstand, and in the Shell Bunker on the 7th hole.

One of the innovations that was hoped to be in place through the entire weekend was a drone from ACS that carried a Sony F55 camera. But the forecast for wind and rain, as well as issues with RF interference, have resulted in the drone being grounded. The plan was to use it shoot scenics and also selective live shots when the airplane is refueling.

There is still plenty of action to take place on the course and, unfortunately, the weather seems to be intent on making for extra long days for all involved at The Open. Look for more reports this weekend from the Sports Video Group.

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