Turner Sports Streams the PGA Championship to Fans In-Depth

“The thing we’re always conscious of is how we make the viewing experience better. [It’s] not just by throwing more things at viewers,” explains Gary Treater, GM, PGA.com, Turner Sports. “When people are done watching, we want them to say, ‘Wow! That was really great. Not only did I get great golf, but I was entertained, I was educated, and I really understand what those players went through the last 4½ hours.’”

The four-day PGA Championship begins today (a few weeks earlier than usual so as not to conflict with the Olympics) at the Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, NJ. But, no matter where fans are watching from — in front of a TV, on a smartphone, or right on the fairway — Turner Sports, which holds both broadcast and streaming rights for the event, has something prepared to enhance the experience.

The PGA Championship app is designed to enhance the TV, mobile, and onsite experience.

The PGA Championship app is designed to enhance the TV, mobile, and onsite experience.

Turner Sports’ online coverage focuses on a marquis group of key players, an approach the company started using several years ago. Now common practice for online golf video, following a marquis group has become so popular that Turner will follow four groups each day this year: two in the morning and two in the afternoon.

“The idea was to provide fans something different than what they would see on TV, an alternative second-screen experience. It’s actually turned into a terrific first-screen experience if people don’t have access to the linear broadcast,” Treater says. “One of the big changes this year is doubling the featured-group coverage from one stream each day to two. There will be two groups to choose from in the morning and two groups to choose from in the afternoon: lots of content.”

Online viewers will get more out of those streams, thanks to the use of on-screen data. For Treater, it’s essential that data be more than eye candy: it needs to serve the event and help viewers get more out of what they’re watching.

Turner Sports will use TrackMan devices to track the flight of each ball, providing such metrics as club-head speed, the apex of each shot, and the carry distance. It will also use Golf Trak, powered by Virtual Eye, to create animated course flyovers, indicating player locations and shot arcs. Data from ShotLink will reveal how players played each hole, using overlays to mark the line of each shot.

New to this year’s coverage is a split-screen view that displays live video on the left and constantly updated shot data on the right. Viewers can even see combined images that show how different players approached the same hole.

“We believe that our storytelling can be enhanced if we can use data and information,” Treater explains. “We don’t use data for data’s sake and just put stuff on the screen.”

Even spectators on the course will benefit from the approach. The PGA Championship app will use Bluetooth smart-beacon technology to show which players are nearby. (Phones and tablets are allowed on the course as long as they’re in “golf mode,” which means that both sound and camera flash are turned off.)

Last year, the PGA Championship was the first to use Periscope for live video streaming. Now that Facebook Live is dominating, the event will offer plenty of Facebook video.

“We’ll be using Facebook Live [for short hits] — maybe three, four, five minutes — [to] show something behind the scenes and provide a professionally produced piece and leverage that audience that may not be watching the broadcast on digital,” Treater says.

Last year’s event was the first to use Snapchat, something Treater confesses he was skeptical about. He didn’t think golf’s more mature (that is, older) fans would get into it, but he was shocked by the number of people who shared their experiences on Snapchat. Turner is expected to create more Snapchat stories this year. The team will use Twitter to share real-time video highlights, and, in a first, will offer 360-degree video and photos on Facebook.

Capturing all this video takes an army of people and equipment. For its online video, Turner Sports will rely on NEP TS2 truck and Sony HDC-2500 cameras, two EVS replay servers to create highlights, and two ChyronHego character generators for score displays and on-screen graphics. It is partnering with iStreamPlanet for the online-video encoding, and Akamai will handle distribution.

For Turner Sports, dazzling with tech isn’t nearly as important as educating with it. As the PGA Championship demonstrates, the broadcaster is doing all it can to bring viewers into the game.

“That’s really our goal: to bring fans that up-close-and-personal and immersive experience,” Treater says. “It resonates with fans; we continue to see tremendous increases in viewership.”

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