Road Warriors, Part 2: The Top Remote Production Highlights Of 2016
Throughout North and South America, 2016 was quite the year for sports production. Annual events like the College Football Playoff National Championship Game, Super Bowl, and MLB All-Star Game showed off state-of-the-art technology and enhanced production workflows, and annual tournaments like U.S. Open golf, US Open tennis, and March Madness kept sports viewers tuning in day after day. But the biggest production story of 2016 was undoubtedly the Rio Olympic Games: a record-breaking feat of broadcast production for national- and international-rights holders alike, which captivated audiences around the world. All in all, the live-sports-production community shone in 2016; a trend certain to continue in 2017. Here’s Part 1 of SVG’s overview of the highlights from the second half of 2016.
CLICK HERE for Part 1 of Road Warriors.
Oakmont Country Club, Oakmont, PA
Fox Sports officially teed up Year 2 of its U.S. Open coverage, and a wet and soggy start to the event didn’t dampen the spirits of a production team charged with delivering golf to fans across the U.S.
“I’m extremely happy with how everything went,” said Brad Cheney, director, engineering and technical operations, Fox Sports. “You plan for it to go a certain way, and we expected to get through the first round. But the storms came in earlier than we thought, and they just kept coming. But the team did an amazing job getting on-air, and the production team did the rain dance for hours upon hours.”
Year 2 of any event incorporates plenty of changes: the team has a chance to reflect on what worked and what didn’t. Among last year’s enhancements that were back and improved were the ProTracer systems, microphones in the holes, and the Hawk-Eye green-shading system. Only two enhancements did not return: the live drone (impossible given the course layout and FAA regulations but used for prerecorded pieces) and the RC Car camera.
Several Game Creek production units were onsite. Encore handled the core coverage. Pride provided support. Glory handled 4K and featured-hole coverage (the 4K coverage was available via DirecTV); Edit 2, postproduction, with systems provided by CMSI. Caterpillar supplied a UPS for power, and Bexel’s BBS1 was on hand for iso audio. BSI managed the RF cameras, and Fletcher provided robotic cameras around the course.
MLB All-Star Game
Petco Park, San Diego
Fox Sports’ MLB All-Star Game was bigger than ever, with a host of next-gen cameras and on-field audio technologies providing the big-game feel that viewers have come to expect from the Midsummer Classic.
Among the new tech toys at Petco Park were a Sony HDC-4800 ultra-high–frame-rate camera in tight center, a Spidercam aerial system in Park at the Park, a Flare 4KSDI camera on a MōVI three-axis gimbal, and a backstop robo overlooking home plate and featuring a Grass Valley LDX 6X slo-mo camera.
“As one of our jewel events, we want to own this event and put a Fox stamp on it,” said Mike Davies, senior VP, field and technical operations, Fox Sports. “As always, having the All-Star event in the middle of summer gives us some time to plan out some interesting things that we’ve wanted to try. We have some very cool new cameras and technology here that we’re very excited about and think we can bring back for the postseason.”
Fox deployed more than 35 cameras for game coverage at the All-Star Game, including a Spidercam aerial system, a Sony HDC-4800 ultra-high–frame-rate 4K camera, the 4KSDI camera, two Inertia Unlimited DirtCams, eight Fletcher robos (including the Grass Valley LDX 6X slo-mo), two Inertia Unlimited Phantom X-Mo ultra-slo-mos, several Sony HDC-4300’s, and a fixed-wing plane aerial.
Baltusrol Golf Club, Springfield, NJ
The PGA Championship featured an abundance of innovative technology, a production compound 24 trucks deep, and even a live 4K show transmitted from Baltusrol Golf Club, but an enhanced graphics element stole the spotlight. For the production, CBS and Turner brought together Trackman radar tracking technology, GolfTrax shot data, and course re-creations from Animation Research Limited (ARL) to create a single graphics enhancement that provided a fresh, real-time, information-rich way to watch major golf coverage.
“This is exciting, and this is the next step [for golf production],” said Ken Aagaard, EVP, innovation and new technology, CBS Sports. “It’s a step that, personally, I’ve been looking to see golf take. I’m really, really pumped about this. This is a big deal for us. I think this is an area where we can move our golf coverage forward a significant notch.”
In the compound, CBS Sports’ four-truck SSCBS was the compound’s cornerstone. As for the rest of the trucks onsite, it was an all-star showing from many of the major truck providers. NEP had SS11, SS15, SS22 (A and B units), TS2 (A and B), Nickel, Chromium, NCP8 (A and B), and ESU. Game Creek Video Encore A, B, and C units were there, along with Edit 1, which housed all onsite edit suites for the production. Broadcast Sports International (BSI) had three trucks on hand to support a robust RF deployment. And Mobile TV Group’s 39 Flex supported the 4K production of hole 4 that was sent to DirecTV.
It was another significant step forward in 4K production for CBS Sports. In partnership with DirecTV, CBS produced five-camera 4K coverage of the golf course’s signature par-three hole 4, airing it live to consumers on DirecTV. Besides offering distributed 4K coverage of hole 4, CBS Sports and DirecTV also took part in some internal testing of high dynamic range (HDR).
2016 Olympic Games
Rio de Janeiro
After years of preparation, the Rio 2016 came to a close in late August. For the production, the NBC Olympics team tackled a number of new workflows and also delivered an unprecedented amount of content, both on TV and online.
“I could not have been more proud of all that we as a team accomplished here in Rio and [at NBC Sports facilities] in Stamford, Orlando, and Hialeah,” said Dave Mazza, SVP/CTO, NBC Sports and NBC Olympics. “The entire team executed NBC’s most ambitious Olympics coverage plan to date, on all fronts: broadcast, cable, digital, and social.”
NBC Olympics broke its own records in terms of amount of coverage, amount of live coverage, and much more. U.S. fans were treated to 1,537 hours of coverage via broadcast and cable networks, and, as at the 2012 London Games, everything that OBS made available to NBC was streamed to viewers via the web and mobile apps (approximately 4,700 hours of content).
The NBC footprint in the IBC was similar to the one in London for the 2012 Games. It measured 73,000 sq. ft. and encompassed two large control rooms, one small control room, two studios (plus a small insert studio), and a 5,500-sq.-ft. news-production area. All the facilities were connected to NBC’s Stamford, CT, facility via four AT&T 10-Gbps fibers; the feed includes a backup of most signals. All told, more than 130 HD signal paths left Rio and headed to the U.S. with the help of MPEG, J2K, and IP encoding. Most of the signals went to Stamford, but others were sent to the 30 Rock facility in New York City, Golf Channel in Orlando, Telemundo in Florida, and NBC’s Dry Creek facility in Centennial, CO.
USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, Flushing Meadows, NY
August 29-September 11
In its first year as host broadcaster and sole domestic-rights holder of the US Open in 2015, ESPN transformed the production compound at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center (NTC) from a cavalcade of broadcasters and trucks into a streamlined two-story production facility with a single office trailer across the street.
“When we went in last year, we didn’t know what we didn’t know,” said ESPN Director of Remote Operations Terry Brady. “This year, we had a much better idea of where things needed to be and how things needed to work. We also learned a lot in terms of how to manage the crew. After our experience last year, we’ve made a lot of small changes operationally and technically that make a big difference for this year.”
Now in the second year of an 11-year rights deal with the USTA, ESPN covered seven linear-TV courts with traditional manned cameras and audio out of nine control rooms at the broadcast center. Five other courts (one more than last year) had Sony Hawk-Eye SMART coverage, with automated cameras following the action. A total of 275 technicians, 30+ engineers, and more than a dozen operations staffers were on hand, and approximately 9,500 pieces of equipment and 111 cameras (plus 28 cameras for freeD replay) were deployed on the NTC grounds to support the host, ESPN domestic, and ESPN International operations.
ESPN’s 139-camera complement included 91 standard broadcast cameras, 20 Hawk-Eye SMART units, and 28 freeD cameras, as well as familiar gear from last years’ coverage: Spidercam aerial system, rail cam, HoistCam, and WingVision aerial shot. Coverage of the Arthur Ashe court featured more than 20 cameras on average, including Spidercam, rail cam, an NAC/Ikegami Hi-Motion II ultra-slo-mo system, two Sony HDC-3300 3X slo-mo units, a roving RF camera, and seven robos.
ACROSS THE POND
The U.S., Canada, and Brazil weren’t the only countries to host major sports events in 2016. European broadcasters pushed the envelope and made strides in sports-production technology with their coverage of tennis, soccer, golf, and more. Here’s a look at a few of those events:
Ken Kerschbaumer, Jason Dachman, Brandon Costa, and Karen Hogan contributed to this report.