Live From the Open: NBC Sports Refines, Expands Workflows in Year 2

Early-morning golf, more cameras, new graphics mark the coverage

Jordan Spieth wasn’t the only big winner this past weekend at The Open Championship played at Royal Birkdale. The final round saw the event garner its highest ratings in eight years, making year 2 of NBC Sports coverage a big winner, and rounds 1 and 2 on Golf Channel were the highest-rated cable sports programs.

This was the network’s second effort but the first under its own rights deal: last year, NBC Sports took over the U.S. rights from ESPN a year early. Although that meant a shortened planning/preparation window, it helped establish some winning relationships with the R&A, European Tour Productions, CTV OB, Sky Sports, and other vendors.

“The smoothness of it has been really wonderful, as we have great relationships, and that has been really, really helpful,” says Ryan Soucy, senior director, golf operations, NBC Sports. “And the R&A has been a great partner for an unbelievable championship. We had a major survey in the fall, a bigger one in April, and made sure everyone was on board. Even our department heads and freelancers contributed, so it has been a real team effort.”

From left: Keith Kice, Ryan Soucy, Ken Goss, and Marc Caputo helped take NBC’s Open Championship coverage to a new level.

NBC’s core presence was replicated from last year in a large broadcast center that was put together by Taller Structures and includes an expanded front-bench area, expanded tape area, and two audio areas. It is part of NBC golf effort on foreign soil because, typically, the trucks available are too small to house the production team.

“We used it before at the President’s Cup in Korea, the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles [in Scotland], and we plan to do it next year for the Ryder Cup [in Paris],” says Soucy.

According to Ken Goss, SVP, remote operations and production planning, NBC Sports, NBC’s coverage made use of 105 cameras: 46 unilateral cameras and 59 from the world feed. Two of the cameras were Sony HDC-4300’s operating in 6X mode; 15 were RF, including an X-Mo RF and Steadicam RF. The cameras were fed into 13 eight-channel EVS units, where shots and coverage were stacked up for playout.

“The second year compared to the first is always easier, as you know the event,” he says. “But we also have trust and open communication with ETP and CTV, and that makes for a successful workflow.”

The biggest change this year was the early-morning golf coverage, which was produced out of OB9, a larger mobile unit than was used last year, allowing the ChyronHego graphics operations and two EVS operators to be located in the same production environment as the rest of the team. And a second audio room for the early-morning golf was built in the main broadcast center, allowing the audio team to have more room and the OB9 area to continue to house effects mixing.

“We still use the audio room for our effects mix because the infrastructure was already built there,” says Keith Kice, technical manager, NBC Sports. “That made it much more user-friendly and easy to move into.”

One big unilateral addition was the use of ChyronHego graphics to show how far bunkers and other objects were from where the player was hitting.

“It’s a great addition for links-style courses, where bunkers are important,” says Soucy. “We could show how far they have to hit their shot to avoid the bunkers.”

“Live From” efforts on Golf Channel also had some enhancements: a new more open and conversation-conducive studio was built alongside the structure on hole 18 to house both NBC and Sky Sports main studios.

Golf Channel had 19 of its own cameras, including three bunkercams located on the practice range and shared by the rightsholders. Morning Drive kicked off every day live from the practice range.

“Bunkers are always a big story at a links course,” notes Marc Caputo, senior director, remote technical operations, NBC Sports. “Last year, the cameras were a big hit on the field of play so we decided on the survey to also show the players in practice.”

Also enhancing the Golf Channel coverage was the ACS Colibri Wirecam system that showed players walking from the range to the first tee and walking on the 13th fairway. In addition, it played a crucial role on coverage of eventual champion Spieth’s travails on the 13th hole on Sunday, which seemed destined to sink his championship aspirations.

“This is also the first time we’ve done file transfers to and from the U.S. via Level 3 connections,” says Caputo. “Most courses don’t have data pipes that are large enough for that, but it was very successful, and the feedback was positive.”

The next big project for the team will be gearing up for the President’s Cup, set to be played at Liberty National Golf Course in New Jersey the last weekend of September.

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