CBS Sports and Turner Sports focus on basics for US PGA Championship

Despite deployment of bells and whistles like ball-tracking and drone technology, last weekend’s coverage of the PGA Championship, held in Whistling Straits, WI, by CBS Sports and Turner Sports emphasised the basics of sports coverage.

It also marked the end of a technology era, with NEP’s SS10 and SS22 production units used for the last time. “This is the last hurrah for Supershooter 10 and 22. A new truck, SSCBS, debuts next week, so it’s bittersweet,” said Ken Aagaard, EVP, operations and production services, CBS Sports. “But we will end up with a lot of the same crew working in a new and better environment. Everything will be a little bit different.”

For their last tournament, SS22’s A and B units handled coverage of the front nine holes, and SS10’s three units took care of back-nine coverage plus main audio and video.

Game Creek Spirit was on hand, providing additional back-nine support as well as nine additional EVS replay servers. NEP’s Tempo and NCP8 were in use for DirecTV coverage, and its TS2 A and B units handled marquee-group coverage for RF-services provider BSI had two trucks onsite for RF audio and video support.

Course coverage called for 57 cameras: 40 wired, 10 RF (including two Swingvision units), two Marshall POV units, three jibs, a VR system from Pittsburgh-based 360fly, and a CineCopter drone with a Sony Handycam.

“We are testing the new 360 technology and, like everyone else, playing with virtual reality,” said Aagaard.

Other tools deployed included five wired Protracer ball-tracking systems and an RF Protracer, 30 EVS servers with 63 playout channels and 73 record channels, 10 ChyronHego Duet graphics systems, and GolfTrax animated aerial views for all 18 holes.

All told, 18 production trucks were in use, and 30 miles of TAC-12 fibre cable traversed the course and compound, a result of Whistling Straits’ being a classic links course, laid out with nine holes straight out and nine straight back.

“This is our third time here for the PGA Championship,” noted Aagaard. “There are some horrendous cable runs, but the good news is we learned our lesson in the last one [four years ago].”

Harold Bryant, SVP/executive producer, CBS Sports, pointed out that all the tools were deployed for one purpose: to enable the production team to best tell the story of the tournament. “You need more cameras to capture that guy making a charge from eight strokes back or to capture the emotion of family members following a group or several angles of a great putt.”

The drone flew over Lake Michigan, located right next to the course. The new angles required CBS Sports producer Lance Barrow and director Steve Milton to get used to the feel of the shots and then figure out how to integrate them into the production.

“Like any new technology, you have to try it and see how steady the shots will be and how the camera operator holds a shot,” Bryant explained. “But we have used drones for taped pieces and for aerials of the course and scenics.”

ProTracer saw expanded use at the PGA Championship. “It’s a neat technology,” said Bryant. “Its use is growing, as you can add in things like distances, how far a ball has traveled and rolls, and how a shot compares to those from other golfers. And, at some point, I can see us adding in things like swing speed and more stats.”

The key, he added, is to make sure that the bells and whistles like drones or ProTracer build the drama without getting in the way of the basics.

“What distinguishes our coverage is, we capture the storylines and stick to the basics like following the ball and showing a perspective from the fairway to the green,” said Bryant. “You can add more equipment, but you can’t forget about the basics.”

Next weekend, the production team will settle in to SSCBS for coverage of the Wyndham Championship from Greensboro, N.C. The new production unit will be the new home for CBS’s Thursday Night Football coverage as well as golf coverage. In fact, a CBS Sports production team will call it home for 48 weeks out of the year.

“We jump from truck to truck on a regular basis, so I don’t think it will be a difficult transition for the production group,” Bryant added. “We rely on the operations and engineering group to make sure the truck is ready so we can just jump in and go.”

According to Aagaard, the new truck will enhance operations in a number of ways, including a larger and IP-based router that will allow video to move throughout the production area more quickly and audio to be tremendously enhanced. Sony’s latest HDC-4300 cameras, capable of super-slow-motion recording or 4K capture, are also part of the mix.

“It will be well into next year’s golf coverage before we get it all the way we want,” he added. “It will let us do some things we haven’t done before.”

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