CTV takes charge of complex RF, multi-client operation ahead of The Open

CTV’s plans for the Open Championship, which tees-off next Thursday (17 July), are more complex than ever given that this year it is not only servicing the always impressive ESPN operation and the smaller (but no less impressive) NBC Sports’ Golf Channel as in past years. For the first time, 2014 also finds it taking on the technical requirements for the BBC, Japan’s TV Asahi and The Open Live, the live streamed IMG production for governing body the R&A.

On a good day the links course at Royal Liverpool, Hoylake offers views across the river Dee to North Wales. Given the UK’s extended period of clement temperatures the fairways could be as burnt as they were in 2006, the last time the Open was hosted here and when Tiger Woods won by two strokes.

CTV picked up the BBC contract from SIS Live last autumn, in part thanks to its golfing pedigree, which has seen the Euro Media Group-owned supplier travel the length and breadth of the European Tour since 1997 for European Tour Productions.

“We had three criteria with regards to the BBC at the Open,” explains CTV technical director Hamish Greig. “We wanted to make sure they got the level of service they were used to, if not better. We wanted to give them people that they were confident in and whom they could trust to do a good job and we wanted to technically deliver on everything they required and more.”

This event is, however, a learning curve for the BBC and CTV, which is why plans to share more of the OB infrastructure with that of ESPN are on hold until the 2015 tournament convenes at St Andrews.

“Next year we’ll look at how to make it a more efficient operation, the main change being the likelihood of building a larger central distribution area rather than individual islands,” says Greig.

Core configuration

For 2014 there remain two central distribution areas manned by the BBC and ESPN, respectively, into which all outside sources (managed by CTV) are ingested and shared. ESPN’s 22 cabins, three production trucks and three presentation studios collect signals from this hub for its production, including that of Sportscenter.

The similar BBC operation (five trucks including CTV golf flagship OB10 and 14 cabins) supplies not only the BBC’s host broadcast and domestic feed, but is also used by TV Asahi, The Golf Channel, R&A live streaming and other unilaterals to collect feeds.

The BBC’s outside source central apparatus room (OSCAR) is connected to CTV OB’s TOSSA (Technical Outside Source Signal Allocation) to ensure ESPN has maximum access to camera signals from the course.

“Between [ESPN and BBC] there is a lot of crosstalk,” says Greig. “The BBC takes 80 feeds from ESPN and ESPN takes 30 feeds from the BBC. The feeling is that the workflow would be more efficient and the operation less costly from a technical standpoint (saving on cabling, for example) if we could unite them. On an engineering level it’s not good to have all your eggs in one basket, of course, so we have to look closely at redundancy.

“We think it should be networked as one massive central online store so that everyone can access each other’s clips so long as they have rights. I’m sure we can make it work engineering-wise. Ultimately it’s a production issue and that depends on learning exactly what production wants. We’ll take it from there to satisfy their demands.”

CTV has called on its extensive staff and freelance roster to assign dedicated teams to support its five clients. However, it takes a global view of source-to-truck infrastructure on the course and of the RF portion, which this year is of another order.

“Managing the sheer amount of wireless links is one of the most challenging technical aspect of this broadcast,” he says.

Frequency coordination began at the turn of the year involving CTV, Broadcast RF, Arqiva and AVS (Aerial Video Systems), handling US clients. “The object is to get everyone a band they are happy to work in with as much separation between different clients as possible. We are confident we can achieve that.”

He adds: “We’ve gone for radio cameras with onboard transmitters (from Broadcast RF and CTV’s Gigawave) and since we can’t use poles we’re populating the course with low level receive sites. We’re also trying to keep it all low power and using RF routers  to prevent receiver overloading rather than having different RF cameras compete power-wise with each other at any time.”

Sizeable spec

Globally, CTV is locating 39 high powered radio mics around Royal Liverpool and a further 26 radio low power radio mics and 46 Duplex base stations for radio talk back. For radio talkback there are 330 Motorola GP 360s radio handsets and fourteen lighter weight GP 344’s for presenters. Twenty-two PMW-500 XDCAMs, chosen for their light weight, will be on RF camera duty. “That’s a lot of RF cameras for such a small environment,” says Greig.

Compared to last year’s Open for ESPN, which typically requires a 50-camera OB, the British Open sees CTV more than doubling kit requirements.

It will position at least 103 cabled cameras (mix of HDC-1500s and HDC-2500s) complemented with super slow-motion systems from Phantom and NAC Imaging. The inventory includes 123 large lenses (61 x 86:1, 54 x 22:1, 8 x 40:1) and another 23 wide angles.

As with other Open courses, Hoylake is ringed with embedded fibre, hence the need for some 150 TEDs to extend signals from the cameras, and a further twenty-odd course Hydras across the various productions .

ESPN will carry some additional F55s for ENG and Canon 5Ds for documentary work. A Strada crane and fixed wing aircraft are some of the toys at the director’s disposal.

Even while it preps the Open, CTV currently has kit and crew out servicing ESPN and BBC (host) coverage of the Ricoh Women’s Open at Royal Birkdale, and for Sky’s and ETP’s coverage of the Scottish Open at Aberdeen. Plus it has a unit at Trent Bridge in Nottingham for Sky’s England v India cricket test coverage.

“It’s an incredibly busy week,” says Greig. “We have a lot of kit in situ already for the Open but we need to supplement with other facilities.”

Trucks configured for the Women’s Open, for example, can be driven the short distance from Southport to the Wirral and plugged in for TV Asahi. OB10, currently north of the border, will be transported south on 14 July following the Scottish Open. CTV will reconfigure ESPN’s scanner at the Women’s for Golf Channel coverage at the Open (it will then depart to cover the senior tour for the ESPN network).

The majority of the kit is either part of the CTV family or sourced from Gearhouse and others, although the size of the project required CTV to sub-contract a couple of scanners from Telegenic and Ireland’s TVM.

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