Inside the game: CTV at The Open

Sandwich: Friday afternoon on the Kent coast, and it’s very much the calm before the storm. The sun beats down on the Broadcast Compound, a 42-year old Ulsterman is moving steadily and largely unheralded up the leaderboard, and while the wind is getting up, as yet there’s no rain in the air.

The British Open is a complex beast. “It’s a difficult project, it’s a big project,” says Bill Lacy, Senior VP Production at IMG Media. “It’s unique in terms of the four majors in that there are essentially three host broadcasters here – BBC, ESPN and TV Ashai – so there is a certain amount of duplication as a result and it’s a larger physical operation television-wise than the other three majors.”

There are something in the region of 110 cabled cameras dotted around the Royal St Georges course and over 18 RF units. Over the weekend they’ll capture everything, in particular Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke becoming a hugely popular winner of the trophy, and they’ll capture it as the heavens truly open and the wind howls and some genuinely filthy weather blows the cream of the world’s golfers all over the shop.

ESPN’s section of the Compound is put together by CTV on behalf of IMG for ESPN and it alone is on the large side. The company’s OB6, OB9 and OB10 provide the core facilities, while there are also a healthy scattering of portacabins housing the likes of three Avid edit suites, ingest areas, office space, the online production for iTV, and larger temporary structures such as the ISO Room and Graphics Control. Quite why these last two are referred to as the ISO Palace and the Graphics Pit respectively are mysteries, but given that the central routing areas basks in the acronym TOSSA (Technical Outside Source Signal Allocation) then anything’s up for grabs really.

“The ISO Palace is where we do all the VT operation and that’s where we isolate the respective feeds to supplement the main coverage,” says CTV’s Technical Director, Hamish Greig. “Each operator in the production team is doing two ISOs each. they’ve all got A/B mixers and they’ve all got audio mixers as well rather than performing straight hard cuts as they used to do.

“We’ve got seven different production areas,” he adds. “We’ve got the main studio for ESPN, we’ve got the Sports Centre studio with a big 65-inch touchscreen we’ve got a practise range studio which is used by Sports Centre, ESPN and iTV, we’ve got a primary interview which is shared with the BBC at the 18th, we’ve got a secondary interview solely for ESPN at the 18th, we have announce booths on the 17th and the 16th…”

Everything’s linked together by fibre, following an R&A initiative started a few years ago that has seen any course slated to hold an Open fibred up (which also dovetails nicely into the efforts CTV has made in developing golf fibre systems for it’s European Tour contract), while the nearer holes are covered by Triax. As well as 55 of their own camera sources – with the cabled units all being Sony HDC-1500s running the complete gamut of lens packages – CTV’s production is taking in 55 BBC sources, so they’re effectively cutting between 110 cameras and their associated audios.

“We take all the tees and greens and effects audios and supplement them with around 30 of our own effects mics. Plus we have 8 RF mics to follow the key matches. And yes, it’s all 5.1,” explains Greig. “We split the cameras between the trucksThe trucks can do 32 and 24 respectively, so we balance the cameras between them. We didn’t want one operator looking after four cameras and potentially doing four ball follows simultaneously as he doesn’t have a hope in hell, especially when one might be into the sun, one might be against the rain. So we’ve balanced out all the CCUs coverage-wise so one operator can do a couple of low cameras and a couple of high.”

17 IPDirector seats and 16 EVS servers tie the torrent of incoming material together across the compound, while three Avid suites are also running night and day cutting the mini-features and slots that ESPN has made a bit of a trademark. Grieg points to a rack in the ingest area. “That’s 27TB of ESPN golfing archive in there,” he says.

It’s probably well over 30TB by now…

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