Live from the Open: BBC preps big changes for live golf coverage

The BBC is teeing up golf as one of the next of its live events to receive a multi-stream multi-platform make-over. Online or connected TV viewers of BBC broadcasts from Sochi (Olympics), Brazil (World Cup) and music festival Glastonbury could select up to twenty live and VOD streams to enrich their experience of the event.

The BBC’s nine hour a day, four-day live coverage from Hoylake this week is more limited, but the ambitions are great.

The BBC is once again running a 3-hole feed (13, 14, 15), leader board, highlight feeds and the host feed available online, through smart TVs and the BBC red button. “Golf does lend itself to multiple outputs and this is a route we are going down,” explains BBC executive producer Paul Davies. “We had seven interactive feeds from Augusta (e.g player channels, practice greens and a ‘behind the ropes’ feed). The ambition is to offer separate feeds from every hole so that viewers can sit at home with a carousel of all 18 and click on any and view that. It’s a little early for that this year. We’re a couple of years away.”

The BBC has its hands full this year with a number of changes. Among them: it is helping the Royal and Ancient (R&A) break new ground with production of a suite of live interactive Wi-Fi services free to all spectactors with tablets/smartphones around the Royal Liverpool course.

“All BBC host broadcast output can be accessed onsite including 5 Live radio commentary, press room interviews, match stats, hole flyovers. It’s a big innovation for the R&A,” says Davies.

The R&A is making a big push of the initiative this week ahead of a similar programme planned for the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles. Another R&A/BBC innovation: the host feed is routed to 17 giant screens near the greens to aid the live fan experience.

The BBC is working with a similar operational model to previous years, but has plans to share more of the outside broadcast operation with that of ESPN. Davies will meet with Bill Lacy, IMG Media, SVP of production, and ESPN’s Open producer Mike McQuade this week to discuss.

“ESPN and the BBC are both doing separate coverage of the same championship, obviously to cater for two very different markets,” explains Davies. “The US coverage is different in terms of what they want to do at any one time. We are producing the world feed which doesn’t satisfy all that ESPN want. They have a particular pacing, they naturally have more of a focus on US players and they have commercials to consider, yet you can only ever cover one golf shot at a time. Consequently, there is a lot of submixing going on. We’re exploring if there’s a way we can reduce the duplication in the submix area. We are after all working from the same clips on the same EVS. The idea is that we both have excellent people on our teams but if we pooled those excellent people then we could effectively halve the [amount of resource] to feed the same output at better quality but at less cost, less kit and less complexity in the submix area.”

BBC explains CTV partnership

The BBC put its OB out to tender over 18 months ago eventually offering 50% of that work back to SIS Live and the remainder to other resource providers. SIS Live took a decision that it was uneconomic for them to accept that offer – whereas before they had a virtual monopoly of BBC work – so they chose to opt out of the process and the BBC had to seek new providers. Golf contracts, including the Women’s Open and the US Masters and The Open, were not included in the original set of contracts.

“It wasn’t just a case of going for CTV because they do a lot of golf,” says Davies. NEP Visions was another major player under consideration with strong golfing pedigree in the US. “Price was an important factor but so was the experience that CTV brings week in week out doing golf, allied with their experience of doing the Open previously with ESPN.”

The clincher was CTV’s swift move to hire key SIS Live senior staff, technical producer Alan Jessop and senior camera supervisor Jon Fay, after SIS decided to fold its OB arm.

“Both Alan and Jon have delivered the Open over a number of years to a high standard,” says Davies. “So we were aligning their knowledge of working with the BBC at SIS with CTV’s deep golf experience and CTV hitting the right financial mark. This made a potent combination.”

In the migration of the Open from SIS to CTV, Davies says the BBC wanted at the very least to deliver on what had been built in previous years, while making 10-20% cost savings.

“The challenge was to maintain standards and even innovate while spending less money,” he says. “CTV came up to the mark on that.”

UK drone specialist Batcam has spent two days in the weeks preceding The Open filming aerial fly-throughs tee to green of each hole. This provides around 20 VTs for the BBC to insert into coverage.

In addition, the BBC is deploying a fixed wing aircraft. “It offers fantastic shots and is brilliant at tracking the ball,” says Davies. “Sometimes the ball can get lost against grass or sky when its tracked from large hoists so having this aerial view can give an improved sense of context to the ball’s trajectory and position.”

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