Wimbledon 2013: BBC’s Paul Davies on extending court coverage and preparing for tournament evolution

With former World Number 1 Rafael ‘Rafa’ Nadal crashing out of the tournament on day one, the first week of the 2013 Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships could never be accused of being drama-deficient. But the broadcast infrastructure that brings the Grand Slam to viewers worldwide has also been ringing a few changes, as BBC Sport executive producer Paul Davies has been explaining to SVG Europe.

Ahead of an in-depth, end-of-tournament report next week, Davies addressed a handful of primary points about this year’s event – commencing with the workflow implications of the cooperation with ESPN, which scooped the exclusive US Wimbledon rights from NBC in 2011.

“We don’t share many facilities in terms of they have some of their own cameras, on the show courts in particular; the main sharing tends to be with ‘the talent’, particularly [commentator] John McEnroe,” says Davies. “That is a challenge in terms of integrating his schedule for both networks, so we do that on a daily basis with their executive producer. It works out fine.”

Where there is more specific technical cooperation is “if they particularly access our specialist cameras, eg the super-slow-mos, to create more bespoke coverage. That can cause some issues if they are taking cameras that are undirected or are not under their control, so we try to keep their coverage as tidy as possible by ensuring those cameras make smooth moves rather than them crashing in and out.” Davies emphasises the cordial nature of the cooperation: “We have a great relationship with ESPN coordinating across the board.”

In terms of the BBC’s own role as host broadcaster, Davies reveals that ten courts are now being covered, rather than the previous nine, with the tenth court featuring an automated player-tracking system that could eventually be rolled-out across all 20 courts, yielding the ability to televise every single court – a development that would be “unprecedented at any tennis event, at any Grand Slam,” reveals Davies.

Graphics-wise, the BBC has had a “really exciting development working with HawkEye statistics – for example, showing where the ball is landing – and IBM statistics, which reflect the outcome of the shot. [In combination] you can get some very potent graphics out of those statistics, for example using them to establish what the outcome will be when the ball lands near the line.”

As revealed yesterday by SVG Europe, CAN Communication and Sony are working with event organiser the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) to experiment with Wimbledon in 4K, deploying Sony F55 cameras and an NEX FS700 to capture Court One action. Davies hasn’t yet had an opportunity to witness the demo for himself, but says he will “certainly have a look at it [next week]. Long-term we all know where we are in terms of 3D and all the excitement about that over the last three years; there now seems to be a decline in terms of 3D, so everyone is looking out to see what the next innovation is going to be. Ultra-D [3D viewing without glasses] seems very impressive, as does 4K… so it’s very much a case of ‘watch this space’!”

Davies also revealed that the BBC is contributing to an AELTC planning exercise taking place during the timeframe of the current tournament. “They are looking 15 or so years ahead, and part of that is how the broadcast infrastructure integrates into their vision for the grounds and the Championships over time,” he says.

Plenty more of that in SVG Europe’s Wimbledon wrap-up next week.

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