Wimbledon 2014 Q&A: IMG Media’s David Shield on auto-camera innovation, ‘seamless’ Visions transition and remote production possibilities

In advance of individual reports documenting Visions and ESPN’s operations at the 2014 Wimbledon Championships, David Shield – SVP global director of engineering & technology at Wimbledon production partner IMG Media – sat down with SVG Europe to mull over the principal changes in broadcast set-up achieved since the 2013 tournament.

What’s the situation with the automated camera system this year following a trial deployment in 2013?

The Club is offering a new service to rightsholding broadcasters known as ‘Wimbledon Extra’. It’s a semi-automated coverage developed by Hawk-Eye making use of their expertise in player tracking to automatically drive close up cameras on hotheads. The Club ran a trial on a single outside court last year and have extended this to Courts 6, 10 and 11. The system consists of three professional model cameras from Sony and is manned by a single operator.

How is the additional material being managed workflow-wise?

 In terms of distribution, the feeds are brought back to the TOC – renamed by Visions and formerly known as OSCAR – and made available to broadcasters from there. There is a single commentary position shared between the three courts, with IBM providing score graphics, and IMG is archiving the footage too. This basically means the use of an additional EVS server, although with no visual logging, simply the data feed from IDS.

The overall quality sees a noticeable improvement over last year as the specification of camera one has been enhanced. The whole algorithm for following players has been enhanced, so it looks much closer to normal play coverage, and the close-up cameras look much more like they might have a cameraman operating them.

Doubles matches are more of a problem as you can only track one player, really, and so it would require another two cameras and also some clever thinking about how to follow both players on each side of the net in order to do it justice. But even in its present form, the Hawk-Eye system does yield another two to three days of useful coverage.

This time last year, we discussed the evolution of the Live@Wimbledon online TV and radio service. Any further changes for 2014?

Yes, the TV service hours have been extended so that we now start at 11am and go on continuously. This has actually made life easier because beforehand it was difficult to stream and just draw it to a close; people wondered why there was suddenly nothing there! The production has also been upped to two RF cameras and we have people roaming about, getting coverage from around the site. It should be noted that the Live@Wimbledon radio service, which the TV service was spun out of, also continues to deliver programming on a daily basis from 9am.

Of course, 2014 has also marked the historic switchover from SIS LIVE to Visions for host broadcaster duties… how is it working out so far?

It really has been a seamless change. Of course, there was a bit of apprehension amongst rightsholding broadcasters, and there was a lot of legacy to work over. In particular, there is a considerable amount of cabling that gets left here year after year that had to be sorted out. That resulted in some rationalising [of infrastructure], but I think that was a good and useful piece of work to have got done.

Otherwise, I’d say the whole process has been better than expected, really. The good thing about Visions is that they were already a familiar part of Wimbledon servicing ESPN, for whom they are still working, and NBC before that. They know their way around really well and had a head-start on anyone else who might have been brought in.

Finally, any other notable innovations to report, and what prospect for increased remote production for the tournament out of IMG’s Stockley Park facility?

From an IMG perspective, we have had a bit of a revamp of how things are laid out in our productions areas, so that people are slightly less on top of each other. We also have a bit more kit [due to Wimbledon Extra coverage of the additional three courts) and an additional edit suite from last year, so we have come to the conclusion that we have now filled our space. If the club asked us to do anything more, we would need somewhere to do it.

One consequence of this is that we have been thinking about what could be done remotely. We have been handling ESPN’s interactive, red button coverage remotely for six years now, and that’s resulted in a pretty polished show. Looking ahead, there is the idea that some of our production might come from Stockley Park. It is generally preferable to do as much on site as possible, but if there was more pressure in terms of bringing in extra broadcasters who needed space, then yes, it is certainly possible to envisage more work being done remotely.

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