USTA looks to broadband, mobile for Open

By Ken Kerschbaumer

It’s a very new media U.S. Open that kicks off this weekend as, in a new twist this year, fans in the stands will be able to watch video on other courts on handheld devices from WiseDV. And with CBS Sports backing off its late-night U.S. Open wrap-up show the USTA has stepped in with two of its own online wrap-up programs every night. Sponsored by American Express, the programs will be put together with an Apple Final Cut Pro system and an EVS [Spot]Box, giving USTA fans a recap of the day’s events and preview of the night session at 6:30 and a full-day wrap up at 11:30 p.m.

“We’ll also build a flypack with additional tape machines and edit it in short three-minute segments that can be easily played back online,” says Steve Gorsuch, Director of Broadcast Operations for the USTA Billie Jean King Tennis Center.

While the online highlight shows will help fans at home keep on top of the action a new technology from WiseDV will make its debut at the USTA Center itself, giving fans in the stands the first-ever opportunity to watch matches on up to six courses via a handheld MPEG-4 video player.

With the help of American Express, 2,000 Wise DV devices will be available free to American Express cardholders. Fans will be able to walk up to the American Express booth, have their card swiped (for a deposit of $350 to make sure the device is returned) and then dial in and watch six channels of Am Ex Vision Live at the U.S. Open.

Gorsuch says a WiseDV headend has been set up in the TV compound and will pull in a variety of signals from around the compound. A closed-circuit TV system has been in place for years, allowing fans around the tennis center to see action on other courts and the new system will tap into that network and also deliver live simulcasts of CBS or USA Network feeds. A stats page will also be available.

WiseDV was selected over competing technologies because its form factor and look are better suited for the tennis fan than, say, the KangarooTV device seen at NASCAR races.

“KangarooTV works great for NASCAR fans but the WiseDV device is a little slicker and cooler,” he explains. “We were intrigued about the product and brought it to American Express’ agency and they were excited.”

WiseDV has also made the interface simple, making it usable by both the tech savvy and tech newbies. “We didn’t want a device that required a 14-year old to show you how to use it,” says Gorsuch.

The WiseDV LVIS system, set within the tennis center, sends audio and video signals to a hand-held four-inch LCD video player. It replays action on demand from any camera angle at full speed or slow motion as well as showing stats and more immediate information such as where to get food.

“We’ve developed our own system and it interfaces with the tennis center cameras and audio,” says Atul Anandpura, WiseDV founder and CEO. The transmitter antennas connected via fiber to the headend and are located at the top of Arthur Ashe, Armstrong, the Grandstand courts and on top of the AmEx corporate suites to ensure AmEx guests can receive signals inside.

The biggest challenge will be one of the classic conundrums facing hand-held device users: battery life. The USTA is working to ensure that battery life isn’t an issue, with 1,500 extra batteries on site and a large number of chargers to keep up with demand. And then there is the enemy of all LCD screens: the sun.

“At high noon it’s similar to looking at a cellphone screen so you need to move around a little,” says Gorsuch. “But in the shade or at nighttime it’s spectacular.”