Storm Begets Streaming at U.S. Open; Eye On Streaming It All in 2009

By Carolyn Braff
Tropical Storm Hanna provided quite
the headache for players and broadcasters at the U.S. Open over the weekend, but the
storm-forced postponement of the Men’s Final allowed CBS and the USTA
to take advantage of a new distribution channel. A weather delay moved
the Men’s Final between Roger Federer and Andy Murray from Sunday
to Monday, enabling CBSSports.com and USOpen.org to provide a free,
live video stream of the final match.
“The breakup with the rain presented
us with the opportunity to provide live streaming of the Men’s Final,
which we were thrilled to do, especially in association with our friends
at CBSSports.com,” explains Phil Green, director of advanced media
for the USTA. “We were able to work it off without a hitch and it
was a wonderful experience all around.”
Pulling together the streaming operation
required plenty of scrambling, as the tournament organizers did not
know until about 24 hours beforehand that the final would be moved to
Monday.
“It was a lot crunched down into
a 24-hour window over a weekend to get it done,” Green says.
Putting all the pieces in place required
the USTA to first get approval from CBS Sports on the television side
to use their broadcast feed for the stream. USTA’s advanced media
group then got involved with CBSSports.com to ensure a stream on both sites, followed by talks with USTA.com, USOpen.org partner IBM, and IMG, a USTA.com partner that lends a hand on special projects for USOpen.org. Finally, streaming partner Akamai had to sign
off on the project.
“There were a lot of moving parts
and the presenting sponsorship with American Express was the added ball
to throw up into the mix,” Green says. American Express sponsored
the streaming service, but the stream included all of the national commercials
delivered through the television broadcast, without any changes.
Akamai served as the streaming partner
for Monday night’s stream, while IBM provided the server power.
“IBM provides all the back-end infrastructure
for USOpen.org,” Green explains. “We can’t max out server capacity.
Whatever we throw at them, they handle.”
IMG, as a partner for USTA.com, assists
with special projects on the USOpen.org site, including the live streaming
of the event that was done on Labor Day Monday. IMG enabled the acquisition
of the CBS feed, the encoding of the feed, and the handing off of that
feed to Akamai. A link was then sent back to IBM to pull the feed through
the player on USOpen.org.
“As far as the user knows, they’re
just coming to the site and watching the video,” Green says. “They
have no idea how many players are involved.”
The online stream included CBS graphics, announcers and national commercials.
The USOpen.org player was formatted in 16:9 this year, allowing for
the clarity that is critical to watching a sport like tennis over broadband.
“Like any other sport with a lot
of action and movement, you have to make sure you have a stream that
has high enough quality so people can see it clearly,” Green explains.
“That is something we did throughout the tournament, which was fantastic.”
In addition to streaming the Men’s
Final and action from Labor Day Monday night, USOpen.org streamed more
than 100 live shows, roughly one every hour during each day session
from various spots on the grounds. The shows included guest and analyst
interviews, news information, and features, setting the stage for what
Green hopes will be an expanded streaming offering at the 2009 event.
“The biggest thing we’re looking
to do for next year is not just do streaming of Monday night and the
Men’s Final, but work with our television partners and be able to
do live streaming for the entire tournament,” Green says. “That
would be a pretty substantial change.”
With so many matches being played simultaneously
during the Open, especially in the early rounds, Green’s immediate
goal is to stream as many courts as possible. Other options up for discussion
include adding isolation cameras to some of the bigger matches, which
would enable fans to choose different camera angles during the match.