NBC Says Oui to Orad for French Open Graphics

By Ken Kerschbaumer

NBC Sports French Open coverage begins this weekend, and tennis fans are in for some graphical treats, courtesy of Orad’s MVP graphics platform and its Playmaker replay server. The systems will be used to bring a new level of information to the broadcasts, including the distance players run on a point, the speed of shots, and even the spin and arc of the ball’s flight.

The distance stat is particularly apt for the French Open, NBC Sports Senior Producer John McGuinness notes, since the clay surface of Roland Garros results in longer points than at other major tennis championships. “On clay,” he says, “Rafael Nadal will wear down the opponent [by making him run around the court].”

Shaun Dail, Orad VP of sales for North America, says the system works without needing to physically modify the cameras. “We load the dimensions of the court into the MVP system and then calibrate the camera in about 10 minutes,” he says. “Once it’s calibrated, MVP will know how far a player travels as they run from the baseline to the net.”

The MVP system will be operated out of the production trailer that NBC and ESPN are sharing during the tournament. This year, Charter is providing the unit (for the past 15 years, NEP Visions supplied the production facility), and McGuinness says the network is reducing costs by sharing the facilities with ESPN.

NBC Sports previously used the Orad system to identify player lanes at Olympic swimming and field-and-track events. The opportunity to use it at the French Open came about because the Hawkeye instant-replay system used at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, and Australian Open is not used since umpires can use marks in the clay to determine whether or not a ball is in. Travelers Insurance, which typically sponsors the Hawkeye system, is sponsoring the Orad system. “We’ll be able to use the Orad system with no increase in production costs versus the Hawkeye,” says McGuinness.

Fans can also expect Orad’s Flow Motion to be on hand. Flow Motion tracks onscreen objects and freezes the action, using frame overlays to show the positions of objects, such as players. CBS used it at last year’s U.S. Open tennis championships to track the distances players ran during volleys, as well as the path of a player or the ball.

As for capturing the action, NBC’s coverage will once again rely on five unilateral HD cameras instead of a host broadcast feed. “HD makes everything looks 10 times better,” says McGuinness. “Seeing Paris in HD is great, and the colors of the clay pop out of the monitor, as do the geraniums on the side of the court. And then you can see the player’s sweat and the struggles they go through.”

NBC Sports was the first American TV network to cover the French Open, from 1975 to 1979, and the tournament has been on NBC since 1983 (CBS covered it from 1980 to ’82). Coverage begins Saturday at 1:30 p.m. ET and Sunday at 3 p.m. On Friday June 5, coverage will continue from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., with the Ladies Final at 9 a.m. on June 6 and the Men’s Final at 9 a.m. on June 7.