Despite Damp Conditions, US Open Streams Into 3D Realm

Live 3D tennis made its U.S. debut, streaming on the Internet over the weekend and, thanks to Sunday’s heavy rains, on Monday as well. The USTA worked with Panasonic and IBM to stream the CBS Sports-produced 3D feed of the men’s and women’s finals on USOpen.org.

“The idea of streaming in 3D was always out there as a possibility when we were discussing the 3D US Open broadcast,” says Phil Green. “Obviously, we had to get the broadcast piece done first. That was the critical component, and working with Panasonic to get that done was tremendous for the US Open. Once that piece was locked in, we worked with Panasonic again to figure out the 3D streaming as well.”

IBM and the USTA used iStreamPlanet’s managed services and Akamai’s HD CDN to distribute the 3D feed online. To view the 3D streaming, viewers had to have the latest version of the NVIDIA 3D Vision video player and NVIDIA 3D Vision glasses.

Saturday night’s women’s final marked the first-ever live tennis match to be streamed in 3D in the U.S., and Sunday’s men’s final was scheduled to be the second. However, heavy rain washed out play on Sunday, and the men’s final was pushed to Monday afternoon.

“We already had the 3D men’s final streaming in place, so [the delay] didn’t present much of a problem,” says Green. “This was a fantastic opportunity because we were able to leverage the 3D feed that already existed [for broadcast] and move it over to the Internet for the men’s and women’s finals.”

This marks IBM’s second go-round in the world of live streaming 3D sports, having worked with Comcast and Augusta National Golf Club to stream The Masters in 3D in April.

“Just like a number of the other US Open projects we work with IBM on, the experience they have makes it much easier,” says Green. “Obviously, we’re bringing something new to the table each time, but their expertise and their experience streaming 3D take out some of the questions and complexities that are inherent in any new initiative or technology like this.”

Although Green acknowledges that the audience for 3D online remains limited, he does believe that the high quality of the 3D content will lure viewers, especially for tennis.

“We don’t necessarily anticipate huge reach from a streaming standpoint, but, for those who have the ability to see this, it’s phenomenal. I don’t usually speak in hyperbole like that, but it’s that good,” says Green. “To see a Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic serve coming right at you at those speeds is almost scary. It takes watching tennis to a whole new level. We actually see people ducking out of the way while watching.”

Rainout? No Problem
While 3D streaming marked a new frontier for the USTA, Sunday’s rainout seemed like old hat at the US Open. For the third straight year, inclement weather pushed the men’s final to Monday. However, unlike in past years, when the USTA advanced-media staff was scrambling to secure rights and infrastructure to stream the Monday final online, Green already had a game plan mapped out in case of a delay.

“From a streaming standpoint, this was definitely our easiest year because we were already streaming all of the CBS windows,” he says. “For us and for CBSSports.com, it’s business as usual.

“Two years ago, we literally put things together in just 12 hours over the weekend,” he continues, “and we had to identify a sponsor and everything. Last year, we were already streaming the cable broadcast but still needed to put in place the finals. Now, since we’ve had done previously, we already had the infrastructure in place, and we’re ready to go.”