US Open Recap: Two Weeks of Technology, Production Excellence

The 2011 US Open tennis tournament marked the latest chapter in one of the most sprawling, state-of-the-art productions in all of sports television, and SVG was on hand to report on every ball from the first serve through Novak Djokovic’s championship point.

The broadcast compound at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, NY, housed an army of broadcasters from countries around the world. Fortunately, SVG’s US Open Sports Technology Blog was there to sift through the chaos:

The tournament started with a bang. Broadcast entities, players, venue personnel, and even fans had to play catch-up after a weekend of preparation and planning was lost when Tropical Storm Irene passed through the area two days before Opening Day.

CBS Sports once again served as the de facto host broadcaster for the Open, handling the bulk of the production responsibilities for ESPN, Tennis Channel, the USOptimum world feed for international broadcasters, its own coverage for the CBS network, and the 3D coverage over Labor Day and Finals weekends.

With the addition of some new camera positions, plus the ability to offer 3D coverage from a second court, the second year of 3D coverage at the US Open proved to be a major step up from its debut in 2010. The 3D efforts once again tapped the expertise of Vince Pace and his CAMERON-PACE Group (CPG) team, which provided an arsenal of Shadow rigs (3D rigs physically mounted to the 2D cameras and controlled by the same camera operator) to bridge the gap between — and cut down on the cost of — the 2D and 3D coverage.

ESPN was back for its third year as the primary cable rightsholder at the Open, with highlights that included the return of its exclusive aerial camera systems, ENG tools, and an increased role for ESPN International.

The Tennis Center’s latest show court, Court 17 was the talk of the tournament, as an area that was once the least trafficked at the Open emerged as one of the most popular courts.

The US Open has become one of the largest multiplatform sports events in the world, and USOpen.org streamed live every match from all six TV courts, including the semis and finals at Arthur Ashe Stadium. In addition, the USTA and IBM offered plenty of iPhone, Android, and iPad US Open apps.

The USTA and IBM also enhanced the on-site experience through technology, building out a mobile-friendly site (m.usopen.org) with a variety of on-site features and significantly stepping up social-media efforts.

F&F Productions, NEP Supershooters, and NCP once again provided the majority of the mobile-production units in Flushing Meadows. F&F’s GTX-16 HD was back for a second year as the primary truck for CBS’s host feed, having debuted at the Open last year (GTX-15 was also on hand for ESPN International). Meanwhile, NEP deployed a total of seven production trucks as well as its Engineering Support Unit (ESU) for various broadcasters. That is one more than last year and an all-time high for NEP at the Open.

DIRECTV, in partnership with ESPN and Tennis Channel (and with plenty of help from Bexel and Origin Digital), brought fans eight days (Aug. 29-Sept. 5) of exclusive coverage of the outer-court and early-round matches. This year also saw the return of the popular US Open Mix Channel, which now provides up to six matches at a time in an HD mosaic format.

In addition to the DIRECTV feeds, ESPN ITV streamed as many as five courts simultaneously on ESPN3.com, and ITV senior audio mixer Steve Fisher created the audio mixes out of Bexel Broadcast Services’ BBS1 truck shell.

The USOptimum world feed once again delivered the tournament to more than 200 countries worldwide, integrating feeds cut by CBS directors from each of the six television courts into one network-style broadcast.

Spidercam, the four-point dedicated aerial camera system, was an exclusive to ESPN in 2010 but was added to the USOptimum world feed this year, giving its operating team more exposure and a new level of creative freedom.

FlyCam completed its second year providing spectacular aerial visuals of the Tennis Center grounds for ESPN and USOptimum. FlyCam is a closed-loop, stabilized tracking camera system driven by a motor/pulley combination with the drive motor and video receiver fiber-mounted at one end of the run.

In the face of Tropical Storm Irene, Russia’s NTV-Plus was able to deliver the US Open to its homeland despite the absence of the bulk of its crew. Producer/coordinator Kirill Kolomyts held down the fort in New York as Irene detained the NTV-Plus crew on the other side of the Atlantic until the first day of the tournament.

Sky Sports boasted an expanded and improved on-site presence, covering the US Open for the British and Irish markets. Sky delivered matches from the six television courts but obviously paid particular attention to a home-country favorite, No. 4 seed Andy Murray. Sky once again used a devoted studio stage on the practice courts and, this year, added a second mobile unit, NEP’s SS14 and Super B.

A variety of inventive studio sets were on hand at the Tennis Center, courtesy of Northern Lights, which constructed sets for Tennis Channel, Sky Sports, and Russian broadcasters last year and came back with a few improvements for each.