CP Communications Helps New York City Marathon Run Smoothly

Spanning 26.2 miles throughout New York City’s five boroughs, the 2011 ING New York City Marathon presents logistical production challenges unlike any in televised sports, before the runners even hit the road. On Sunday Nov. 6, when 2.5 million smartphone-equipped spectators are expected to line the route, tracking their favorite runners with the New York Road Runners’ new Mobile Spectator App, those challenges can quickly turn into a wireless-spectrum nightmare.

Runners cross the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge at the start of the ING New York City Marathon. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

With 15 years of experience covering the New York City Marathon, CP Communications SVP of Sales and Marketing Kurt Heitmann and his 70-person on-site crew are well equipped to handle the crowded New York City spectrum. Three months out, the company applied for special temporary-authority licenses to operate in C-band and transmit video in 1.4 GHz. In total, CP requires approximately 65 frequencies.

“At the end of [each] year, we have a big postproduction,” says Heitmann. “What can we do better? What frequencies got interfered with? It used to be that that was good enough. But, because of the ever changing spectrum around us, you can’t just go based on last year.”

One Race, Five Boroughs
In addition to the three receive sites located throughout the course — the Bay Ridge Apartments in Brooklyn; the CitiCorp building in Long Island City, Queens; and the GM Building in Manhattan — CP this year has a remote site at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

A 16-ft. RF trailer stationed at the venue will mux the signal from two RF cameras — one on a jib, one handheld — from Bay Ridge to GM to the broadcast truck located at the finish line on Central Park West, where the feeds will be demuxed and cut live in the show.

Bay Ridge will handle all the signals from the start through mile eight. From mile eight through mile 20, the CitiCorp will take charge. GM will offer support for miles 8-18 and then take control from mile 20 through the finish line.

Once again, the GM Building (at the southeast corner of Central Park) will serve as the main receive point and distribution site.

“CitiCorp talks to GM, and all the [CitiCorp] signals go through GM and then down to us [on Central Park West],” explains Heitmann. “All the signals from Bay Ridge go through GM and then down to us. GM [signals] come down to us, and then we send [signals] back to GM to Bay Ridge [or] Citi Corp. GM is basically the hub of this whole thing.”

CitiCorp will serve as the hub for communications. For the first time, communications will be handled through a virtual private network created by CP Communications.

“In years past, we’ve had to use phone lines or try to get DSL on the rooftops so that we can do VoIP,” explains Heitmann. “This year, we’ve created a 3.5 GHz network, 100-Mb length, from broadcast truck to GM. From GM, it sends a link over to CitiCorp and down to Bay Ridge.”

The 100-Mb pipeline will provide increased bandwidth for voice communications from the producer and citywide director, as well as citywide IFB and microwave.

“It allows us to have a quicker setup time,” says Heitmann, “We’re not worried about any outside interference because it’s our own private network.”

Steady as They Go
Moto 2 and Moto 4 will continue to serve as men’s and women’s lead motorcycle, respectively, with one major improvement over last year’s production. Instead of equipping camera operators riding the motorcycles with handhelds, both Moto 2 and Moto 4 will have Steadicam rigs mounted.

“The handheld operators do the best job they can on the back of a motorcycle doing 10, 15, sometimes 20 mph on the city streets, which are not exactly the smoothest,” notes Heitmann.

An RF handheld has been added to the start line, capturing images from the blue, red, and green starts and the elite walk. Additional footage from the marathon’s start will be provided by helicopter.

“There’s nothing like seeing the helicopter shot over the Verrazano-Narrows [Bridge],” says Heitmann. “[Seeing] that massive start. There’s no other way to do it. It’s the quintessential shot.”

The helicopter, motorcycles, and Brooklyn Academy of Music remote site will require 144 Mb of bandwidth, including 9-Mb motorcycle streams, which will be fed to GM and muxed to the production truck at the finish line. CP’s all-in-one audio/video–routing and –distribution ESU truck, HDRF5, will be on location and handling fiber throughout the course. Lead trucks Moto 1 and Moto 3 will be equipped with gyro-stabilized Cineflex HD camera systems, an upgrade over last year’s 4×3 SD Fleers.

CP will take the SDI end of the HD camera feed to produce the race in full SDI 16:9 aspect ratio. Although the marathon will not be presented in HD this year, CP is certainly ready for the HD transition expected in the near future.

Following the Pack
CP Communications will produce the marathon feed, which is then picked up by WNBC New York, Universal Sports, and NBC Sports. The race will air live this Sunday beginning at 9 a.m. ET on WNBC and Universal Sports Network and stream live on NYCMarathon.org and UniversalSports.com. NBC Sports will present a two-hour marathon special at 2 p.m.

The Mobile Spectator App, created by New York Road Runners in conjunction with MapMyRun, will be available for free on iPhones, iPads, and Android smartphones. Fans will be able to track up to five runners by name, bib number, or team and can access additional content like countdown clocks and retail locations.

For Heitmann and crew, the New York City Marathon represents the final lap of back-to-back-to-back marathon coverage. Beginning last month, CP Communications covered the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 9 before traveling to Washington, DC, for the Marine Corps Marathon on Oct. 30. Barring another surprise snowstorm, Heitmann expects the third and final marathon of the season to run smoothly and successfully.

“[The New York City Marathon] is a world-class event,” he says. “We want to broadcast it and treat it like the world-class event that it is.”