VER Improves French Open Backbone for Tennis Channel, NBC, and ESPN

The 2014 French Open tennis tournament marked a new era for VER as the company snagged a three-year contract to be the technical backbone for Tennis Channel as well as for sub rightsholders ESPN, NBC, and ESPN International. One year later, VER is onsite with an improved technological offering, experienced staffers, and an expanding presence in the live–sports-production marketplace.

“We took notes on what the clients wanted and tweaked the cosmetics, cable management, [and] cable layout and, with our ‘versa pack’ furniture, can create our own world by doing things like moving monitors and giving people more room for printers, routers, and other creature comforts,” says Howie Rosenthal, director of broadcast, VER. “We have a much more mature technical system, our engineering staff has grown, and we’re used to serving this type of business so we can anticipate needs and have less reacting.”

In terms of the overall production of the French Open, the biggest change is the addition of nine TV courts, thanks to the Hawkeye production system. That increases the number of sources available to the production teams as well as the amount of content flowing through the Evertz router that is the backbone of the VER flypack.

“It’s amazing to see how the flypack business has made a comeback in the industry, especially outside of the U.S.,” says Rosenthal.

The flypack itself has also expanded with the addition of an RF video and audio system that gives additional coverage flexibility and also signals the start of yet another era for VER, serving as a test bed for a new RF division that will be headed by Mike Foreman.

“We have a new Cobham wireless video system and a Wisycom wireless audio system that is available through Jetwave Wireless,” says Rosenthal. “It’s an awesome system, and we’re happy with the results.”

The core of the facility, once again, is four control rooms and 11 commentary booths. Two of the control rooms are identical and are shared by Tennis Channel, ESPN, and NBC. At the center of those rooms are two Grass Valley Kayenne video-production switchers, 19 EVS XT[3] replay servers, 23 EVS IPDirectors, two Calrec Artemis audio consoles with 64 faders, and an Evertz routing switcher. The two smaller control rooms — one used for Tennis Channel’s French Open Tonight program, the other for ESPN International coverage — are built around a Grass Valley Kayak switcher and Yamaha DM2000 audio mixers. There are also 23 cameras deployed across the grounds in commentary booths and also as ENG and roving cameras and three Avid editing systems.

“We made a lot of investments in monitoring and now have a lot more over HD-SDI,” says Rosenthal. “We have 100 new Boland monitors, which allow us to feed any flavor of video, saving us a lot of time on setup.”

The new technologies, workflows, and more experienced team signal to Rosenthal that the market is responding positively to VER’s decision last year to expand its broadcast services. VER systems designers Bruno Brunelle and Pay Daly, video engineers-in-charge Derrick Whittington and Jay Johnson, and audio engineers-in-charge Craig Lapsley and Steve Koubridis are a big reason for the success.

“Our new internal saying is ‘If you build it, they will come’ as we also have two new systems being used in Vancouver for the Women’s World Cup and all three of the systems are booked until December 2016,” he says. “So this is definitely an emerging market for VER. From last year to this year, it has just exploded.”