Live From the U.S. Open: Fox Sports Shows Commitment to Digital

The Fox Sports commitment to the TV broadcast of the 2015 U.S. Open is pretty easy to see in the TV compound at Chambers Bay Golf Course this weekend. But there is also a fairly sizable presence involved in the production of Fox Sports Digital content, which includes U.S. Open 360 and coverage of two featured groups and two featured holes every day of the tournament. More than 100 people are involved in the production, working out of Game Creek production’s Justice and Glory production units.

Kyle McDoniel says the close production ties between the digital side of Fox Sports and the TV side are making a difference.

Kyle McDoniel says the close production ties between the digital side of Fox Sports and the TV side are making a difference.

“This is by far the largest-scale broadcast that I’ve ever been involved with,” says Kyle McDoniel, SVP, digital, Fox Sports. “NASCAR has a physical area that is similar to cover, but the amount of content we’re doing is much greater.”

The core product is U.S. Open 360, streaming live approximately 12 hours a day from a set that has a four-person anchor desk and an astro-turf demonstration area located on the practice range. Philosophically, 360 is designed to be more of a companion to the TV broadcast with the featured groups and holes giving fans an alternative viewing experience.

“There are not a lot of preproduced features or interviews,” McDoniel says. “A lot of it is reacting to what is happening. And we can take the extra time and go in-depth on things the main broadcast production cannot. We do cover what is going on at the practice range, but it is a lot more about analysis of what is happening out on the course.”

The Pride and Glory units comprise a total of three production trailers, giving a truck to each of the production teams involved on each of the three channels: 360, groups, and holes. The announce team calls the action from inside the Fox Sports Digital office trailer.

“What we are looking to do is create great companion experiences to the broadcast,” says McDoniel. “For example, on Friday, we called an audible and moved from featuring the Woods and Fowler group to the Spieth group, and that was the right call. But it did require coordination, as the times of the production changed.”

The digital-video team revved up onsite operations before the official tournament began on June 18. The players arrived earlier in the week, and, during those early days, the low level of media demands on them meant that Fox Sports Digital could get access to them and, more important, the players were a bit more relaxed than they are when the tournament is under way.

“Next year,” says McDoniel, “I would like to get here even earlier.”

The Justice and Glory production units also have access to the video and audio feeds and replay channels used for the main production. “We’re able to leverage a lot of the technology on the broadcast and have all the resources the primary network has,” he says.

The advantage of being tied into the main production is that the operations become a lot more efficient. They have access to all the content being logged, clipped, and put into the EVS server.

“We are taking full advantage of being onsite,” adds McDoniel.

The team also reacts to what is happening in social media.

“Social-media integration on a broadcast oftentimes feels forced,” he notes, “but ours has evolved to create content that drives the broadcast.”

First, the team curates social-media feeds of pro golfers, their caddies, and golf media to see what the hot topics are. Also, the talent are reaching out and calling for social-media action like viewer questions.

“We’ve made progress on how to ask and frame the right questions,” says McDoniel,“and we are getting a great response.”

Fox Sports Digital also uses social media to distribute results and video clips. For example, graphics are built with a shot of a player from the day’s action along with his scorecard and are then posted to Instagram.

“Facebook has the most engagement,” explains McDoniel, “so we will find remarkable moments and get the highlights out quickly.”

Twitter, meanwhile, is useful to constantly remind people to tune in and promote the digital streams. And, with more than 30 hours of coverage a day on the three streams, there is plenty of content to promote.

McDoniel says Fox Sports is taking the conservative approach to using Periscope, the app that allows a person to turn their phone into the equivalent of a broadcast camera and microphone and broadcast whatever is being recorded live to other Periscope users.

“We’re using it to go behind the scenes [because] people are interested in seeing what it takes to put on a production like this,” he explains. “They usually have no idea of the number of people or scale.”

The virtual-reality test being conducted by Fox Sports with NextVR is the kind of next-generation offering that will be an extension of what the digital team does at the U.S. Open in the future, McDoniel says. “I think that will evolve pretty quickly.”