Live From the US Open: ESPN’s Crosscourt Delivers for Digital Viewers

New show previews matches, provides look-in at current action

ESPN wrapped up seven days of expanded digital coverage of the US Open on Sunday evening and successfully showed once again that it can not only offer tennis fans multiple courts of coverage simultaneously but also create a digital program, Crosscourt, that filled the 11 a.m.-1 p.m. broadcast window previously held by Tennis Channel. The new show not only gives tennis fans a preview of the day’s play but also a live look-in at matches.

ESPN’s Don Colantonio (right) with John Leland, who served as EIC for the ITV coverage

ESPN’s Don Colantonio (right) with John Leland, who served as EIC for the ITV coverage

“We were able to execute Crosscourt out of our existing facilities,” says Don Colantonio, senior director of production enhancements, ESPN, “without any additional resources by configuring the NEP NCP VIII production unit in such a way that we could cut set cameras and also integrate other elements and move around from court to court.”

The ITV efforts — ultimately seen by viewers on DirecTV, ESPN3, the WatchESPN app, on the ESPN Website, and even in Canada via TSN — was an exercise in getting the most out of every resource deployed for the US Open this year. Crosscourt, for example, was hosted from the same fountain set that ESPN calls home for coverage of the evening session.

“It’s just another way of maximizing the value of the assets already bought and paid for,” says Colantonio. “And we also have access to the editorial material to create a product that looks like real TV. It’s a smart way to do it, and I credit the network guys for coming up with it. As a company, we have a lot of experienced people that are able to identify opportunities like this on all levels, both production and engineering.”

Given the massive effort to build a two-story production center for the domestic and host coverage, it would seem logical at first thought that the ITV team would also be in that building. But the ITV coverage is needed only during the first seven days of tournament: by the beginning of the second week, much of the outer-court coverage shifts to juniors and doubles.

“Financially, it makes sense,” says Colantonio. “We can rent the truck for a week and don’t need to rent equipment for two weeks.”

In addition, the team can operate in more of an island, rolling in and quickly interfacing with the production center rather than requiring a buildout. NCP VIII also underwent a recent upgrade, so there is plenty of firepower.

The revamped NEP’s NCP VIII production unit was home for ESPN’s ITV coverage of the US Open.

The revamped NEP’s NCP VIII production unit was home for ESPN’s ITV coverage of the US Open.

The ITV product was able to broadcast 12 complete matches a day from the seven main TV courts as well as from the four courts produced using the Sony HawkEye system.

“On the first day of the tournament, there were three American women playing on three of the four Hawkeye courts,” Colantonio points out. “It worked well and had a look that was consistent with the seven established TV courts.”

With 16 announcers at the disposal of the ITV team, there was plenty of talent to get out to the most compelling matches and to also host the Crosscourt show. It is a particular challenge editorially: there is no control over the cameras so everything is a bit more on the fly.

“It’s always intense for producers and directors, especially when joining courts in progress,” says Colantonio. “But, for the most part, we were lucky with our timing when joining another match.”

Next year, he says, possible enhancements include expanding the mosaic from six channels to eight.

“That would allow us to show either more tennis or an extended Crosscourt show,” he adds. “We also hope to have video-on-demand with highlights to make the product more robust and bring people who are coming in for the third or fourth hour up to speed.”