NEW YORK – A year ago, ESPN became the exclusive domestic media partner for the US Open. All coverage in the US came from ESPN.
It was a great success.
Along with that enormous responsibility, ESPN was now the host broadcaster. ESPN was not only airing the matches, the network was responsible for the baseline, “agnostic” production of all the matches around the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center for use by all the networks on site from around the world.
– ESPN’s Terry Brady
Certainly, lessons were learned and now Year Two has brought a smoother operation, more efficient workflow, better ergodynamics and improved communication.
“We learned a lot last year,” said Terry Brady, director, remote production operations. “The changes are many. Nothing sexy, but many upgrades, fixes and enhancements that make life easier, work smoother and the finished product better.”
Without being too technical, the EVS workflow was adjusted, the layout of the Central Apparatus Room – the CAR, “the hub of everything” according to Brady – was redesigned to better cool the equipment, different bases for cameras on courts were acquired and the RF system for Arthur Ashe Stadium was adjusted to account for when the new roof is closed. Also, feedback from control room personnel led to design changes with ergo dynamics in mind.
Much of the changes were done knowing that ESPN will maintain its position with the final tennis Major of the year until at least 2025. That’s nine more years to make the effort worthwhile.
“We permanently cabled 30,000 meters in our broadcast center,” Brady states. “Much of that makes people’s jobs easier day-to-day, but it also will reduce the set-up time going forward.”
ESPN also took advantage of the enormous redesign of the south end of the complex – including new fan promenades and walkways, not to mention the new Grandstand Court – to install permanent underground fibre-optic cables.
“It was a massive project,” Brady says. “There are 1,300 fibre-optic paths now. We took advantage of the USTA’s construction to make the grounds more broadcast-friendly.”
Even the “RailCam” – a robotic camera that moves silently along the base of the wall behind the player on the southern end of Ashe Stadium for a super ground-level look – now moves smoother and faster thanks to longer pieces of rail.
Even before the first ball was in the air, ESPNers and viewers alike enjoyed one change – ESPN took over the audio mix for Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day. The one-hour entertainment special was taped last Saturday and aired Sunday on ABC.
“Rather than being provided a full audio mix from the house, we took the music mix and the individual audio stems and mixed it ourselves,” Brady explains. “It made editing the show easier for our people and resulted in a better sound for the viewer at home.”
Brady sums up the difference between Year One and Year Two thusly: “It’s still complicated. It’s still a huge project and very complicated. But the difference is last year we didn’t know what we didn’t know. Now we know.”