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Fore! CTV at the Open

Technical Director Hamish Greig has worked with CTV on golf tournaments since their first Open in 1988, and worked on the company’s first European Tour live golf coverage in 1991. Here he talks us through the 144th Open coverage at St Andrews, and some of the broadcast difficulties which are specific to golf. This is a sneak preview of an article featured in Live Production's PURE LIVE Directory 2015, which will be published on 1st September and will be available at IBC. Click here for more details.

Golf coverage for television is all about space and movement – it is unchoreographed, unrestricted and unpredictable. Planning the infrastructure for golf coverage is unlike planning for any other sport in that it’s all about understanding the topography of the course.

The two biggest challenges in golf are geography and range. It’s not unusual for the broadcast compound to be kilometres from the golf course, but fundamentally it’s the physicality of the course that causes the most headaches because the infrastructure has to be able to give full course coverage, all the time.

At the Ryder Cup for example, every shot needs to be covered and recorded, and this is achieved with a multitude of mics, cameras and mobile reporters who need to be where the story is. Providing this mobility is central – at the same time as someone is teeing off on one hole, someone is being interviewed on another, or putting for a birdie on another. This all needs to be captured for live coverage over multiple platforms, as well as for ISO.

CTV are specialists when it comes to golf and we have become one of the largest and well-respected independent OB Companies in Europe. In the early 80s it wasn’t uncommon for coverage consisting of the last four holes. These days, things are very different!

We’ve covered all 18 holes on all manner of major golf tournaments for the last 25 years, and CTV are the go-to experts in this very specific area of sports. At the 144th Open, CTV manages the entire infrastructure for all the broadcasters covering the tournament, and directly for the BBC, ESPN, TGC, TV Asahi and The Open Live for R&A . Having control of the whole frequency plan makes it much easier as we can coordinate the frequencies for everyone, and with an all-Calrec fleet the audio is also locked down over Calrec’s Hydra2, which makes management of the I/O very easy.

At the Open we cable mic for stereo tees and the greens on all the holes, and use RF packs on the fairways so cameras can move around. RF is such a big issue that CTV developed its own bespoke products, creating an RF web across the course. At St Andrews we will use 130 x TED devices, which are own brand of SHEDs (SMPTE Hybrid Elimination Device) – these enable us to use ordinary single-mode optical fibre for all our camera channels located throughout the course.

Links courses are easier to manage due to – you guessed it – their topography, but some courses might have fairways that are tree-lined on one side and a bank on the other. For example, the whole course at Wentworth Golf Club is tree-lined. You go out about 4.5 km and back again, and in between you can cross six interior roads, mansions, hills, different contours….you’re basically crossing a suburb!

This kind of set up has very unique RF, talkback, radio mic and effects mic issues, and is very different to setting up at a course like the Emirates Golf Club in Dubai where everything spirals out from the centre of the course. Reporters can be anywhere at any time and RF receivers need line of sight. Factor in hills, trees, cliffs and a few thousand people, and it’s easy to see how terrain plays a big part.

To minimise some of the issues common with such environments, our RF over fibre system for radio talkback and radio mics is also bespoke and was designed by CTV’s Head of Sound Ian Smith. Historically we would use different sets of radio mic receivers, talkback transmitters and base stations which we would plug on multicore and fibre – say, one set of transmitters on the course and 2/3 sets of receivers across the course to bring the audio back to base. Likewise with Talkback there would be 2/3 sets of radio transmitters around the course.

This meant the production crew and camera operators would have to keep switching channels to maintain coverage. For the audio this is often unacceptable as the audio would drop out and sometimes that switching of the audio would filter through on-air.

Ian’s solution was to customise the kits to combine a number of RF mic receive sites to provide full course coverage. Similarly for talkback, the channels are first combined together, then split so that they can be distributed to multiple sites for retransmission. It gives us mobile phone style coverage to plug the gaps - if we have poor coverage we can add transmitters and receivers into that geographical location.

In simple terms it means we can have one set of radio base stations on one frequency which work anywhere on the course. At the Open there are typically 43 x duplex base stations for Talkback across all the broadcasters, and another 11 x base stations purely for IFB. Our technique means there is no switching in the audio pathway as it’s combined all the time.

This works for us, although a lot of work still goes into testing – we can do a recce in advance to check the RF frequencies, but you can never get a true representation because you can’t take a crane to a recce! At the event the transmitter height gives you the coverage, but it also introduces a lot of other noise. And RF over fibre is also susceptible to distortion if the fibre is not spliced properly which can introduce interference to the receivers, and the noise floor goes up as more are introduced. It’s vital to test as we go along, and we use a lot of filtering, attenuation and gain to ensure the clarity of the signal.

Courses like St Andrews have permanent underground fibre networks which help with much of the setup, making our job of cabling much easier, although there is still plenty of surface cabling that needs to be laid amidst the puddles and mud! St Andrews has 25 nodes where we can plug our SHEDs and I/O - we use 30 of Calrec’s Hydra2 I/O boxes at the Open mostly on the course, connected by fibre. Again, the Hydra2 keeps the management of these boxes simple and intuitive.

The nodes also distribute power, and we have portable generators also around the course – these feed the SHEDs and also the Hydra I/O. Power is distributed centrally although we are now looking at solar and more environmentally-friendly options. Calrec’s new Fieldbox and H2Hubs are interesting developments in that they give us another way to work with these infrastructures, where we will be able to build ad hoc networks very quickly and cheaply, and also localise power at the source.

Back at the Open, we are providing the infrastructure for 3 x XMO cameras, 100 x standard cams, 2 x 6 speed 4300’s, 12 x ESPN emerging technology cameras, 5 x ACS Robocams, Inertia Unlimited’s “Turf Cams” which are the size of a £2 coin and located at the tee, plus 23 x radio cameras systems across different clients provided by AVS, Broadcast RF and CTV and additional POV cameras. We supply 23 x High Powered RF effects mics across the course, 27 x low powered radio mics, and a host of stereo hardwired mics on the greens and tees.

At the compound the signals are mixed down by an all-Calrec fleet of consoles, where international broadcasters take all their feeds via MADI from our Technical Operations Centre (TOC). The BBC, ESPN, ITV, TV Asahi, the Golf Channel and the Open Live for The R&A all take feeds from the TOC.

From the TOC, CTV use two hired Telegenic trucks for the BBC, both with Calrec Apollos for BBC domestic and ISO coverage, together with our OB10 and MVT3 for Host coverage.

ESPN’s coverage is even more extensive. CTV’s OB9 (with a 72f Calrec Alpha) does ESPN’s Interactive TV featured group coverage and the ISO effects coverage. We have a 72f Artemis in a cabin to mix the main show, and another Artemis in OB1 to cover the ESPN SportsCenter show , and CTV’s OB14 with a Calrec Omega does the R&A featured hole coverage . In total ESPN produce a SportsCenter show, a main sports show, interactive TV feeds, featured hole coverage and featured group coverage, and outside of the ESPN there are more discreet productions going on – in fact, in total there are13 discreet productions utilising 16 separate production vehicles plus a host of technical and cable support vehicles..

The scale of ESPN’s involvement is enormous: they have 5 x production vehicles, and a total of 43 cabins in the compound, plus a practice range studio, 2 x main studios and 4 x announcer booths. The ESPN Production Gallery is three tiers high. They have a dedicated EVS highlights unit and another space for ISO Operation – everything is recorded and turned around on site in addition to live coverage.

Add in 4 x edit suites, a QC area, graphics facilities, office complexes, RF complexes and emerging technologies such as remote tracing and ball trajectory graphics and you essentially have a complete ecosystem!

For these broadcasters, there are six Calrec’s in total, which is handy from a signal management perspective as the audio can be managed via Hydra2 – the control and management of an audio network system like Hydra is a huge benefit.

At CTV we love covering the golf, and it gets bigger every year. The Open is like Groundhog Day – the minute it is finished we are assessing where we could have improved and we are planning for next year. Progressive broadcasters like ESPN love to push the limits of technology in their quest for more immersive coverage, and their investment in the audio is significant. We work very closely with them to help them to achieve their vision, and that’s great for us – they want to be the best, they want to be leading edge, and that’s where we also want to be.

Article used with kind permission of Live-Production.tv


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