The 151st Open takes place at Royal Liverpool, 16-23 July with EMG in charge of pretty much all broadcast technical facilities, reports Adrian Pennington.
Ultimately working for the Royal & Ancient (R&A), EMG provides a full bag of clubs and then some for as many as a dozen different production partners to perfect their tee to green week-long coverage from Hoylake.
“The scale of provision that EMG provide dwarfs any other coverage we do,” said Hamish Greig, Director of Golf Operations. “The Open is everything we normally do for the European Tour but on steroids.”
EMG’s engineering and operations team has covered all DP World Tour events worldwide with European Productions, the production partner of DP World Tour. Last year alone, EMG covered 36 golf events across 15 countries in Europe and the Middle East, including the historic 150th anniversary of The Open last July.
The normal provision for a European Tour event is eight trucks comprising of units NOVA 112A and NOVA 112B for main coverage, graphics and editing, plus RF, commentary, office, buggy, scaffolding and cabling trucks.
At The Open, EMG is assigned to produce 12 different production streams just as a standard each with their own separate facilities provision. It provides all fibre hook up, talkback and operating positions where required.
This includes coverage for NBC and the Golf Channel in the US and Sky Sports domestically, for TV Asahi in Japan, BBC Radio and IMG on-course radio, commentary and on-course facilities for Canal+ and the BBC. A Celebrity Challenge event is also being streamed live on the Sunday before the event using RF cameras to cover the back nine holes.
Read more Best of Behind the Scenes
EMG builds the International Broadcast Centre (IBC) which houses the heart of the broadcast facilities. This includes a main production gallery with Kahuna mixer, a submix gallery, a super ISO gallery for the World Feed and another complete production gallery for NBC’s unilateral output. Here too, there’s an EVS submix gallery, audio main mix gallery and a graphics gallery. Every camera is isolated and camera ops operate as if they are live all the time.
“There is such a good relationship between NBC and ETP that this removes the need to do a lot of side-by-side production, which was the norm at The Open only a few years ago because rightsholders needed more dedicated resources,” Greig said.
“On top of that we have our own QC area for all the different signal distribution and MCR set up to look after all the routers, vision mixers, multiviewers, 21 x EVS servers, graphics servers as well as distribution and fibre transport.
“Everything fans out from the MCR to either the host feed or to the different trucks assigned to manage different flavours of production. It is a very complex set up.”
Complementing the main feeds are trucks that handle other functions, Marquee Group 1 and 2 productions are two curated feeds, covering shot by shot round of the leading (or marquee group) of players, which have their own production areas, plus a dual Par 3 UHD HDR production covering the 13th hole and the iconic 17th.
Behind the Scenes: The Open - What’s the 5G frequency?
“One thing that everyone forgets about The Open is the sheer scale of it,” Greig said. “RF cameras are the extreme of that. We’ve got 35 RF cams, six more than last year, plus two RF vision links (for on course RF monitors) one for Sky presenters roving around the course and one for the Live at the Range presenter roving around the driving range.”
He adds, “I don’t believe there is another event in the world where you have that number of RF in one space.”
EMG is well versed in handling the logistical complexity. Its division, EMG Connectivity, unites the activities of Eurolinx, Broadcast RF and the RF activities of EMG France to deliver 1,500 RF events a year.
“We are fortunate that we provide and manage all these facilities on site for all these different strands of productions. For example, we’d never be able to do what we do now with RF if there were multiple providers. It would simply be too complex to manage. The frequency management is critical and we can only do it because we have a very close relationship with Ofcom. All our radio talkback is done using low power RF over fibre systems around the course. Previously everyone used to ramp up the power which would knock every other user out.”
He said 5G wouldn’t particularly assist. “You would need your own 5G core [network] and we don’t have one for this level of coverage. There’s already a limit on spectrum and 5G would take another slice of it. Don’t forget that latency is such a key element to RF so whatever model we use we want to ensure the same for every piece of kit in the system so you don’t have latency issues.
“5G will definitely be of benefit to smaller remote venue productions where they can take their own core around and slice up the available spectrum but for larger productions like this the spectrum would still be too limiting, however it could greatly aid data control (Paint), reverse video, Tally and intercom etc.”
Behind the Scenes: The Open - Cable guys
The other major infrastructure element is cable connectivity. The R&A installed fibre rings around the course into which EMG access approximately 20 different nodes to transport cameras, data and audio. There are approximately 14 RF receive points taking signals into the fibre network.
Every feed comes into the broadcast compound where it is transferred to the various trucks via another 20 km of Tac 24 cable. The broadcast compound at Hoylake is long and thin and necessitates cables that are themselves 100-150m in length.
“With so many signals and data, fibre management is one of the biggest issues and its management is a big part of the job. Feeds come from the course to a cabinet and then into the MCR before fanning out to different trucks. All the cabling really does look like a yellow sea.”
Behind the Scenes: The Open - UHD HDR
Two of the course’s par 3 holes (13 and 17) are covered in UHD HDR from which a HD 1080i flavour is extracted for the World Feed. Hole 17 has recently been remodelled and is the signature hole built in consultation with the R&A and golf course architect Martin Ebert.
The UHD HDR can be used by any rights holder but is particularly in demand by US satellite broadcaster DirectTV using kit supplied by EMG.
“We use the UHD outputs for the UHD HDR feed, and the HD outputs feed the normal golf infrastructure. So the main director directs his normal cameras. The par three hole director has their green camera and supplements it with two RF cameras on that hole as those holes are covered every minute of the day.”
Behind the Scenes: The Open - Cameras
There will be 160 cameras of various types around the Royal Liverpool course which plays 7,218 yards. Ninety-eight of these cameras are for the World Feed and for the first time include a drone cam in UHD HDR supplied by Aerial Camera Systems (ACS). There’s also a CAMCAT Colibri wire camera system from ACS running 120m across the 18th Grandstand area. A plane will provide further overheads.
Also new from ACS are high frame rate Phantom cameras positioned for bunker shots also in UHD. Toptracer cameras track the ball from the Tee and deliver graphics on-screen.
There are more super-slo-motion cameras, an SLR camera with shallow depth of field working in RF for beauty shots and a camera in the courtesy car ferrying golfers to and from the circuit. POV cams and remote operated SMARTheads are dotted throughout the course.
The World Feed cameras are augmented by various broadcasters for their own unilateral coverage. Sky, for example, is using a further four RF and nine cabled cams.
Behind the Scenes: The Open - Mics
The host feed also benefits from over cabled 150 mics (EMG also supplies 50 high power and 60 low power radio mics) including Sennheiser 416 and 418 and shotgun mics plus on-course commentator mics and the more directional 816s as well as M58s which feature an internal shock-mount to reduce noise.
“We have FX mics at the Tees, greens and fairways and also the grandstands so from every hole no matter where the RF camera or commentator is you’ve got multiple positions you can take the audio from,” Greig explained.
There are 70 duplex channels for either radio talkback channels for all the various production streams or Interruptible foldbacks for full course coverage, 24 In ear monitors as well as Romeo and Freespeak high quality digital talkback channels for studios.
In the audio submix area of the IBC, operators ‘sweeten’ all the course mics and convert the feeds to MADI streams before making them available to all productions.
Behind the Scenes: The Open - Live at the Range
Coverage also includes the driving range which at Hoylake is located outside of the course boundaries across a main road and a rail line. Sky has its main presentation studio here while Live At The Range, a live stream provided by the R&A, is based here. For radio cam crews and commentators too, the Range is a staple part of the broadcast.
Trains only stop operating on the Thursday before giving EMG’s engineers barely a day to connect fibre from a duct under the track to complete the cabling connectivity between the range and the TV compound, for rehearsals from Saturday pre-event.
“The Open is a year-long project,” said Greig. “We start planning the next one as soon as one ends. There are constant changes on all the different production streams as you go along.”
Behind the Scenes: The Open - Hazards
For a links golf course like this weather will always be a hazard, with wind the main concern. Cameras are lowered on gantries each night and safely secured.
At St Andrews in 2015 a day of golf was lost due to high wind causing the balls to move on the greens and the event had to be finished on the Monday.
EMG has put in place a full Disaster Recovery solution. For instance, one of its main production trucks has been given a different power and signalisation circuit enabling the broadcast to continue to air should a catastrophic loss of power happen elsewhere.
Behind the Scenes: The Open - Graphics
MST Systems delivers the main on-screen leader boards and lower thirds for The Open just as is it does for ETP.
The PinPoint wind solution provides real time wind speed/direction readouts tailored for various broadcasters. The wind data is provided from a small ultrasonic anemometer that is placed in ‘clear air’ on the golf course. It collects wind speed/direction every second and transmits each reading in real time.
One of the options is a rolling 10-minute average that displays the average wind strength/direction of the last 10 minutes, together with the maximum and minimum wind speeds during that time. A forecast option predicts wind speed and direction, maximum gusts, temperature, percentage chance of rain etc. There are eight fibre drops for its sensors around The Open course.
Virtual Eye Golf system (a division of ARL) displays changing values over time in data animations regularly used for coverage including of PGA events. These include virtual course flyovers created to scale, with all tees and distance measurements adjusted to match the daily course setup.
Its 3D graphics remain stable during the motion of helicopters or drones in live broadcast, as the graphics are pinned to a hidden virtual model ‘beneath’ the video. Virtual Eye can display green and fairway contour animations to represent the shape, speed and lie of the terrain. A vertical distance tool allows for accurate measurements - on the fly – of the vertical distance between two points.
A common scenario shows the state of play at each hole, based on the tee and pin positions, along with the course conditions of the day. The system gives our Operators the flexibility to adjust speeds, frame angles, graphic timings, and the content of the animations.
Graphics can be displayed in different parts of the frame. In use, it provides a ‘yardage book’ feel for tee shot setup and operates like the viewer’s caddie: “It keeps up, doesn’t interrupt and yet provides the right information at the right time,” said ARL tartly.
Behind the Scenes: The Open - Remote facilitation and Sustainability
EMG’s provision is also helping broadcasters remote produce their shows. Sky for example will present from site but production is mixed in Osterley. TV Asahi’s programme is cut and polished in Tokyo (EMG provide it with a flypack on-site) as is The Golf Channel’s. Hawk-eye is also operated remotely in Basingstoke, and for NBC back in America, as are some Toptracer operators in Sweden and some of the graphics provided by Virtual Eye whose HQ is in New Zealand.
EMG core trucks and crew are busy the week before at the Scottish Open. “It’s very important that we travel to Hoylake without using flights because of sustainability,” Greig said. “Everyone including me will be travelling by bus or train or car where there’s no other way.”
The fleet of new fuel-efficient OB trucks recently launched by EMG will not be present but instead are busy servicing ETP events.
In 2021, EMG became the first OB and facilities company in the UK to install its own HVO (Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil) Green D+ fuel station. This fuel has up to 90% reduction in net CO2 greenhouse emissions when compared to regular diesel. In January this year it become the first OB specialist to achieve the DPP Committed to Sustainability mark.