The Championships, Wimbledon 2023 may feature more UHD and High Dynamic Range coverage than ever this year but it’s the volley of editorial firepower being served up that is the real story of the Championship’s technical production, writes Adrian Pennington.
“We know millions of people are watching the linear output but many are also doing so while on their phones we’ve designed and expanded coverage to fulfil a diverse range of audience needs,” said Georgina Green, Broadcast and Production Manager, Wimbledon. “There is so much going at Wimbledon across both weeks we essentially aim to get as much content out to everybody as quickly as possible.”
SW19 is dormant from a broadcast point of view outside of the annual fortnight but the team at the All England Lawn Tennis Club’s (AELTC) in house host broadcast division Wimbledon Broadcast Services (WBS) spends the full year on development. The team is led by Paul Davies who has all but lost his voice when IBC is invited to meet them in the middle of the Championships.
That’s okay though since Davies has more than capable deputies in Green and Broadcast Technical Manager, James Muir. “Wimbledon is the pinnacle of the sport and we aim to match that as the host broadcast service whether that’s technical quality of pictures, quality of picture in the edit, the cameras angles we offer, new mic positions,” Muir said. “It’s about making it as good as it can be whether that’s for a broadcaster in Australia or a smaller digital centric rights holder in Asia.”
The value of Wimbledon to the AELTC as a business was laid bare when Covid cancelled the Championships in 2020, shrinking revenue to just £3.8million, compared to a £292m turnover in 2018/19. Armed with new contracts including with ESPN until 2035, Australian streaming service Stan Sports, and the BBC extended until 2027, the Club returned to a £288m revenue pot for the last financial year (the next report for 2022 is due end of this month).
To maximise the value of rights holder’s investments and to ensure that bids for the next round of rights remain keen, the onus is on WBS to keep pace with changing audience demand. That means more attention to digital and social media but it also means more behind the scenes coverage. Sports documentaries like Netflix series Break Point have created mainstream audience expectation for stories beyond the action on the court.
“The onus is on us to facilitate that access for rights holders and make sure we can give them as much as they want but with an element of control and trust on behalf of the Club so that they [the AELTC] can see the benefit of it,” said Muir.
This manifests itself most obviously in a new pool called Access All England produced alongside the World Feed’s on-court action and made available to rights holders to cherry pick from for their own presentation.
It features, for example, new camera positions and audio of the players arriving to Wimbledon (via tunnel) and more of their journey throughout the day from practice court to lunch to locker room. This is bolstered by a wealth of beauty cams and ENG crews wandering among the summer dressed throngs of the Wimbledon complex. It also includes footage and interviews of broadcast personnel inside the Media and Broadcast Centre.
Whisper is Wimbledon’s new production partner for this year and next, signed in part because of its track record in producing sport with a bias toward entertainment as much as action. It is producing the World Feed, international highlights, a creative preview film and an official film of The Championships, as well as Access All England.
Wimbledon Threads, produced by Whisper, is a strand of stories looking at fashion and clothing. The Purple Carpet is a series of short interviews with celebrities and those in the Royal Box. Second Serve is a second take on the day using different camera angles.
“We’re producing all that in broadcast quality putting it up on (MAM network) Mediabank and making it available in all formats - 16x9, 9x16, 1:1,” said Green. “Our digital team are making sure that what they shoot (on mobile phones) goes into Mediabank for use in socials. We’re working more collaboratively with digital and marketing teams to bring it all together.”
There’s even metaverse style activation to attract the next generation who will be weaned on games not BBC One. These include an online, branded Fortnite race game, featuring Andy Murray and a Roblox experience.
One measure of success will be ratings. Last year’s Men’s final Novak Djokovic Vs Nick Kyrgios peaked on BBC One at 7.5m and was also streamed live 2.6m times on iPlayer and BBC Sport online. In addition, the volume of hours consumed by audiences on TV was the highest since 2016 which saw Murray lift the title.
“Getting through it cleanly is always the priority,” said Muir. “Then there’s broadcaster feedback and so far it is very positive about what we are producing for them. Another indicator is that when there are big significant moments did we cover it correctly with the right editorial. We spend a year planning and there always learnings to take away and improve for next year.”
Behind the Scenes: Wimbledon 2023 -Two flagship courts in UHD HDR
Last year Centre was the only court in UHD HDR and this was processed as a separate workflow to protect the HD feed. The big change this year is the No.1 Court is also UHD HDR, with a workflow that filters down through the HD 1080i HDR of the other 16 courts.
Sam Broadfoot, Technical Project Manager, NEP UK, commented: “With the need to continue to offer rights holders HD SDR feeds as we have in previous years, we’re now using 224 channels of conversion but we’re working in just one workflow and it means the setup of our trucks are similar.
“We’ve also found that the quality of the converted SDR feeds have improved as well, since it is now being captured with a higher dynamic range.”
The increase in UHD-HDR feeds is only part of NEP Group’s full global production ecosystem in play at The Championships. NEP’s full suite of solutions includes broadcast facilities and OB trucks, connectivity, live display and other broadcast services supporting the World Feed.
Mediabank, NEP’s MAM solution is used for remote access to match highlights and other content to be ingested, managed and distributed for rights holders.
NEP Connect is providing a 10G link to Oslo from IMG, with further support from NEP Netherlands, which is supplying 1PB of onsite storage. Additional broadcast services from NEP include 36 EVS VIA machines, 58 host Sony cameras, 150 talkback panels and over 90 km of cable installed each year. More than 300 NEP broadcast engineers, technicians and crew members are onsite supporting the host broadcast and other rights holders.
Behind the Scenes: Wimbledon 2023 - Robotic cameras
Seven courts are equipped with automatic camera system, Tr-Ace, from NEP division Fletcher. Tr-Ace cameras use image recognition and LIDAR to automatically track players on the court, meaning just one singular operator can control and manage the system for all seven courts.
Aerial Camera Systems (ACS) is supplying 46 specialist cameras to WBS, eight more than last year. These are mostly Sony HDC-P50s with SMARTheads. The new areas covered are the player’s arrivals area and some behind the scenes shots.
“It is important to WBS that each court looks exactly the same from its technical coverage,” explained Matt Coyd, Sales Director, ACS.
Centre Court features five robotic cameras including a 10m baseline track sitting behind the players and tracking their horizontal movement. It is designed into a special hide which is hard to spot on air.
Centre also has two compact cameras, one for each player, fitted discretely to the Umpire’s chair, and remote at camera position 11 and in the northeast corner of the stadia.
No.1 Court is the same minus the NE corner remote, No.2 has two positions and most of the other courts have at least one robotic camera taking a wide master on a high pole or on the side of a building all with bespoke mounts.
There’s also a couple more track systems on the southern court of 25m and on the broadcast centre roof covering the northern courts running 36m.
Various robotic SMARTheads capture beauty shots from the trophy balcony and clubhouse (which sports a 100:1 box lens), player’s balcony, crowd cam and even a ‘flower cam’ – the latter among those in UHD HDR. The press conference area also has a P50.
The practice area is also covered with robotic systems enabling rights holders to provide live coverage of players warming up.
Behind the Scenes: Wimbledon 2023 - Serving new data
To established data gathering and analytics partners SMT (scoring), Hawkeye (ball tracking) and IBM (ball speed and AI driven highlights compilations) a new addition comes from TennisViz, part of sports analytics company Ellipse Data which is also home to the CricViz and SoccerViz apps.
It ingests the raw ball and player tracking data from Hawkeye and turns it around in less than a second into a range of new data points and insights that it claims have never been available before.
It does this for every point in every match and is used to support the TV broadcast and digital media coverage and, separately, to provide granular analysis for players and coaches.
One of the new metrics is Shots Played In Attack, a key aspect of the game for which there has never been an objective measure calculated in real time, according to Thomas Corrie, Head of Performance and lead analyst, TennisViz.
“Deciding whether a player is in attack or defence is not as simple as pinpointing their court position,” Corrie, a former LTA coach, explained. “The opponent’s position - left, right, forward or back - needs to be accounted for as well as the quality of the ball received.
“If I’m striking a ball and you are out wide then that gives me an advantage in that point,” he elaborated. “It’s not as simple as saying that if you are up the court you are in attack. It’s about the contact point at which you play.
“We consider the quality of the incoming shot because even I am inside the service line playing a volley, if I pick that ball up from my toes I am defending even though I am at the net. Or I could be playing a volley at the net but on the stretch.”
A Conversion Score shows the percentage of time when a player is in attack that they go on and win the point. “You won’t necessarily win if you are the more aggressive player, so you have to be clinical and convert those chances,” Corrie explained.
This can be correlated by another metric, the Steal Score, showing when points are won when the player is in defence.
“The average for Steal Score in the gentleman’s draw is 31%, for the ladies draw it is 33% of points but some players – like Alcaraz, Djokovic and Swiatek - win approx. 40-42% of points in defence. That will appear on screen and it will be commentator’s job to educate the audience that it is not normal for a player to win above a third of their total points when in defence.”
TennisViz also measures shot quality. It does this by breaking down the shot into dozens of data points including from basic serve, return, forehand and backhand to speed, height and spin of the ball as it crosses the net, the depth into court, its width, and bounce angle. It records this for every shot hit and the impact it has on the opponent and the algorithm offers up an instant score out of ten.
“A dropshot is not measured against the same quality parameters as a forehand drive, for example,” Corrie said. “Different types of forehand shot are also measured differently to each other and in context of the impact on the other player. The game has different nuances and this is reflected in the score.”
Every shot is aggregated so that over the course of the match stats can provide information about the quality of any type of shot.
TennisViz algorithms take account of different playing surfaces. The Wimbledon application is trained on 5 million shots from the last two Wimbledon championships. The information and insights are presented as lower third graphics on screen but the next stage, perhaps for 2024, is to use the data points to build CG highlights to be used in pre- and post-game production.
Behind the Scenes: Wimbledon 2023 - BBC
Major rights holders the BBC and ESPN essentially take the rushes of the World Feed but apply a generous serving of their own presentational cream.
The BBC has over 70 vision feeds produced by WBS available in its NEP-supplied production truck and supplements this with its own jib-cam behind Court 18 for those sweeping shots over Henman Hill towards St Mary’s court. It is fielding two ENG crews with radio-cams to reflect more of the atmosphere of the event outside of the court.
In this endeavour they are aided by new lead presenter Clare Balding. The BBC’s main studio position is in the Broadcast Centre. Three other positions are deployed for instance for weather forecasts and crowd colour.
The BBC has also made a change to its highlights format this year. This was traditionally a live programme that tended to get delayed in the schedule or not broadcast at all because priority was given to late finishing live matches.
This year’s hour-long highlights show are post produced onsite, transmitting every night at 9pm, also available on iPlayer and Red Button to guarantee viewers can see it.