Sat. Mar 2nd, 2024

A fleet of nine NEP all-IP trucks will debut at Farmers Insurance Open

This weekend marks the first major step in a new era of PGA TOUR golf production: nine state-of-the-art production trucks, built by NEP Group, will be onsite for CBS Sports, Golf Channel, and PGA TOUR LIVE for the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in San Diego. The trucks provide a consistent and stable production hub for PGA TOUR broadcast partners CBS/Paramount+, NBC/Golf Channel/Peacock, and ESPN+.

The fleet will serve as production hub for seven live shows: the network broadcast, four PGA TOUR Live streams on ESPN+, SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio, and two live streams for IMG Arena, the tour’s official scoring-data distributor for betting operators.

The seeds of the new trucks were sown before the last media deals were finalized in March 2020, says Luis Goicouria, SVP, media, PGA TOUR. “We discussed with everyone who was bidding on our rights that we wanted to manage the technology and TV compound and essentially collaborate on shared resources to create efficiencies.”

With an eye toward the future, the tour and its media partners worked together on a solution that combines all technical resources into a singular fleet, allowing better sharing of resources — such as tee-box cameras or green-side microphones — while also equipping all broadcasts with the absolute latest in technology. In addition to serving as the technical core for production of the seven live shows, the fleet will house the PGA TOUR Rules Review team, which will work with Hawkeye replay systems.

This is the first time the PGA TOUR has worked directly with a vendor to build a custom fleet of golf-specific trucks for broadcasts in the continental U.S. and Canada. The fleet was built in collaboration with network partners CBS and NBC/Golf and, according to NEP, is the largest single event-production fleet in the world. It is IP-based (SMPTE 2110), offering greater redundancy and scalability than the traditional broadcast fleet: the IP scheme can carry multiple bidirectional signals on a single cable, whereas the coaxial cable used on traditional broadcast trucks carries a unidirectional signal per cable.

Another advantage is that all broadcasts can be produced in 1080p HDR or higher. CBS and NBC will be producing in 1080p HDR starting this year.

“We had to create a truck that both CBS Sports Lead Golf Producer Sellers Shy and NBC Sports Lead Golf Producer Tommy Roy are happy with,” says Goicouria.

Conversations also began with CBS Sports EVP, Operations and Engineering, Patty Power and NBC Sports Group EVP, Studio, Remote Operations and Production Planning, Ken Goss and their respective engineering and operations teams to make sure all needs were met, according to Michael Raimondo, VP, broadcast technology, PGA TOUR. Bi-weekly calls allowed everyone to get on the same page ahead of NEP’s taking things to the design phase.

“There was so much collaboration on that side of it,” says Raimondo. “Even on the technical side, we were all aligned with what we were doing from an IP perspective as well as on doing 1080p HDR. Communication was key.”

The Farmers Insurance Open TV compound in San Diego features nine new NEP production trucks.

In the fleet, the Production Control Room unit houses the main production area; Field Acquisition Units 1 and 2, the EICs as well as fiber patching, video shading, the A1 area, submix, and majority of QC for audio. The Record Flex truck is home to EVS operations, editing, and rules review. Two BSI trailers comprise a main truck, which is now a double-wide, and a hauler providing up to 36 RF camera paths, the most ever according to Raimondo, and 240 radios.

“And we have two office trailers,” he adds, “each with a back half where fiber is deployed. They will hopscotch from one tournament to the next so that one can be onsite the week prior and start laying out fiber. The middle section of those trailers is also where internet distribution occurs. Our last truck is an equipment hauler that provides all the ancillary tools to create the broadcast in the field.”

Key technology on the trucks is provided by Animated Research Labs, AWS, Calrec, CDW, Chyron, Cisco, Cobalt, EVS, Grass Valley, RTS,  Sony, and Trackman. The trucks can handle up to 72 cameras and have 120 microphones, 20 replay servers, 40 monitors, and nine wireless talent packs. NEP’s involvement also gives the PGA TOUR access to the broadcast-services giant’s TFC (Total Facility Control), which allows monitoring of all the equipment and interconnects.

“If a fiber between trucks or on the course has a problem,” says Raimondo, “the EICs will know immediately.”

Come Together

The front bench in the PGA TOUR’s new production unit, which has nine trailers

The front bench in the PGA TOUR’s new production unit, which has nine trailers

Dan Beard, senior director, remote media production facilities, PGA TOUR, notes that meeting the diverse demands of CBS, NBC, and ESPN+ posed one of the largest hurdles to overcome: “We needed to create a unilateral working facility that everyone could still manage and produce seven live shows out of. There were a lot of intricacies so we had to combine a lot of blueprints, tear them apart, and start over until we got to a model that we felt everyone would be comfortable with.”

He says that there has been a learning curve for some of the equipment operators ahead of the first event, Some gear, like production switchers, had to be updated. But the CBS and NBC engineering teams have pushed forward to make sure the result is a step forward for all involved.

“[CBS and NBC] are on the front bench [for their networks], the talent still belongs to the networks, and what goes on-air is their creative vision,” he says. “But all the tech onsite, all the infrastructure and manpower and all of that stuff is managed by the PGA TOUR.”

Audio was one of the hardest things to get right, Beard notes, because each network has a different philosophy when it comes to things like listening to announce only or announce with effects, etc.

“We’re able to give them three or four different audio options that they’ve never had before,” he explains. “We’ve got a lot of flexibility in these trucks to accommodate both networks and still keep the ESPN+ streams consistent right down the line. CBS Sports Lead Golf Director Steve Milton walked into the truck here at Farmers and said, ‘Wow this is great’ and that sort of sums it up. Tommy Roy said to me that it was one of the best trucks he has ever been in on his visit to NEP while we were in the integration phase. Tommy will be working from it for the first time at the Cognizant Classic in Palm Beach, FL.”

The PGA TOUR’s new production units will provide a variety of audio options for NBC and CBS Sports.

The move to ST 2110 was a major leap forward that will have an impact on everything from compound design to how signals are distributed to rightsholders and to the PGA TOUR production center in Ponte Vedra, FL. But, as with all IP projects, that means it is still a bit of a science project, especially with respect to interoperability.

“One of the biggest hurdles was up/down/crossconversion,” Beard says. “We had to push our vendors to make the ST 2110 interface a little more integrated. But, two years down the road we project that all of our vendors will have accomplished that.”

Adds Raimondo, “With ST 2110, we have the ability to scale. Next week in Pebble Beach, we will add six more RF cameras, and that is something we will do for all of the signature events. That means we can follow two more featured groups for ESPN+. That’s the beauty of being able to scale.”

The use of ST 2110 gives the PGA TOUR maximum flexibility for signal routing.

All the trucks are also ready for HDR. The entire monitor wall in the main production gallery is HDR; the quality-control and shading area has SDR and HDR quality-control monitors. Beard says shading will be done in HDR because assets are being shared.

Raimondo says the PGA TOUR will use whichever LUT the network provides: “When we are doing a CBS show, we will use their LUT; when we do the Cognizant Classic in a couple of weeks, we will use the NBC LUT. PGA TOUR LIVE will use the [respective] LUTs as well so that every camera has the same look.”

Looking Forward to January 2025

The fleet is the first of two steps that will take the entire PGA TOUR content offering to new heights. Next January, PGA TOUR Studios will open its doors. The futuristic 165,000-sq.-ft. media facility in Ponte Vedra will be home to the largest library of golf footage in the world, as well as all PGA TOUR Media operations: live production for PGA TOUR Live; PGA TOUR Champions and Korn Ferry Tour; social media and digital; and international media. The exterior of the PGA TOUR Studios was designed by Foster + Partners; interior design of both the 187,000-sq.-ft. PGA TOUR Global Home and the Studios was handled by HLW International. Gilbane is general contractor. Overall economic impact of the PGA TOUR (which encompasses the Global Home, PGA TOUR Entertainment, The Players Championship, and TPC Sawgrass) in St. Johns County exceeds $1 billion in annual impact, according to research firm RKG.

The new facility will offer the ability to record up to 144 cameras or live feeds, ensuring that the fans never miss a shot across the PGA TOUR, Korn Ferry Tour, and PGA TOUR Champions. Like the new truck fleet, it will rely on SMPTE 2110 as well as format-agnostic hardware and software wherever possible, a move that will allow the facility to accommodate both current and future standards.

The production-control rooms (PCRs) and audio-control rooms (ACRs) are designed for flexibility and can be used for any program; they are show-agnostic and not tied to any particular production. The PCRs have been designed to host large-scale events, competing with some of the biggest PCRs in the world. Cutting-edge technology will enable the PGA TOUR to produce top-tier events, giving its production teams the freedom to experiment with the latest technologies. The facility will also offer viewers an immersive experience of PGA TOUR events, bringing them even closer inside the ropes.

While that new production facility is being completed, attention will be on getting the most out of the new production trucks.

According to Goicouria, this initiative is about PGA TOUR’s taking a more active role in production and distribution of its content, which is expected to create long-term benefit for the organization.

“The everchanging nature of media rights makes it that much more important to be involved in your product,” he says. “I do think that you’ll see leagues getting closer to networks and also investing in their own ability to produce content. That could be doing it the way that we’re doing it, or it could be joining with a network and helping to defray the costs. We believe our new fleet and PGA TOUR Studios provide our organization with the infrastructure to grow and innovate our product in the future.”

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