ESPN is a US-headquartered global cable and satellite sports television network. Since its launch in 1979, it has become one of the planet’s best-known broadcasters. A long-time partner of Gravity Media – then branded Gearhouse Broadcast –, it has employed Gravity’s technical facilities and services to cover many global sporting events – including numerous Australian Open and ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tennis tournaments, and the UEFA EUROs and FIFA World Cup international football championships.
In a break from convention, ESPN was recently awarded contracts as both host and sole domestic broadcaster for the US Open, one of tennis’ four annual grand slams. Previous broadcasting hosts typically produced the two-week tournament using a mixture of temporary cabins, fly-packs and remote production facilities. But with the new deal, ESPN seized the opportunity to overhaul the entire technical infrastructure.
It needed a new production workflow to enable it to carry out these dual responsibilities without complication. As host broadcaster, they had to produce a blank-slate feed that global rights holders could use to create their own broadcasts; as a domestic broadcaster, ESPN could take a more creative approach for its own programming.
A two-storey building at the Flushing Meadows site in New York was used to house the entire production workflow. To integrate these new facilities ESPN called on Gravity Media, a specialist with a proven track record in successfully delivering projects at major tennis tournaments.
Gravity Media designed a completely bespoke solution, one with flexibility at its heart. It included a huge production gallery - far bigger than those available within a traditional outside broadcast unit, as well as a Central Apparatus Room (CAR), Master Control Room (MCR), EVS replay and camera shading areas, and nine separate control rooms. This meant that all of the equipment and infrastructure would be housed within the same compound.
Gravity Media called on its relationships with leading technology providers such as Sony, Grass Valley, EVS and Lawo to source the latest professional tools to help streamline operations, and provide a familiar and comfortable working environment.
Following the shipping of eight full 40-foot containers across the Atlantic, and ten days of on-site integration and rigging by a specialist crew, Gravity Media delivered a facility to ESPN that felt more like a permanent studio than an outside broadcast facility.
The Gravity Media solution provided full HD coverage from seven televised courts at Flushing Meadows, as well as site-wide wireless camera and comms access - with all RF systems operating seamlessly within New York’s notoriously crowded radio spectrum.
Smart engineering also meant that when play stopped on the outer courts, ESPN could reassign the video signals for distribution and redeploy those resources elsewhere – delivering huge efficiency gains. As ESPN’s director of remote operations, Terry Brady, explained: “Being able to repurpose inputs in this way meant we weren’t wasting resources. When the first five days were over and court 13 was out of play, we didn’t have resources sitting around not being used.”
The set-up delivered by Gravity Media was a blueprint for the future of live tennis production. It enabled ESPN to work more flexibly, create more content and better live programming, while at the same time providing a nicer working environment for the crew.
*In addition to its work with ESPN, Gravity Media also provides on-site production facilities and equipment to US Open rights holders including WOWOW and EuroSport.