Gravity Media’s efforts at the US Open have always been impressive as they play a key role in ensuring that the technical backbone of TV production is in place and running smoothly. But with a truly international production team, comprising dozens of employees from overseas, the challenge has taken on new dimensions that have gone beyond usual concerns like power and signal management.
“It turned out to be more difficult this year than last year because everyone had to be doubly vaccinated and in the UK the vaccination rules are different when you get your second dose eight weeks after the first,” explains Hamish Harris, Gravity Media, Technical Project Manager. “And then you add the need for national interest exemptions to be able to enter the country.”
In addition to the personnel issues, it was just a matter of bringing in the equipment as there is a global logistics crisis affecting almost every industry in the world. John Williams, Gravity Media, Director, Media Services and Facilities, says some equipment, such as furniture, had to be shipped directly from the Australian Open in January, while other equipment used at the Tokyo Olympics had to be airlifted.
“This year it was about reaching the production levels we were at before the pandemic,” Harris said. “Last year we gave up a few courts, so we only had three control rooms, but now we’re down to five. And obviously there are more cameras, audio consoles, vision mixers and all on an IP core. And because we’re a flypack company, it’s based on a stage box model that allows us to decentralize the router.
The biggest production challenge early on (outside of the weather) was preparing 14 qualifying courts for automated production with the Simply Live ViBox and Fletcher camera systems.
“A few years ago it was nine courts and that’s four more courts and 20 cameras, so now we’re down to 56 cameras,” says Harris.
Williams adds, “For typical remote production, 56 cameras is still a fairly decent sized production. We basically have a decent sized TV station in a Queens parking lot. “
Gravity Media also has its own in-game technology as well as its netcams have been deployed on the courts. Gravity Media cameras were also used at Roland Garros for Roland Garros.
Everyone was challenged by the storms that hit the Billie Jean King Tennis Center. The first was Hurricane Henri on August 21, followed by Hurricane Ida on September 1.
“For Henri, we closed the hatches, cut all the power, cut the whole kit in case the air conditioning failed, and things like that,” says Harris. “Then we came back on Monday and restarted it and you realize how long it takes to turn a TV studio back on. We probably lost a day, but we were able to put the ACE courts back in place the next day. “
Redundancy is a key factor in the SMPTE 2022-7 infrastructure of the Billie Jean King Tennis Center and Gravity Media.
“We have redundancy everywhere and we have fully redundant switches,” says Harris. “And then we have fiber cores for the stage boxes where nothing else is allowed to run on them. It works well and everything went very well.
The Gravity Media team will begin dismantling some of the equipment heading to Boston on Monday for the Laver Cup September 24-26.
“The kit will meet Gravity Media’s Columbus truck coming from Los Angeles and then the rest will head straight to the Australian Open,” said Harris.