Thaler Media pulled off an historic live coverage of the 2018 Western Amateur Championship using remote IP production and streaming. While the Western Amateur Championship has taken place annually since 1899, this year marks the first time this storied golf tournament has been covered live. Despite the importance of this event, traditional broadcasters have passed it by, primarily because they couldn’t justify the cost of producing live HD telecasts for a niche—albeit passionate—audience. Many golf greats, including Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson, Justin Leonard, Ben Crenshaw, and Curtis Strange, won the coveted Western Amateur title early in their careers.
It all changed with the 2018 Western Amateur Championship—held July 30 through August 4, 2018 at the Sunset Ridge Country Club, in Northfield, Il, near Chicago—when Lowell Thaler, president of Thaler Media in North Palm Beach, FL made broadcast history by producing live HD coverage of the event’s “Sweet 16,” quarter-finals, semi-finals and championship matches on Friday, August 3 and Saturday, August 4.
Working closely with his client, the Western Golf Association (WGA), Thaler streamed 12 hours of live coverage to Golf Channel’s digital platforms, including golfchannel.com and their mobile app. The feed was also carried on the WGA’s Facebook page and website, thewesternamateur.com.
“We managed to shave costs without compromising high-end production standards, such as expert shot composition, picture and sound quality,” Thaler added.
What’s more, Thaler produced the entire show from a studio a time-zone away, in his home town of North Palm Beach, FL, using what can best be described as a remote IP streaming production approach.
"It’s been logistically and financially challenging to send large crews, HD trucks, and/or elaborate fly packs to remote production sites," Thaler explained, "But this IP streaming production strategy is now a robust, viable alternative."
The only production personnel that Thaler sent to the Chicago area golf course were Producer Laurie White, Editor Eric Wagnon, four camera operators and a sound mixer. Three of the cameramen moved freely around the golf course, following the players from hole to hole to get the perfect shot.
Since there was no production control facility or mobile video unit on-site to switch and output the program feed, each of the camera operators wore a backpack containing a LiveU LU600 HEVC and LU500 IP-based transmission system. These modems with HEVC HD video relayed their respective camera video and audio signals via an IP pathway to a LiveU LU2000 multi-output server situated at a master control facility 1,300 miles away in South Florida.
A small remote talk show set was set-up inside the Sunset Ridge clubhouse. The program’s co-anchors—David Marr III and Scott Walker—sat at the desk to deliver color commentary and game analysis.
A virtual set filled the green screens behind them and in front of their desk, making it appear as if they were enmeshed within a virtual studio that was far larger than the actual physical space. This was one of the virtual sets that Thaler had chosen from the NewTek virtual set collection that came with the TC1.
The master control facility, which consisted of a two-room suite, can be described as a completely non-traditional, ad hoc broadcast setting. This South Florida site was crewed by nine people, including the producer, director, TD, audio mixer, live graphics and replay teams.
One of the master control rooms served as a main studio where a third anchor, Craig Dolch, sat in front of a green screen to provide additional commentary. A different but complementary NewTek virtual set was keyed into that background to distinguish it from the first. After Dolch concluded his commentary, he would toss it back to the anchor team at the Chicago clubhouse.
The other room at Master Control housed a NewTek TriCaster® TC1 IP production switcher. As a frame-accurate 4K UHD/60p-capable switcher with an all IP architecture, the TC1 is a 16 input, 4-M/E switcher with multi-bus mix/effects, animated titles and transitions, chromakey, built-in video servers, clip players, graphics channels, a virtual set system, and more. The TC1’s virtual set generation and editing capabilities were maximized on this production.
The production control workflow also included a NewTek 3Play® 3P1 replay system, which allowed a replay operator and replay producer to provide SLOMO replays, and playback of aerial footage captured by the camera on a drone flying over the golf course throughout the broadcasts.
A NewTek Live Text CG system running on a laptop provided lower third supers and other on-screen graphics. And a NewTek Live Panel audio mixing control panel was used to combine all of the audio sources—including camera audio and natural/ambient sound—into the final program audio mix.
Remote IP Operations
"Using a simple, streamlined, get-it-done approach, we were able to cover an event that was never covered live before," said Thaler. "The key was the way we were moving signals between the two sites in real-time, so that the Chicago and Florida production teams could work together seamlessly as if they were both at the same site."
This included the use of the four Skype channels on the NewTek Talk Show to send our TC1’s program output as a ‘return’ feed to provide essential reference monitoring to the Chicago team. This mix-minus audio feed was then split to each of the anchor’s headsets, essentially serving as an IFB. TalkShow also enabled Skype interviews with guests to be fed back to the TC1 in master control.
The end-to-end LiveU transmission system was critical technology tying the two remote groups together because this was the method for relaying the camera “iso’s” and audio back to special LiveU LU2000 server in the control room.
This Linux server relayed the camera signals via NDI® for video over IP networking to the TC1 switcher where the TriCaster operator could mix these live camera inputs with all the other production elements, including features, such as historical vignettes and player profile clips.
Lowell Thaler gives a special shout-out to Midtown Video, his Miami-based equipment supplier, systems integrator, and a dependable source of production services and expertise. In addition to providing video and audio production equipment as turnkey solutions, Midtown Video also contributed several NewTek/LiveU-savvy technicians to Thaler’s crew to ensure that the live productions ran smoothly.
"Golf tournaments present logistical challenges to traditional broadcasts because there are essentially miles of wiring and cabling that have to be run to support acquisition," said Fernando Iglesias, Midtown Video’s VP of Operations. "It wouldn’t be feasible or cost-effective to do these cable runs, or to deploy a high-end HD production truck, for an event like this."
"But with the LiveU transmission system, the broadcast cameras connect directly to backpacks so that the cameramen can move freely around the golf course without any need for long-distance, labor-intensive fiber runs," Iglesias explained. "Combined with the NewTek production and NDI networking systems, this IP-based approach is extremely cost-effective compared to traditional HD-SDI broadcast."
Midtown Video also provided technical support needed to turn one of the LU600 HEVC units into a "data bridge" so that the Chicago crew would have a solid Wi-Fi hot spot on the golf course. This enabled them to have dedicated bandwidth to ensure they could reliably send a Skype program return feed to the Chicago team—a critical transmission connection—and not rely on the venue’s existing Internet bandwidth.
"While it’s true that NewTek and LiveU products are game-changers that are making high-end broadcast production accessible at a much lower price point, it’s still important to have the support of a supplier like Midtown Video that really understands how to implement unique workflows that achieve the production’s creative and technical goals," said Debby Miller, co-president of Midtown Video.
For Lowell Thaler, the success of this remote IP streaming production is a proof of concept for a vision he’s had for a long time. He plans to apply this proven methodology to a wide range of future events that would otherwise never be feasible or cost-effective to produce or broadcast live.