Versus Covers America’s Cup

(click thumbnail)America's Cup challengers Luna Rossa Challenge of Italy (L) and BMW Oracle Racing of the U.S. race downwind during their semi-final Race 1 at the Louis Vuitton Cup in Valencia, Spain, May 14, 2007. Photo by Heino Kalis/ReuterVALENCIA, SPAIN

The Versus cable network is fully exercising its flexibility and power in covering the 32nd America’s Cup. The network’s daily coverage of the event runs May 14 to June 23 and reaches 72 million homes via cable TV, and Versus On Demand.

“We’re taking a full 360-degree approach,” said Marty Ehrlich, vice president of production and original programming for Versus and the executive producer of the race. “Promotion is the lifeblood of any network and you want to cover your bases with every possible media outlet.”

Ehrlich noted that those options “have all become more sophisticated in the last few years in terms of distribution and new opportunities that become available, from Webcasting to video-on-demand to more recent technologies, like the Slingbox.”

Keith Catchpole, a veteran of four America’s Cup events, agreed.

“Technology advances constantly, so there is a much broader spectrum in what we offer at the event each year,” said Catchpole, head of technical operations with America’s Cup TV or ACTV, the host of 11 broadcasters on site and about 25 more worldwide that receive race content via satellite. He also worked on previous races, once from San Diego and twice from Auckland, New Zealand.

(click thumbnail)The catamaran 2 Royale with a Gyron stabilized-lens cameraRF ISSUES

Given his background, organizers thought Catchpole would be able to help correct a number of major technical issues that came up during the event last year. A particular concern involved RF interference between the broadcasters and boats/syndicates, as well as microwave transmission problems. To make corrections, a series of tests were arranged last September to squelch the problem.

“We set up a series of RF tests to check the transmission of microwave signals from the yachts to the International Broadcast Center and with the syndicates to make sure that there was no problem with their navigational equipment,” Catchpole said.

Animation Research Labs, which provides Virtual Eye Gliding Software 3D graphics for the broadcast, was brought into the mix because it employs technology that receives GPS signals used to locate the yachts for the technicians at the IBC.

All of those technologies work in close proximity “and if we don’t get everything working together, it creates problems,” Catchpole said. “But solving the problems from 2006 got us in good position to present this year’s broadcast.”

(click thumbnail)Camera operator Hans LaCour on the ACTV vessel, Rib 2Ehrlich said other issues come up when large boats block the RF frequencies. There’s also a constant battle to get the crew to wear their mics.

Catchpole said that even with properly functioning RF technology, things can be a bit tricky in the IBC. “We have up to 24 microwave signals coming in to the IBC daily and keeping everything tracked has been tough at times, and we’ve needed our highly-skilled engineers to handle the transmissions at the central receiving site,” he said, even though they might be needed elsewhere.

“The biggest challenge [RF technology] is presenting now concerns the two beauty cameras we are using to show off the lovely harbor and the Romeo race course,” he said, referring to one of the two courses, the other being Juliet. “They are mounted on two buildings by the Valencia waterfront and they’re cabled.”


Once those RF issues were addressed, it was time to prepare the proper camera positions, which can be challenging on a sailing event. Ehrlich said the job was a combined effort on the parts of Versus and ACTV. “We take many feeds from cameras in helicopters equipped with Wescams across the board, and chase boats over the water,” he said.

Wescam is a specialty gyro-stabilized camera developed by L-3 Communications. Ehrlich added that the boats are also equipped with telemetry-oriented cameras from Gyron that are operated via remote control from the IBC.

The boat cameras include self-wiping lenses that pan, tilt and zoom.

“We use from four to six cameras per boat,” Ehrlich said, referring to the four chase vessels in each race during the semifinal rounds. Smaller boats carry two Sony cameras, one handheld and stabilized.

There are five mini-cameras—Panasonic aWEs or Sony XCs—on each of the four yachts in the race at a given time, and two microwave links on each as well.

(click thumbnail)Rib 2, with the spotter, the driver and camera operator Hans LaCour using a Sony ENG camera and a Schwem stabilized lens
“That’s how we remotely pan, tilt and calibrate the cameras,” from the IBC, Catchpole said, adding that ACTV planned to have six cameras on each boat during the finals.

The acquired images are uplinked to the IBC via microwave, then sent back to the Versus studios in Stamford, Conn., via satellite before they are compressed and sent to the cable net’s various distribution avenues.

Back at the IBC at the America’s Cup port, there is “a full-blown studio with three Sony DVX cameras,” he said, calling them “the camera of choice” for Versus during the race.

It was Catchpole’s responsibility to design the IBC and stock its three control rooms, which, in addition to the world-feed gallery, are set up for the Romeo and Juliet race areas. It include two Sony 7350 switchers; one Sony 7200 switcher; three Yamaha M7CLs and 36 JVC monitors. The IBC also houses five Avid Adrenaline editing suites and four EVS decks. In addition, there are two, 100,000 W synchronized KVA generators.


While much of the equipment employed for the America’s Cup broadcast is fairly typical, Ehrlich called ARL’s Virtual Eye, “first and foremost, the most innovative equipment that was used during the broadcast. “I’ve worked with many kinds of 3D graphics,” he said, “but this package is really coming to the fore.”

(click thumbnail)Animation Research Labs (ARL) provided GPS-enabled Virtual Eye 3D graphics, which were used to locate the yachts by the technicians at the IBC.Developed by ARL in Dunedin, New Zealand, the technology allows Versus to illustrate wave height, current direction, wind direction and boat speeds, for instance.

Paul Sharp, director and senior developer for ARL, said, “Our graphics are helping to tell the part of the story that the cameras can’t tell. We do that by getting the GPS telemetry back from the boats via our radio network and cellular telephone technology, which is used as backup.

“The quality provided via our Virtual Eye software means we are getting reliable data back to the IBC that is used to create graphics for the broadcast.”