Digital Signage At 2019 U.S. Open Displays More Than Ever

For fans attending the 2019 U.S. Open tennis tournament, it has become more than just watching the matches. It’s become a festive atmosphere outside the tennis venues, complete with food and sponsor booths that offer varying types of entertainment.

However they still want to keep up to date on what’s happening on the court, so the U.S. National Tennis Association, the organization that stages one of the sport’s major events, has set up a series of 20 large digital signage screens that offers all kinds of information in real time.

For the past seven years keeping track of all of the match and related events has fallen to Van Wagner Sports and Entertainment (VWSE), a company that produces the video screen content for the major stadium show courts and around the grounds in Flushing, Queens, NY. Leveraging a new control room within Louis Armstrong Stadium and the shared resources of the in-house production crew and the rights-holder broadcast networks involved, they support the in-venue video boards inside Arthur Ashe Stadium as well as all of the video boards installed throughout the grounds of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. VWSE has also been responsible for producing content for the scoreboards and other info shown on the “ribbon” (fascia) LED screens located inside the venue’s tennis stadiums.

[In 2016, the USTA oversaw the installation of a new LED fascia display alongside the playing boundaries for this year’s tournament. With over 14 million pixels, the new video board is powered by eight dual-channel Ross Video XPression Tessera systems, two XPression Tessera Master Systems, and a Ross Ultrix 64×64 router with Quadlink to 12G connectivity.]

VWSE operators using the Ross Xpression and Tessera graphics software worked together with staff at Bannister Lake to create a layout of each possible screen.

VWSE operators using the Ross Xpression and Tessera graphics software worked together with staff at Bannister Lake to create a layout of each possible screen.

Among a collection of technologies and systems, VWSE is using Ross Video’s XPression real-time motion graphics engines (with the Tessera option) to provide traditional insert graphics for the traditional match coverage, and also to drive the ribbon boards showing scores and open captioning in the main stadium venues as well as a number of displays around the grounds of the National Tennis Center.

All of the information displayed on those large video screens is managed by a company called Bannister Lake, which specializes in aggregating and displaying real-time data-driven information for fans’ enjoyment. The company has also worked for years in the Broadcast industry, helping TV stations display real-time election and news information as a lower third ticker.

For the 2019 U.S. Open, Banister was hired to support and populate the screens around the National Tennis Center, working with other companies such as The Academy of Lower Thirds and Tagboard (a social media aggregator). This includes distributing real-time data as XML files to the new LED ribbon boards.

VWSE operators using the XPression and Tessera graphics software worked with a layout of each possible screen. Prior to the actual event, a series of predetermined templates were developed that dictated where the live video feeds would go on the screen versus the lower third ticker feed (and other data) and how the entire layout will look on each screen.

Operators utilized the real-time data by providing a match ID to call up any of the tennis matches. Operators could also add additional content (such as historical bios) when necessary. All of the graphics are rendered in real-time in XPression without the edit team having to load up a day’s worth of assets. Whoever is playing in each match, the operator enters the match ID and all of their headshots, bios, and stats automatically update with a click of one button. Al Savoie, Technical and Creative Director at Bannister Lake, built this match ID approach, which made it possible to quickly call up the appropriate data associated with a match.

Al Savoie seated in the Bannister Lake area monitoring data feeds and playlists during the U.S. Open tournament.

Al Savoie seated in the Bannister Lake area monitoring data feeds and playlists during the U.S. Open tournament.

It’s all set up before each day’s events as a playlist for each screen and is then automated via a predetermined scheduler inside the software that displays it at an exact time (and an exact location on each screen) throughout the day.

Like it did in 2018, the Bannister team devised the workflows and processes that handled this on-screen information, represented by over 250,000 XML files corresponding to the participation of more than 1,000 players playing hundreds of matches. The complexity of the project was managed using Banister Lake’s Chameleon data engine, a real-time data management (“XMansoftware”) package that supports multiple data feeds from a diverse set of sources.

The Chameleon is database software that manages all of the feeds and displays them on the different screens. The magic is that all of the live data feeds can be edited, moderated, blended, and then reformatted via the on-board API before being sent to the Ross XPression engines for display.

“One of the big challenges is that the video screens are all different sizes and shapes (some are portrait, landscape, banners, etc.) and we had to accommodate the display of data on all of them,” said Vern Freedlander, Strategic Partnerships, Bannister Lake. “But what’s especially challenging is that every screen has slightly different information on it. For example, a screen outside of a practice area is different than one inside of the main courts. So, what we are really good at is actually sending specific data or subsets of data to a specific screen destination, and then compensating for the layout of those screens.”

This screen information included managing data sources for weather, event news, social media, schedules, headshots, scores, set winners, and other tournament related data. The Chameleon software was also used to take scoring data directly from each court’s umpire chair and send it to the Xpressions for display in real time.

“Our emphasis is the data side,” Freedlander said. “We’re taking the multiple data feeds (social media, schedule, players profiles, USTA news segments, leader boards, scoring data, etc.) that are being originated throughout the facility and bringing all that into Chameleon, reformatting each XML file as required, and sending it back out to the screens. And it all has to happen in real time for it to be useful for fans.”

The Ross XPression real-time motion graphics engine supports video formats from SD all the way to UHD.

The Ross XPression real-time motion graphics engine supports video formats from SD all the way to UHD.

In addition to XPression Studio, VWSE also used the Tessera option to support the LED screens, employing a daisy chain of four XPression engines to provide synchronized multi-channel playout control for feeding the facia boards inside the two main stadiums and a number of displays elsewhere around the grounds. Real-time data feeds from IBM and SMT surrounded fans at the National Tennis Center with scoring and statistical data that could be seen from multiple directions.

“The biggest benefit is that without this setup, graphics would have had to render nine thousand videos in Adobe After Effects to achieve was Xpression and our data integration could do in real-time,” Freedlander said.

Outside the tennis stadiums, VWSE was also driving ribbon displays with information about the matches inside each stadium, and providing upcoming match schedules and court assignments for the players. Filtered content from Twitter and Instagram was prominently displayed on a 3840×1080 pixel "superwall" spanning the width of the south entrance of the main Arthur Ashe Stadium. Content with hashtags related to the US Open helped get fans in the Tennis Center engaged and enticed social media users around the world to take part in the US Open on their computers and mobile devices.

With the addition of the XPression Tessera system, the team was able to take control of the entire venue and really make the display of data-driven information more cohesive across multiple screen destinations.

“Live data is a very interesting and positive contributor to digital signage,” said Freedlander. “Using our experience of last year, we were better prepared for this year’s event. This stuff is not easy to manage properly, but we’ve developed this expertise over several years that makes it look easy.”

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