PGA Tour Live Offers Glimpse of Future With Every Shot During The Players

    • OTT service to stream all 32,000 shots from TPC Sawgrass to NBC Sports Gold subscribers.
    • The one-time experiment will be expanded to more tournaments next year, PGA Tour says.

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PGA Tour Live is getting a major one-time upgrade in time for the Players Championship this week. 

Every golf shot from the tournament held annually at TPC Sawgrass in Florida will be available to NBC Sports Gold subscribers for the first time. 

A total of 120 cameras will allow the PGA Tour to stream roughly 32,000 shots and follow every player throughout the weekend. That is comparable to the number of cameras used to broadcast this year’s Super Bowl in Miami. 

The production will offer fans 700 hours of content. The PGA Tour and NBC Sports, by comparison, use 84 cameras to live stream 43 hours of golf on PGA Tour Live weekly across a handful of featured groups. Both offerings also provide featured golf holes to viewers.

“We wouldn’t do something like this without testing it leading into an event,” Scott Gutterman, vice president of operations and product development at the PGA Tour, said. “We reached the point late in the summer when we went to [PGA Tour] Commissioner Jay Monahan and said we can pull this off.”

PGA Tour Live will feature 48 different streams, or player groups, on each of the first two days of the Players Championship before dropping to between 20-to-30 live feeds for fans to toggle through during weekend play. 

Most of the cameras on the course will be manned by staff, except for those behind the tee boxes, which are automated, Gutterman said. 

“The challenge for us is that content becomes more personalized and diversified every day,” he said. “Fans want to consume content how they want it. At some point, experiences also overlap. A fan can have PGA Tour Live up to follow a specific player or group as well as the linear broadcast feed.”

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Streaming every shot on PGA Tour Live, even for just one event, brings higher costs to the PGA Tour and its presenting partners amid greater complexity in delivering more content to fans. 

High-level expenses include additional camera operators and directors in charge of turning inbound video footage into compelling stories for fans. The technology required to distribute feeds on multiple devices is another added cost, Darren Lepke, head of video product management at Verizon Media, said.

“You need enough infrastructure to keep all of those feeds running, which is a challenge most sports leagues don’t have to handle on that scale,” Lepke said. “Getting content from [120] cameras out of a facility and onto the internet poses a larger connectivity challenge.”

Pumping dozens of feeds into satellite trucks at once could prove detrimental to any OTT service’s live performance. Satellite trucks are also traditionally expensive to roll on to studio lots, Lepke added. As a result, more organizations are making a move to IP (Internet Protocol) networks.

NBC and CBS currently broadcast only parts of PGA Tour play to linear audiences throughout the season, representing a fraction of the shots PGA Tour Live will stream to fans this weekend.

The PGA Tour will use Hawk-Eye Innovations’ cloud technology to produce streams during the Players Championship, in addition to two shifts of camera operators and 24 program directors based in Atlanta and London. 

“Every Shot Live” is also expected to expand beyond the Players Championship shortly to all PGA Tour tournaments, Gutterman said. The experiment at The Players will likely broaden to multiple events next season before U.S. golf’s sanctioning body makes the experience a staple on its streaming service. 

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The PGA Tour also wants to add in-stream broadcasting to PGA Tour Live over the next couple of years and is weighing multiple options. This includes a simulcast model reminiscent of ESPN’s Megacast for the College Football Playoffs.

NBC holds the distribution rights to PGA Tour Live until the end of the 2021 season. The PGA Tour announced ESPN+ as the next digital streaming rights holder this week, in a nine-year deal valued at roughly $7 billion, Sports Illustrated reported. PGA Tour Live on NBC Sports Gold costs $64.99 annually or $9.99 per month.

“We will start with the Players Championship, expand to another two or three events next year while finding a way to drive costs down,” Gutterman said. “We will get there. It will be a few years, but this is the start of that.”