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Keytown Productions hits the bullseye with PDC European tour

Robbert van Loon explains how the production company built a permanent production solution built on technology from Blackmagic Design that can be deployed anywhere in Europe

In recent years, the sport of darts has become increasingly popular, attracting more viewers and generating more television coverage as the number of professional tournaments has grown. This includes the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) organised European Tour, which started in 2012 with five events and now consists of 13 events across seven countries.

Robbert van Loon, CEO at Keytown Productions, has been working with the PDC for around a decade and has experienced that growth first hand. Keytown is now regularly on the road with the PDC, visiting venues across Europe to deliver coverage of the tournaments to viewers across the globe. 

The company previously relied on a PPU solution built at each new venue. However, with tournaments happening in quick succession and with major streamers, including DAZN and Viaplay, investing in the rights, the PDC came to Keytown with the idea of building a more permanent solution.

“We needed a solid, pre wired system that we could deploy quickly at a venue anywhere in Europe,” explains van Loon. 

Incredibly the timescale from initial conversations with the PDC team to the 12m, nine-person truck being ready to hit the road was only four months, something van Loon describes as “a miracle”.

As the PPU that Keytown previously used was built around a Blackmagic Design solution, the decision was made to do the same with the OB, utilising a mix of existing hardware and investing in new technology. That included two ATEM Constellation 8K live production switchers and a Universal Videohub 72×72 video router.

“From the router, we give both ATEM switchers the same sources. That built-in redundancy means we have a fallback if anything was to happen to either switcher. With no additional patching required, switching over takes us about a minute,” notes van Loon. “Second, it’s very handy because we can now benefit from four multiviewers from each system, giving us eight multiviewers in that van, which we can use independently.”

Other onboard equipment includes an ATEM 2 M/E Advanced Panel and HyperDeck Studio Pro 4K broadcast decks. However, when it comes to specific features valued by the Keytown team, there’s a definite favourite; the ease with which a split shot can be generated, showing both the player, the dart board and any graphics. 

“Combining the SuperSource with Macros to give us our split shot is very handy. The way it works with Blackmagic, it’s so easy to vary the shots in the SuperSource,” adds van Loon. 

“We can make a SuperSource from the side camera or the face camera; we can change the upward or down shot, all with one press of the button on the ATEM control panel. We also utilise the ATEM’s multiple M/E. Typically, we have at least one M/E for the programme and send another M/E to the screens in the venue.”

As well as increasing reliability and adding to the quality of the coverage, the truck has also helped Keytown achieve its aim of reducing setup time at each location. It’s now simply a case of arriving and finding a spot with a good cable route into the venue.

“We hook up 32 amps of power and run seven fibre cables to the stage. We use a Dutch brand that makes fibre multiplexes, so we run 12 signals through one SMPTE connector and we have a stage box where we put in most of the cameras. The remaining six fibres are for handheld, crane, and onboard cameras. We then provide a feed from the OB to the satellite truck and put commentators in place. Then we’re good to go.”

In total, setup time has been halved, down from nine hours with the previous setup to four or five hours with the new truck. The OB has already begun making its way around Europe, visiting Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and more in recent weeks.

“When people step in, they enter a completely new world,” van Loon adds. “The interior design is entirely different to most OBs. We’ve got everybody in one big row, so seven people sitting next to each other with a director in the centre.”

The operators have also been impressed with the new setup. “They’re impressed with how quickly the ATEM workflow allows them to produce a show. We have to know what a darts player will throw before the player knows themselves because if we wait to see what he’s throwing, we’re already too late. We have to be faster!”

“It’s a lot easier now that it’s all pre-configured,” concludes van Loom. “Aside from the time saved by not having to rebuild the system each time, everything feels more solid and failproof. It takes away much of the stress we would have faced previously.”