While the broadcaster plans to deploy some tech goodies, their use won't get in the way of big moments
NEW ORLEANS—New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panther receivers and quarterbacks weren’t the only ones concerned about what was in and out of bounds Sunday (Jan. 7) in New Orleans during the NFC Wildcard game.
Fox Sports, which telecast the game, walked a different sort of line with its playoff coverage—one that delineates between delivering the great shots needed to present game action and some new tech implementation that actually gets in the way of coverage.
“We don’t want to make things all that different for the production team and give them a whole bunch of stuff that they haven’t had before for the big games,” says Mike Davies, SVP of Field and Technical Operations at Fox Sports. Rather, the strategy is to start with a “base layer” of production technology used throughout the 17 weeks of the regular season and then deploy choice pieces of technology that will have the biggest impact on game production and allow Fox Sports to tell the best story, he says.
“A lot of this stuff we’ve used before and some just this year,” says Davies. “We just pick the best of the best to represent us.”
For example, for the three NFL playoff games Fox Sports is covering the broadcaster will add a second, higher SkyCam to deliver a drone’s-eye view of plays that captures all 22 players on the field. “Although you think of how over the top two SkyCams might sound, it turns out to be very useful,” says Davies. Fox Sports first used the dual SkyCam setup during the preseason and then again in Week 5 for the Packers vs. Cowboys game. “I think that camera angle is new enough that we are still learning what it can do,” he says.
The broadcaster recognized the upper SkyCam “was something special” in Week 5 during a play involving Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliot. “He jumped over that pile and no camera, including the lower SkyCam, saw that he had reached out over the first down line [except for the new upper SkyCam],” he says. “At least for that moment, we were sold that this is something special and something we wanted to offer.”
However, camera enhancements—both in terms of numbers and applications—aren’t limited to the second SkyCam. For its NFL playoff coverage, Fox Sports will deploy seven 8x Super Mo cameras, rather than the typical five. Fox also will use 6x Super Mo for its SkyCams, which it first did for its Super Bowl LI coverage in February 2017.
“There are so many replay opportunities in football, and the Super Mo gives this crisp—almost cinematic—look at the action,” says Davies.
The sports broadcaster also will take advantage of work it has done this year with Sports Media Technologies (SMT), SkyCam and Vizrt “to cobble together a recipe” to do augmented reality with the SkyCam, he says. Not only does the setup allow Fox Sports to put a live yellow line on the field of play with its SkyCam shots, but also to put graphic billboards and other 2-D graphics on the field and to fly around them with the SkyCam as if they were real objects.
“It’s a bit of an orchestration because the pilot of the SkyCam needs to be flying around the object as if it were an object on the field. If you break through it, it’s not going to look real,” says Davies.
Another enhancement is how Fox Sports will use its pylon cameras, says Davies. Rather than pointing the pylon cams positioned at the front of the end zone down the field, Fox will rotate them so they look down the field at a 45 degree angle, says Davies.
“That gives you a way to cover a play where the camera is actually looking. Yes, you have the goal line, but you also have the out-of-bounds line as well,” he says. As a result, there are more game situations in which the pylon cameras can contribute to coverage. “The pylon cameras are a lot like catching lightning in a bottle. They are great, but you don’t want to use them unless you’ve got something that is really compelling,” says Davies.
While it is too soon to tell if the drop in viewership plaguing the league this season will carry over to the playoffs, Davies is confident that the right technology and production techniques have the potential to help fans reconnect with the game.
“I feel that what we are able to do using all of this incredible technology—the dual SkyCams, the Super Mo’s and the pylons—is that we are able to deliver that kind of experience in replay right after the play that also shows the emotions of players, not just what happens between the whistles,” he says.
Harkening back to his stint at HBO, Davies recalls the connection the cinematic style used for “Inside the NFL” created as “you watched a game that happened three or four days prior.” Today’s production tools give broadcasters that same opportunity to create that connection, he says. “I can’t help but think that these kind of storytelling tools, honestly, can only help,” says Davies.
Play-marking system, dual aerial cameras will combine for enhanced player tracking
The Tennessee Titans travel to New England this weekend totake on the reigning Super Bowl champions in the AFC Divisional Round. To capture the action on the gridiron from every angle, CBS Sports will rely on dual SkyCam WildCat aerial camera systems with SMT’s Next Gen Tele and play-marking systems, as well as its virtual 1st & Ten line.
The Next Gen Tele System, which debuted during last year’s AFC Divisional Round, channels the NFL’s Next Gen Stats (NGS) data into an enhanced player-tracking telestrator. Combined with SMT’s proprietary play-marking system, which enables rendering of four virtual-player routes on the SkyCam video and its virtual 1st & Ten line, Next Gen Tele System provides a multitude of options for on-screen graphics that CBS Sports talent can leverage to better tell the story of the game.
“From a production standpoint, everything is about storytelling and conveying the story behind the game,” says Robbie Louthan, VP, client services and systems, SMT. “It’s handled in many different ways, but one way is obviously graphics. The advantage there is, you’re able to tell relevant, compelling information in a quick and succinct way without having to have the talent verbalize it to [viewers]. When you can get it reduced down to a graphic that is relevant to the viewer, you’re guaranteeing that the information you want to convey is being handled in a very quick, succinct manner, because there’s very short time frame between plays.”
During Saturday’s game, SkyCam will focus the lower camera system on the actual game play at the line of scrimmage, showing the quarterback’s point of view. The upper system will provide more of a tactical, “all 22” look at the field. Both systems will feature SMT graphics that enhance their respective camera angles and roles.
“Our camera angle creates a view that helps tell the story better than other camera angles,” explains Stephen Wharton, CTO, SkyCam. “Our view just establishes the storytelling for those graphics better than any other camera can, and then, when you add the motion that our camera brings with it, it makes those graphics — whether NGS, routes, and lines or first-down markers —- get placed very well within the angle of the shot, so that that story is being told.”
SMT will deploy four staffers to Gillette Stadium to support the graphics on the dual Skycam system: one operator to support the Next Gen Tele System, a dedicated operator for each of the camera systems, and one to oversee the operation and help produce the content. SkyCam will have a team of nine on the ground in New England, including five operators on the lower camera system (an engineer in charge, an assistant, a rigger, a pilot, and an operator responsible for the camera’s pan/tilt/zoom) and four on the upper camera system (an EIC, rigger, pilot, and PTZ operator).
The same system will return the following week during the AFC Championship Game, and similar systems will appear in other games throughout the NFL playoffs. And, while the action on the gridiron is sure to excite throughout the playoffs, the graphics overlaid on the dual Skycam system will only increase the level of storytelling that the talent can deliver and fans can expect.
“We’re excited about showing off a new way of using Next Gen Stats and really focusing on where the players are running, where the routes are, and creating that sort of Madden look, if you will,” says Wharton. “If you [look at the broadcasters, they’re] usually telestrating: they’re saying, Here’s this guy, and they draw the little yellow line of where he ran. Now we’re leveraging the NFL’s Next Gen Stats system to get that data to create the graphics with SMT and then overlay that from our angle. It creates a very compelling shot.”
Echoes Louthan, “It’s another tool in the toolkit for the announcers — in this case, for [analyst] Tony Romo to use graphics to help tell the story of what he sees. It has been exciting for us to work with Tony on fine-tuning these graphics to [enable] him to use his incredible insight into the game to tell the story.”
Jason Dachman, SVG
SMT graphics system will leverage NFL Next-Gen Stats, be implemented on CBS’s Skycam and all-22 camera
This Sunday’s Patriots-Steelers AFC Championship showdown in Foxboro, MA, will mark the culmination of one of the most technologically innovative NFL on CBS campaigns in history. After debuting on the broadcaster’s epic production of Super Bowl 50, several innovations have become standard for CBS Sports’ A-game productions. Their deployment will be even more robust on Sunday, when CBS Sports’ largest NFL production of the year will feature more than 50 cameras and the debut of player-tracking graphics on the Skycam and the all-22 camera angle.
“We continue to ramp it up with each game,” says Harold Bryant, executive producer/SVP, production, CBS Sports, “adding more cameras, including more high-speed, super-slo-mo, and 4K [cameras]. We’ll have more than 50 cameras when you add it all up; just a few years ago, that was a Super Bowl level. So that’s pretty impressive for an AFC Championship game.”
Brandon Costa, SVG
This weekend, NBC Sports heads to Los Angeles for NHL All-Star Weekend, and, through a collaborative effort with Canadian broadcasters Rogers and TVA and the NHL, its coverage of the event promises loads of interesting enhancements.
NBC is set to deploy 22 cameras, but the production team — headed by producer Matt Marvin and director Charlie Dammeyer — will have 39 feeds at their disposal; all the networks will be sharing each other’s resources. The highlight of those shared resources will be RefCam. Rogers SportsNet will deploy the RF unit, which will be affixed to the head of a referee on the ice. The technology is being used at the All-Star Game for the third straight year and has received acclaim from fans. It’s used mostly in replays but does have the ability to be taken live.
In its own arsenal, NBC will have two Sony HDC-4300 super-slow-motion cameras and two Grass Valley LDX C86 compact XtremeSpeed robotic cameras, the latter provided by Fletcher Sports. One of the LDX cameras will be positioned at center ice; the other, behind one of the goals.
NBC is also installing bench POV cameras, an RF handheld camera, and a “hothead” camera beneath the scoreboard to provide an aerial view of the ice/action.
On the graphics end, NBC has called on SMT to provide its SportsCG (the main scorebug graphic), NBC Studio Ticker, and the NHL’s official real-time scoring system, which it calls HITS.
HITS supports the NHL year-round through data collection, scoring administration, distribution of data to the teams and NHL headquarters, a broadcaster interface for easy use of data by broadcasters, and technological support for the arenas.
With events celebrating the 100th anniversary of the league and the Skills Competition taking place on Saturday, all the festivities in Los Angeles will culminate in the NHL All-Star Game on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC, marking the first time this game has aired on broadcast television since 2004 (ABC).
NEP’s ND6 will serve as NBC Sports’ main production truck at Staples Center, with support from ST28.
Sports Video Group
The undisputed biggest game in American sports is the Super Bowl, and this year Fox Sports is preparing a massive live production using a wide array of Vizrt production tools. Preparations began with a multi-year deal for Vizrt to provide Fox Sports with the Viz Libero sports analysis system for both the national and regional networks. Viz Libero enhances play-by-play coverage by providing alternate angles, virtual fly throughs and detailed analysis with telestration tied to the field.
Earlier in the 2016-2017 NFL season, Fox Sports introduced augmented reality graphics to select games using Viz Virtual Studio. Tracking partner Skycam provides additional camera angles of the game, including bird’s-eye views and the view behind the quarterback. The tracking data from Skycam along with optical tracking data from SMT allow Viz Virtual Studio to place AR graphics such as scoreboards, player lineups and statistic charts on the field.
“Our temporary Super Bowl set will allow us to take advantage of many different parts of Vizrt’s enterprise products. We have come a long way from only utilizing real time graphics for simple lower thirds and fullscreens,” says Zac Fields, SVP graphic technology and innovation, Fox Sports.
The FOX Sports Super Bowl studio will be set up at Discovery Green in Houston. This large area will feature three separate operating sets along with 14 large LED screens. These monitors will include graphics and video content produced by four dual channel Viz Engines.
In addition to populating 14 LED screens, FOX Sports will use Viz Engine to populate two touchscreens and one 50' Techno crane with AR capabilities.
Fox Sports will also use Viz Trio to produce lower third graphics, full screen graphics, real-time stats and interactive charts. Viz Trio will control graphics displayed on Viz Engines from the mobile units during the live game as well as all pre- and post-game shows.
“We are extremely proud to be working with Fox Sports again on another major event,” says David Jorba, President, Vizrt Americas. “Fox Sports continues to push the boundaries of what technology can do for efficient and outstanding sports live production, and we are happy to be by their side supporting their latest innovations.”
Fox Sports has used Vizrt technology for its graphics production since 2010, in the studio as well as onboard the various mobile production trucks. This includes generating the popular “Cleatus” CGI robot that appears during program interstitials during every NFL on Fox telecast.