NFL Kickoff: NBC’s Sunday Night Football Builds on Big 2014 With New Skycam Wildcat, Sony 4300 Cameras

Following a Super Bowl year that saw the largest audience in television history, the launch of a state-of-the-art fleet of NEP mobile units, and a host of technological advances, NBC Sports Group heads into the Thursday’s NFL Kickoff game looking to build on all it accomplished last season. In addition to the return of NEP’s quartet of ND1 production trucks, additions to NBC’s Sunday Night Football production this year include Skycam’s new Wildcat aerial camera system and a pair of the new Sony HDC-4300 cameras operating in 6X slow motion.

“Our team lives and breathes Sunday Night Football,” says Ken Goss, SVP, remote operations and production planning, NBC Sports Group. “We have some enhancements this year with the 4300s and the Skycam Wildcat system, and we had some very solid preseason games. So the team is ready to go. They work extremely hard from Canton [Hall of Fame Game] right through the playoffs, and I think that can be seen in the quality of [the SNF telecasts].”

The Enhanced Camera Arsenal

SNF always boasts one of the larger camera complements of any live sports production, and this year will be no different. NBC Sports’ 30-camera complement includes 10 Sony HDC-2500s in a hard configuration and seven as handhelds, a Sony P1 Steadicam, two Sony HDC-4300s, two Grass Valley LDX 86 Universe cameras, three I-MOVIX X10 4K systems featuring Vision Research Phantom Flex4K cameras (two down the sidelines as robos, a third as a reverse end-zone position), and the Skycam Wildcat aerial system.

The four-axis stabilized Wildcat system, which was deployed by Fox Sports at the MLS All-Star Game in July, is capable of speeds in excess of 25 miles per hour. The new FlyCam is also outfitted with an anemometer (as was the previous version last year – provided by SMT) to measure wind speeds at the stadium and the NBC Sports team is currently working on integrating the SMT 1st-and-10 line graphic into the system for the first time (SMT continues provide all in-play virtual insertion graphics for Sunday Night Football).

“The Wildcat is basically a Skycam on steroids,” says Tim Dekime, senior director, sports operations, NBC Sports Group. “It’s a much more stable platform. The critique of the Skycam system that we had in the past has been the stability and moving quickly and stopping. They’ve engineered it where it can move very fast. Very flexible, it can go through a few more areas and is just a lot more stable. And we are working on the first-and-ten [graphic] coming from that system, so that’s a work in progress for us. We’re hoping to have it developed very soon.”

The Sony HDC-4300 cameras, capable of 4K operation or up to 8X slo-mo frame rate, will start the season in 6X mode, but these cameras’ deployment may vary from week to week.

“[Determining the frame rate of the 4300s] is going be a week to-week thing,” says Senior Technical Manager John Roché. “We’ve actually tested the Sony in all modes, including 4K, and we’re quite happy and satisfied with it so far.”

Preseason Serves as 4K Testing Ground

With 4K on the horizon, NBC conducted a 4K-technology shootout during the Cardinals-Raiders game in Oakland on Aug. 30, comparing the Sony HDC-4300, Grass Valley LDX 86 Universe, and I-MOVIX X10 UHD cameras outfitted with various lenses.

“We were just looking [toward] next year, where we want to put in some more 4300s,” says Dekime. “The lighting in Oakland is tough, which is actually a good test for us since some of the stadiums don’t have the lighting that others do. We also experimented with the Canon 50-1000mm [Cine-Servo ultra-telephoto zoom] lens [to determine the best lens] to put on those cameras when we decide … that we’re going to have some additional 4K [cameras]. So we’re just kind of experimenting which are the best positions with these cameras and what lenses will fit for next year.”

Sunday Night Football’s telecasts from the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium (Week 1 and Week 9) will feature the return of Replay Technologies’ freeD 360-degree replay system.

“Our updated system at AT&T Stadium has much better coverage with 32 cameras [with 3X zoom] instead of 24 cameras from last season,” says Preston Phillips, VP marketing and communications, Replay Technologies.

SNF Coordinating Producer Fred Gaudelli notes, “We will have a 360[-degree camera] in Dallas on the opening Sunday-night game against the Giants and in November, when Philadelphia comes in for that game. We’re also looking at it for the two Baltimore games [at M&T Bank Stadium],” he adds, “because they have had it installed in their stadium and I saw it in preseason and it looked very good. So we’ll have to see how the season evolves at that point.”

ND1, Stamford Broadcast Center Make Perfect Pair

After the first year in ND1, NBC will continue to grow into its spacious and cutting-edge surroundings. Roché says that “everyone is very, very happy with their positions within the truck.”

Goss adds, “I think that we all feel that our partners at NEP had a stellar season and stellar Super Bowl, and we picked up right where we left off. Working year two with a facility such as this, we didn’t miss a beat heading into camp.”

In addition to the substantial facilities onsite, NBC Sports has continued to expand its use of file transfer between the remote and its broadcast center in Stamford, CT. NBC has worked with Level 3 to establish a 500-Mbps fiber circuit to Stamford each week to push and pull files to and from Stamford for graphics, features, and quick-turnaround highlights packages.

“It’s been a huge plus for us,” says Dekime. “We don’t have to rely on expensive connectivity or satellites to move our files back and forth for graphics and features and things that we shoot. So it’s been great for us, and we’re doing it not just on football but on horse racing, and we have plans for many of our remotes going forward.”

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