Since launching in February 2018, CBS Sports HQ has prioritized the wants and needs of sports fans who flock to digital-oriented outlets. While the COVID-19 pandemic forced many networks to delay projects, the streaming channel cut the ribbon on three studios — one for morning and afternoon shows, one focused on fantasy programming, the third for podcasting — in Fort Lauderdale, FL.
“We’ve been in the midst of planning for the last 18 months,” says Kieren Portley, SVP/executive producer, programming and production, CBS Sports. “We wanted to build out a facility that goes hand-in-hand with how we’ve transformed our business from a website to a multimedia destination.”
Expanded Space: Diversified, Creative Dimensions Are the Core of Construction
As an entity under the CBS Sports umbrella, CBS Sports HQ has indeed come a long way from its humble beginnings. With a consistent increase in media rights and other properties, the direct-to-consumer platform understood that this sudden influx would mandate physical expansion. Despite the pandemic, Portley and a pair of engineering experts — Director, Video Engineering and IT Operations, Dan LaTerra and Senior Video Engineer Keith Pryor — went to work on enlarging space atop the existing infrastructure in the channel’s control room in Stamford, CT.
Having finalized an internal strategy, the team turned to third-party vendors for the construction. Diversified was called in to handle system integration of three production-control rooms. Creative Dimensions Production Designer James Yates took the lead on building the physical sets for each control room. When the dust settled, three studios came to an astounding 13,000 sq. ft. of space.
“We had only one control room where we were trying to do a lot of things,” says Portley. “[Dan and Keith] have done an amazing job with figuring out how to distribute content and achieve what we want to from two different locations.”
Given the nature of digital programming, CBS Sports HQ filled the control rooms with straightforward technology from a linear perspective: a Ross Video Carbonite production switcher and Inception for newsroom rundown, Dante audio workflow with Yamaha and Lectrosonics equipment, Dalet for asset management and video playout, RTS for intercom, Image Video for tally, and Grass Valley for video routing and multiviewers. The facility handles outside contributors’ calling in from remote locations, via NewTek Talkshow.
“We’re relying on people that are using video-conferencing technology like Skype, TVU, LiveU, and BitFire Networks,” Portley says. “All of our writers and contributors are remote.”
Betting Lines, Fantasy Advice: On-Screen Look Shifts From L-Bar to Enlarged Ticker
The buildout of three studios inspired the network to rethink another aspect of production: the on-air graphics package. When CBS Sports HQ debuted 2½ years ago, the layout of information relied heavily on a static L-bar format. Portley understood that, while the concept allowed a boatload of information to be updated and conveyed in quicker fashion, the L-bar occupied a lot of on-screen real estate and viewers became so accustomed to its position that they tended to look at it less often.
“The main thing that we want to deliver to our fans is data-dense, data-rich, and data-driven analysis,” he says. “A lot of people don’t even realize [the L-bar was] there after a while, so we wanted a really pronounced ticker because we know that people read up to down and left to right.”
The new design, developed by | drive | studio, still permits a steady flow of content but in a cleaner, more organized manner. In addition, segmented graphics near the bottom of the screen give viewers a better look at the new space and provide a nice home for the network’s real-time sports betting. For this extensive rebrand, the digital network teamed up with longtime graphics partner SMT to integrate the new look.
“We’ve taken over 90% of the data — whether it be fantasy [updates], power rankings, or scores — and put them in the ticker,” Portley explains. “We’ve expanded the ticker several centimeters and made it taller by over 33.5%.”
The network wanted to add dynamics and movement to the package to catch the viewer’s attention. Ross Video’s XPression graphics powers the lower-thirds and other templates.
“All of the content that we have in that right rail is contextually linked to what you’re watching,” he points out. “If we’re talking about [Arizona Cardinals quarterback] Kyler Murray and the Hail Mary touchdown that he threw against Buffalo, we can bring in a slider with data that tells the story of the play.”
What Comes Next: CBS Sports HQ Focuses on Tech Advances for Content Creation
With five total control rooms (three in Fort Lauderdale, two in Stamford), CBS Sports HQ is sitting pretty after less than three years of operation. Heading into the future, its north star will be the ever-changing improvements in technology.
“I learned this a long time ago from my days at ESPN: technology is content,” says Portley. “Without the technology, we can’t deliver the content. Without a technological vision, we won’t be able to create content. It’s going to evolve and change, but technology will be at the core of what we do.”