The 2021 NFL season is about to get underway and for Fox Sports the production focus is going to be on some new remote workflows, adding more super slo-mo coverage, and making sure that fans at home have as much of the feeling of being in the stadium as possible.
“The one thing that we are really focusing on is making sure that the fans that are back in the stands are stadium are heard at home,” says Kevin Callahan, Fox Sports, VP, field operations and engineering. “We really want to make sure that viewers at home are feeling that that energy in the stands so we’re doing everything we can do to help our mixers with things like additional microphones and possibly even doing crowd submixes.”
Game Creek facilities will once again be handling top duties with Encore handling the Thursday Night Football games while Glory will be tapped for the A game on Sunday and Bravo will be used for the B game. Mobile TV Group’s MTV G46 will be used for C games and then NEP’s Supershooter 32 will be home for the fourth crew, NEP SS32 will be used for the fifth game while the sixth game will be produced out of NEP Supershooter 29.
“Supershooter 32 just received a bunch of upgrades this year with a new audio console and some camera upgrades and things that we were really looking forward to,” says Callahan. “Supershooter 29 was also recently refurbished and as a result it’s getting some nice little upgrade like six times super mo cameras. All of our shows for the top six games will now have at least four super mos.”
That rise in the number of super slo-mo cameras is the biggest improvement on the production side, especially for the TNF package and the Sunday A game.
“Every camera on the field will be a high frame-rate camera,” says Callahan. “Even the SteadiCam is going to be a high frame rate RF camera on those shows.”
Also look for the A, B, and C games to be native 1080p SDR, a move that Callahan says means a better image for viewers at home.
“It positions us for the future as we can start to build out our libraries in 1080p,” he says.
One game each Sunday will also feature what Fox calls “Line to Gain 2.0” which is the pylon cam that is on the line of scrimmage.
“We are working with C360 and 3G Wireless on that and it is a 4K pylon camera with pan and zoom and is the next generation of the technology,” he says. “It will be used on whatever is the biggest game of the weekend along with a SteadiCam.”
Megaladon shallow-depth-of-field cameras have been one of the big pushes in 2021 and that will continue through the NFL season. There will be a dedicated operator and RF kit for all the big games like the TNF package and Sunday A games and also look for it to pop up on some of the doubleheader weekends.
“We’re making it available to every crew to be used for ENG work and bus arrivals and we’re really proud of the work Jarrod Ligrani, one of our technical directors, did in terms of really pushing us forward with it and developing it last year,” says Callahan. “It’s not anything that’s that particularly difficult and another bonus is it’s something that is relatively inexpensive. But Jarrod and Director Brian Lilley really made it shine on the national stage.”
Operating a Megaladon camera requires the kind of skill that can only be developed with hands-on experience and that is one of the reasons it is available to every crew. And not making it a live element for every show will also ensure that shots are captured properly and in focus.
“Auto focus works really well if you have an operator that knows when they need to regain control of focus and move back and forth,” says Callahan. “You get much better results that way and I would point to things like our NASCAR or boxing coverage and even the MLS All-Star game where we had an operator changing camera focus during interviews. And during MLS All-Star there was an entire replay sequence for a corner kick goal where the operator was behind the player taking the kick, show the ball go into the box and the goal score, and then then the team ran right to the corner where the operator was. That was a fantastic shot.”
Over the past 18 months Fox Sports at-home efforts have focused on its Vault production facility in Los Angeles and there won’t be any big changes from last year.
“We are using the Vault as a testing ground for a couple of different projects with various vendors so that instead of flying them out to a game for a test we can get instant feedback here,” says Callahan. “That will allow us to make changes in real time.”
Callahan says Fox will also use CMSI again this year to enable remote edit workflows. An editor on TNF and a game each Sunday will working remotely with content from the mobile units.
“We’re deploying new file transfer kits this year with OpenDrives Ultimate high availability system with full NVMe,” says Callahan. “The new system allows for much faster read/write speeds, and over all faster transfers. This will be well received in the trucks as they are much shallower and take up less rack space than our previous iterations.”
In terms of new remote workflows, one of the big changes for NFL coverage is the First and Ten line operators for the fourth, fifth, and sixth crews will be located in Tempe, AZ.
“The downstream boxes will be on the truck, but the operator will be in Tempe using the same workstations we use for our college games,” says Callahan. “They will remote into the truck and that allows us to record the line in the truck and simplify workflows coming back for distribution as it will come in with the line already on it.”
One challenge this year will be simply keeping track of what will most likely be an ever-evolving series of COVID-19 safety protocols.
“It’s actually more challenging this year as the guidelines are a bouncing ball from week to week,” says Callahan. “That was true last year but last year everyone at the stadiums were on the same page. For this year there may be 20 different solutions across 30 different stadiums.”