CSN Philly Expands Its Horizons With First HD Cycling Coverage

With offices located inside the home arena of the Philadelphia Flyers and 76ers, Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia is no novice at live event production. Live event production outside of an arena, however, is a whole new ballgame for the regional sports network. This Sunday, CSN Philadelphia will step outside and into the world of cycling to produce the first high-definition broadcast of the Philadelphia International Cycling Championship. The annual race is a staple event in Philadelphia sports culture, but the production plan represents plenty of firsts for the network.

“We’re excited about the opportunity that’s in front of us,” says Shawn Oleksiak, live events producer for CSN Philadelphia. “We cover a lot of events on a confined playing surface, but to take this out to a more expansive situation brings new challenges and new chances for us, and we’re excited about it.”

New Angles, New Heights
To produce the cycling race, which consists of 10 laps of a 14.9-mile circuit, as well as three laps of an opening circuit and three laps of a finishing circuit, CSN Philly has leaned on the wireless capabilities of 3G Wireless, as well as the expertise of the Pro Cycling Tour, to put together a comprehensive coverage plan. CSN Philly will use 15 cameras to shoot the event, spreading them across fixed positions, two motorcycles, and a helicopter.

“We’ll have a chopper throughout the race, and then we’ll have two motocams, operated by specialized motocam operators, who can shoot the race live from the front of the pack, which will be a great vantage point,” Oleksiak explains. “We’re going to have an additional motorcycle with a wireless microphone, so one of our cycling analysts can be involved in the show.”

Planes, Choppers, Automobiles
To understand how the signals should flow for an event that takes place over 15 miles, as opposed to a few hundred feet, the CSN Philly team became students of television, watching how other networks cover cycling and consulting with partners at the Pro Cycling Tour. The result is a complex workflow that involves airplanes, helicopters, and automobiles.

“The two motorcycles carrying cameras will bounce their signals up to a fixed-wing aircraft flying at about 10,000 ft,” explains Scott Facenda, VP of operations for CSN Philly. “That signal will be bounced down to the Comcast Center, where we’ll receive the signal. From there, it will be shot down to the television compound at Eakins Oval [near the start/finish line].”

Camera signals from the helicopter will follow a similar path, bouncing to the Comcast Center — the tallest building in Philadelphia — before being fed down to the TV compound. The CSN crew will use the Comcast Network’s own HD mobile-production unit, as well as three uplink trucks, for the event. Two of those trucks will be in an uplink configuration, with one used as a downlink within the compound.

“We’ve coupled with 3G Wireless as our wireless partner,” Facenda explains. “They are taking care of the signals that originate from the motorcycles, and they are handling the helicopter and the fixed-wing aircraft. It’s great to be able to do all of the transmission of those signals wirelessly and all in high definition. It’s pushing the envelope a little bit, but it’s something that we’re confident they’ll be able to pull off and bring home to the viewer.”

It’s All Hard
What’s the toughest part of putting this event together? In short, Oleksiak says, everything.

“The legwork is tremendous, but this is certainly exciting,” he explains. “With our previous experience in putting events together, we’ve got a pretty structured plan in place, and we’re prepared to use it, or adjust it, as the race dictates on Sunday.”

Sending the Signal Nationwide
In addition to live HD coverage on Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia from noon to 3:30 p.m. ET this Sunday, CSN Philly is making sure that this race, and the network’s debut coverage of it, gets some national attention. A live simulcast of the CSN Philly production will air on Versus beginning at 1:30 p.m., and the CSN family of regional networks will air the race in their local markets as well, reaching 24 million households in the Bay Area, Chicago, Mid-Atlantic, New England, Northwest, and South regions.

“We are proud to be working with Pro Cycling Tour to provide coverage that helps grow this Philadelphia sports institution,” says Comcast SportsNet SVP/GM Brian Monihan. “The race attracts a passionate audience, and we look forward to serving existing fans and attracting new followers with top-quality production and insight into the world of professional cycling.”