Fox Sports’ NFL Coverage Features a Dozen Innovations

In addition to a new president, Fox Sports is seeing a lot of changes this fall. On its NFL broadcasts, no fewer than a dozen changes have been made, some more visible to the viewer than others but all with the aim of improving the network’s marquee Sunday-afternoon productions.

“Nothing has changed in terms of our responsibilities,” says Michael Davies, VP of field operations for Fox Sports. “We still want to bring everything we’ve brought in the past, but, in the off-season, we had a chance to make some adjustments, both in what was being offered as well as what we could take advantage of.”

Voices Inside the Studio and Out
Among the more visible — and audible — additions to Fox’s NFL broadcasts is the addition of Mike Pereira, the former head of officiating for the NFL. Recently retired, he has become an installation in the Fox studio, and the network can choose to add his commentary to any game, adding a new level of explanation for viewers.

“Technically, it’s not a particularly hard thing to do,” Davies says of adding Pereira’s voice to the remotes. “It’s just one more thing to layer on. We have a return path to every remote, as we have in the past. Previously, we just used that path for our return, so we could see ourselves, but we’ve commandeered that to send Pereira out to the remotes when we need to.”

Also new to the studio team is the ability to go on the road virtually. In a selected late game each week, a member of Fox’s studio talent team serves as a virtual announcer, offering his commentary along with that of the on-site analysts.

New Look, New Lights
On the visual side, Fox Sports has changed graphics platforms for 2010, moving from the Chyron Duet to the Vizrt system. “I think that the rollout has been pretty smooth, all things considered,” Davies says.

Through its relationship with Bexel, Fox also switched all of its booth lighting to Litepanels.

“Everybody has really liked that,” Davies says. “The Litepanels are lighter, they’re more predictable, and they’re easier to set up. There’s been a learning curve for all the camera people, but everybody’s liked them quite a bit. That change complements a new booth look that we have that changes the colors around a bit.”

More Flying Overhead
Also contributing to a new look on the broadcast is an enhanced use of overhead camera systems. Last year, Fox used only the Cable Cam system, and only for doubleheader games. This year, each week’s A-level game will have a flying camera in its complement, and both the SkyCam and Cable Cam will be in the mix.

“The difference there is that SkyCam will be in Dallas in a permanent install, and we will have Cable Cam for all of the other stadiums,” Davies explains. “SkyCam will leave its system in Dallas so it won’t have to be re-rigged each week.”

Although the pictures from both cameras look similar, he says, the two systems represent different approaches to accomplishing the same task. SkyCam is a simpler system, using four winches, each attached to a corner of the stadium, while Cable Cam, with just one winch location and a high line to hold up the camera, is much more complex.

“The end result, we think, is a good turnout no matter which one you use,” Davies says. “However, we find that, while the SkyCam is faster, the Cable Cam is steadier. They’re both great systems. I was actually surprised to see how similar they did look once we got SkyCam into our Week 2 production. SkyCam will be doing our games in Dallas for the foreseeable future.”

Adding Up the Little Things
Behind the scenes, Fox Sports has changed from legacy motion JPEGs to the DVCPRO codec for all of its EVS servers, so EVS’s Multicam 10 software is running across the board. Davies’s team is also taking advantage of Venue Net Plus to provide data to and from the remote broadcasts.

“That has made connectivity with our broadcast-data network a lot easier,” he says. “Instead of using antiquated modems to get out-of-town scores to and from the truck, that’s all done on broadband now. So that has been really helpful.”

Individually, any one of these modifications may not faze a production team, but, together, they represent some significant changes for the network.

“Normally, we would make two or three of these changes in a season,” Davies says. “But this season, they just lumped on. To have all of these happen at once and to have as smooth a start as we have to the season, we’re pretty happy about that.”

Imagination From the Top Down
Fox is also happy about its new front-office leadership, as Eric Shanks has taken the helm as president of Fox Sports.

“There are a lot of new ideas brewing here,” Davies says. “Eric Shanks certainly pushes us to be more imaginative with regard to technology and implementation.”

Says SVP of Field Operations Jerry Steinberg, “We do a lot of stuff that works, but that’s no reason to keep doing it that same way. Just because it’s worked for a long time doesn’t mean you don’t change, improve, or innovate, and Shanks is really pushing that. We’re trying not to get too locked into what we’ve done for the past 17 years.”