Despite Midseason Debut, NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football Is Already in High Gear

Less than a week after celebrating its eighth anniversary, NFL Network will launch its sixth season of Thursday Night Football tonight, complete with a new team of announcers and a variety of production enhancements. The network will once again travel a full remote studio show each week along with the actual game production, creating a two-pronged production that is among the most complex in the industry.

“We are unique in that we have two broadcasts going at the same time: one serving the game and the other serving the studio show and NFL.com,” says Director of Technical Operations Dave Shaw. “We have a total of nine trucks here doing multiple shows, so it is really a massive undertaking every single week.”

New Booth Gets New Toys
This year, play-by-play man Brad Nessler and color commentator Mike Mayock join Thursday Night Football’s 17-person coverage team. In an effort to highlight Mayock’s film-breakdown skills, NFL Network has provided him with a dedicated EVS workstation, dubbed Mayock’s X’s and O’s. Using the workstation, Mayock can control video playback and isolate specific moments during a play for analysis.

In addition, NFL Network will integrate the LiberoVision 360-degree replay system into the Thursday Night Football telecast. The system brings together different camera angles and allows analysts to virtually spin around the replay to see the play from different angles. NFL Network has been using LiberoVision in its studio shows for the past month.

“We will probably use it a handful of times during each live game as well,” says Shaw. “We are not anticipating extensive use as we’re getting used to it, but we are hoping for a few plays each game.”

A Mammoth Production
For game coverage, the studio show, and NFL.com, NFL Network deploys a total of 34 cameras for the average Thursday Night Football production. This includes a CableCam, two Fletcher Sports’ I-Movix extreme-slow-motion camera systems, and two super-slo-mo cameras. In addition, Shaw and company have a total of 15 EVS production servers at their disposal (12 for game coverage and three for the studio).

The eight-game, seven-week Thursday Night Football slate will use nearly 10 trucks, with Game Creek Video’s Dynasty handling game coverage and the company’s Intrepid on the studio show, which consists of two hours pregame and at least a half hour postgame. In addition, various Alliance Productions trucks are used as C and D units throughout the compound.

Thursday Night Football will have a veteran crew along the front bench, with director Artie Kempner and producers Ed Feibischoff and Mark Teitelman returning.

Making Week 1 Look Like Week 10
In an effort to hit the ground running, NFL Network conducted two full rehearsals earlier this season, working alongside ESPN at that network’s Monday Night Football productions in Tampa Bay, FL,  in Week 4 and  at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey in Week 6. In Week 6 for Jets-Dolphins, NFL Network actually used CBS Sports’ facilities and some of its crew since CBS was producing the Giants game the day before.

“Our new announce team was able to practice together, and we were able to test our graphics in a live atmosphere,” says Shaw. “CBS was very helpful in letting us use their facilities.”

The 5.1 Leap
On the audio side of things, Thursday Night Football will be delivered to the home in full Dolby 5.1 surround sound for the first time this year. The NFL Network crew will look to take advantage of the entire 5.1 spectrum by adding several new mics to the production. In addition, outfitting the center with a microphone (as all networks have done this season following the NFLPA’s ok in the new collective-bargaining agreement),  the network will deploy a more directional Sennheiser microphone on the CableCam.

“The new CableCam mic is more directional, so we can get a little closer to the action,” says Shaw. “The fullness of that surround sound changes the whole game. It’s so much more immersive.”

During the offseason, NFL Network used its 24-week Arena Football League package as a test bed to perfect its sound mix. As a result, Thursday Night Football A1 Joe Carpenter has a good feel for the package’s first season in 5.1 surround.

“The goal is to make the viewer at home feel like they’re actually sitting in the stands, and we feel like we’ve done that,” says Shaw. “As a result of our experience with Arena Football, we learned a lot, and we’re very comfortable with [our mix].”

The Feed for NFL.com
In addition to the game coverage and studio show, NFL Network provides NFL.com with two dedicated camera feeds — one behind each end zone — and two routed camera feeds during the entire game. The .com show also has a dedicated producer and tech manager.

“They are producing a whole other show from here,” says Shaw. “They are an integral part of what we do here. They can take clips all game long and can do updates and reports exclusively for NFL.com.”

Thursday Night Football debuts on NFL Network Nov. 10 at 8 p.m. ET, with the Oakland Raiders at the San Diego Chargers.