Fox Sports To Ramp Up Remote Production Ops for Launch of FS1 Cable Net

When Fox Sports Media Group (FSMG) officially announced plans to launch a 24/7 cable sports network, one fact became explicitly clear: Fox will be producing more live game telecasts than ever before. That means one of the busiest remote-operations teams in the business is going to get busier — and bigger — as Fox ramps up to relaunch Speed channel as Fox Sports 1 on Aug. 1.

“In terms of field operations, FS1 adds a lot more volume and a different variety of sports that we have to consider,” says Mike Davies, VP of field operations, Fox Sports. “So we are anticipating a lot more work, and rest assured that more programming is going to require more resources. But FS1 is going to subscribe to the same production values that Fox has always had from a technical standpoint in order to make our programming look great.”

Not Different, Just More
Fox has inked a flurry of rights agreements over the past two years: deals for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, college football and basketball, and UFC; extensions with NFL, MLB, and NASCAR; the highly anticipated but yet-to-be-official pact with the new Big East/Catholic 7 conference. These deals will play a major role in the projected 5,000 hours of live event, news, and original content that FS1 expects to televise in its first year. And Fox will need more resources and more staff to bring all that to air.

“The key thing here is that it’s not different, it’s just more,” says Fox Sports SVP of Field Operations Jerry Steinberg. “We’re going to be looking at a lot more volume, and, when you dramatically increase the volume, you are going to need more people and [facilities]. But we are going to bring our approach and our attitude to the coverage. We will manage resources differently, but we will approach FS1 games with the same attitude and excellence that we do [Fox broadcast] games.”

East Meets West: Charlotte, L.A. Join Forces
The most significant near-term change in FSMG remote ops will be to more closely align its various field-operations divisions. Most notably, FSMG’s Speed remote operations based in Charlotte, NC, will become closely entwined with its primary headquarters in Los Angeles. Fox is also expected to use its 22 RSNs throughout the country to aid in what will become more of an all-for-one remote-production model.

“The biggest thing that we are doing is moving together all of the field-operations arms of the Media Group,” says Davies. Speed will now report into the field-operations group in Los Angeles. That gives us a lot more of a holistic approach in terms of facilities, crew, production companies, and so on. We are looking forward to not only having the West Coast arm that we’ve always had but also a very integrated East Coast arm that we can leverage for all this work.”

Technological No-Man’s Land Means No More Trucks — For Now
Although Fox is upping the ante in terms of programming and staff, that does not necessarily mean more new trucks. With the state of production technology on the verge of a rapid leap forward, networks are wary of contracting for construction of new mobile units — and Fox is no exception.

“In the times we are in, I don’t think it makes sense [to build a lot of new trucks],” says Steinberg. “A year or two from now, it might be different, but we are in a technological no-man’s land right now, so you don’t want to spend $5 million to $10 million on a mobile unit that is going to be [outdated] in 18 months. You just need to make do with what is out there for now.”

Thus, Fox will look to achieve greater efficiencies from the trucks it already has under contract.

“It’s a very nebulous time to start building trucks because there is so much technology that is just beyond the horizon in terms of routing, servers, and so on,” says Davies. “So we are going to bide our time on that. But, in terms of how many trucks we will need, we will certainly be expanding the profile and trying to leverage current contracts for trucks to try to make things more efficient and cost-effective.”

Next-Gen Tech to the Rescue
Regardless of how the next four-plus months play out as FSMG approaches the launch of FS1, one thing is sure: next-generation technology will play a major role in how the network boosts both the production quality and the cost-effectiveness of its telecasts.

“We are looking at the new technologies that are just becoming available today to make higher-quality and more efficient shows in the future,” says Davies. “I think 4K is a good example of a technology that holds a lot of promise in that regard, [along with] the next generation of flypacks or smaller trucks for smaller shows. With what we’ve heard from a lot of technology providers, we are expecting some of these possibilities very soon.”

Steinberg adds, “Down the road, this tremendous volume will allow us to experiment. There are a lot of technologies that are looming on the horizon that could dramatically change what we do. But first thing is, we have to get on the air, and then we have to get to the other side of the Super Bowl. Then you can start to do some serious experimenting and testing.”