2013 NFL Preview: NBC Sports Kicks Off NFL Season With 4K Bang in Denver, Preps for ‘FreeD’ Dallas SNF Opener

Since NBC took over its NFL package seven years ago, the network has transformed the Thursday NFL Kickoff game into one of the extravagant and momentous events on the annual sports calendar. In addition to producing a massive 29-camera show, NBC Sports rolls out its Football Night in America studio show on-site each year in an effort to capture the energy surrounding the NFL opener.

From left: Tim Dekime, Ken Goss, and John Roche in front of the SNF ND3 mobile unit

From left: Tim Dekime, Ken Goss, and John Roche in front of the SNF ND3 mobile unit

“The team that we have here is truly incredible; they have it down pat, which is amazing when you consider just how big of a show this is,” says Ken Goss, SVP, remote operations and production planning, NBC Sports. “There are always variables, but they have been doing this since 2006, and it’s only gotten better from year to year.”

That tradition of excellence continued last night at for the Ravens-Broncos opener at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver, with NBC rolling out an additional pair of mobile units and nearly 100 extra staffers to handle the on-site Football Night in America and ProFootballTalk shows.

A Packed Mile High Truck Compound

Denali Summit, which handled the on-site Football Night in America show, was parked inside the Mile High Compound.

Denali Summit, which handled the on-site Football Night in America show, was parked inside the Mile High Compound.

With seven total trucks on hand — NEP ND3 (A, B, C, and D) units for the game telecast, NEP’s Denali Summit (A and B) for Football Night in America, and a Featherlight office trailer unit — NBC’s sprawling presence was split between the underground Mile High truck compound and the parking lot outside. NBC’s features unit had been on-site since Friday Aug. 30, to get a head start producing pieces for the NFL Kickoff telecast. All other mobile units, however, could not arrive on-site until Monday morning because of the Colorado-Colorado State game at Mile High — carried on CBS Sports Network — on Sunday.

The Football Night in America set at Sports Authority Field

The Football Night in America set at Sports Authority Field

“Stadiums just aren’t built to have a Super Bowl every week, and our footprint here is almost that big,” says Sunday Night Football Senior Technical Manager John Roche. “Any stadium you go to is not going to have that kind of real estate in the truck compound. So the challenge here is that we have three days here, and, on a Super Bowl, we have a week and a half, so we have to figure out how to try to fit everything in.”

The challenge doesn’t end there, however. The SNF team and its quartet of NEP ND3 mobile units almost immediately headed from Denver to Dallas for an ultra-tight turnaround to produce the Giants-Cowboys Sunday Night Football opener.

“It’s tough on the backend, too, because we are double-teaming everything to Dallas,” says Tim DeKime, senior director, sports operations, NBC Sports Group. “When the trucks get in at 8 p.m. [on Friday night], we will be working until one in the morning getting our gear ready for early Saturday morning because we have missed a full day of setup.”

4K, FreeD Add New Perspective on Replays
Two technologies that have received plenty of hype lately — the FOR-A/Evertz Dreamcatcher 4K replay system and Replay Technologies’ FreeD 360-degree replay system — will make their way into NBC’s NFL coverage this year.

Evertz's Joe Cirincione (right) with the Dreamcatcher 4K replay system and operator housed in ND3

Evertz’s Joe Cirincione (right) with the Dreamcatcher 4K replay system and operator housed in ND3

NBC experimented with a RED 4K camera last year on a handful of NFL games (and used the FOR-A/Dreamcatcher replay system during the Stanley Cup Playoffs), but this year will be the first time the FOR-A/Dreamcatcher system is used on a full-time basis for Sunday Night Football.

The system, which was also used by CBS Sports at Super Bowl XLVII, relies on a For-A FT-ONE 4K camera (running at 180-240 fps depending on lighting) that shoots a wide shot of the entire field. The Dreamcatcher can pull out HD-quality close-up replays from the 4K picture to provide a deeper look at close plays (say, a sideline catch which the receiver’s toe may or may not have been out of bounds).

ND3’s D unit was forced into the parking lot because of the cramped underground truck compound

ND3’s D unit was forced into the parking lot because of the cramped underground truck compound

“It’s actually a pretty simple workflow for such a sophisticated system,” says Joe Cirincione, VP of sales, U.S. sports and entertainment, Evertz. “The signal comes in, hits some distribution amplifiers, goes into the Dreamcatcher, and the operator acts like a typical replay operator. There are two trains of thought on how to use it. There is standard replay that is instantly available to the director, where the operator can just scrub back and play it out. Or, if you want to zoom in and track the ball on a touchdown [as it is moving], you can do that using key frames, which will take 3-4 seconds.”

The FreeD system, which was used by NBC at the London Olympics for gymnastics coverage (as well as by YES Network on its Yankees telecasts), uses 24 high-speed cameras mounted in the stadium — 12 placed on both sides of the field from the 20-yard line to the goal line and in the back of each end zone — to create 360-degree replays of key red-zone plays. A proprietary algorithm converts the 2D camera feeds into 3D data, giving the operator a virtual-3D environment in which to move the camera.

The FreeD system has been installed at Dallas’s AT&T Stadium and will be available to NBC for Sunday’s Cowboys-Giants production, the Oct. 5 Notre Dame-Arizona State college football game, the Oct. 13 Redskins-Cowboys SNF game, and any Cowboys home games flexed into primetime later in the season.

It’s a very complex system, but we are very bullish on it after seeing some of the tests [conducted during preseason games and practices at AT&T Stadium],” said Sunday Night Football producer Fred Gaudelli. “It’s a lot more difficult than baseball, where you know all the action is going to take place surrounding home plate. That is the challenge. But I think we are going to be able to analyze football in a way that no one has been been able to in the past.”

Plenty More Cameras and Tech Toys
In addition to the cameras used for the 4K replay and FreeD system, NBC will deploy 29 cameras on SNF, including a CableCam aerial system, two NAC/Ikegami Hi Motion II ultra-slow-mos (on the 50-yard line and the near-side camera cart), an AVS (Aerial Video Systems) RF Steadicam, and robos on both goal posts and in the announcers booth.

Other gear on hand in Denver includes 11 EVS replay servers (a mix of XT2s and XT3s), SMT’s virtual insertion technology (for the yellow first-down line, down-and-distance indicator, etc.), and a new video wall in the announcers booth courtesy of AG Light and Sound.

Looking Ahead: New Trucks and Connecting with Stamford
This time next year, Sunday Night Football will have a brand-new set of mobile units as its home. ND1, which will be constructed and integrated at NEP’s facility in Pittsburgh, is set to be among the most cutting-edge mobile production units in the world when it debuts in August.

NBC's Fred Gaudelli and Tim Dekime outside the Featherlight office trailer in the Mile High parking lot

NBC’s Fred Gaudelli and Tim Dekime outside the Featherlight office trailer in the Mile High parking lot

“We’re very excited about it,” says Goss. “Come August 2014, I think it’s going to really streamline our operation and make things even powerful and efficient.”

NBC is also exploring new file-based workflows in hopes of sharing content between its SNF remote production and its Stamford, CT, headquarters. NBC and Level 3 have engineered a deal in which the venue fiber circuit at each NFL venue will be available as a path to send content back and forth with Stamford the moment the SNF team arrives on-site.

“Aside from the DreamCatcher and FreeD, the real push right now from a technology point of view is with new transmission patterns,” says Goss. “We’re looking at new technology to tap into our resources in Stamford to utilize archive and graphics from there. It’s the future.”