Univision Dives Into MLS Production With ‘At-Home’ Workflow on Viernes de Futbol

A new Major League Soccer season has brought with it new production workflows for matches airing in Spanish and English on Univision Deportes on Friday nights.

FutbolTo cut costs and travel and to more efficiently utilize its personnel, Univision deploys its version of the “at-home” model, producing games from its master control in Miami.

“We challenged ourselves as to how can we make things that are irrelevant from a content-quality perspective cheaper and invest more in those things that do improve the content quality,” says Olek Loewenstein, VP, planning, Univision Communications. “When you’re talking about us producing a game in L.A., that’s a lot of money spent for travel only. So, when we can save on the travel — which doesn’t add anything to the content — we can invest in production tools.”

Piggybacking on infrastructure provided by The Switch, Univision deploys 12 cameras throughout the stadium site on a game night and backhauls all of those individual feeds via fiber to Miami, where the producer, director, technical director, replay ops, audio technicians, graphics engineers, and more are on hand to put the show together.

Onsite, Univision has partnered with NEP Productions, which provides its 53-ft. mobile unit, Pacific. The unit supports eight Sony HDC-1550 (in studio configuration with 101x and 86 x lenses), two additional handhelds, and two goal cameras.  Pacific also supports the cabling and power for the cameras and contains the encoders and decoders needed to make it possible.

Pacific also offers robust audio support, embedded with 2-16 channel embedders which is mixed back in Miami. Comms is also managed in Miami, giving the engineer the ability to label control panels each week as needed. For this, Pacific houses 3 RVON cards for comms and a GPIO for tallies.

For personnel, Univision will travel only its on-air talent, a producer, and an engineer. The rest of the positions — including all the camera positions — will be filled by local freelance talent.

“One of the things that [make soccer] different from other sports in the U.S. is, it’s difficult to find crews locally that know the sport,” says Loewenstein. “It’s changing, yes, but it’s much easier for us to assemble a cutting-edge team here in Miami than, every week, having a different crew in a different city.”

Under the new U.S. TV deal, dedicated national games have been added to Sundays on Fox Sports 1 and ESPN, regional telecasts have their stage on Saturdays, and Univision gets an exclusive game each week as part of a Spanish-language showcase dubbed Viernes de Futbol.

Also, Univision is responsible for its own production of that Friday-night telecast. In the past, MLS provided a produced feed over which Univision layered its own announcers.

So far, the league is pleased with the way the new productions have gone.

“Univision’s production quality is just one way in which they’ve demonstrated their commitment to the league and our new partnership,” says Seth Bacon, SVP, media, Major League Soccer. “We will continue to work closely with Univision to find new ways to showcase our sport with fans on Futbol Fridays.”

As with many “at-home” workflows, the technology is becoming less and less the obstacle, and the greater task is simply changing the culture within the given network.

“The challenge is breaking that mentality for producers and directors that you have to be onsite to be able to produce [a game],” says Loewenstein.

This workflow style is a growing trend in the industry and is being used by such networks as Pac-12 Networks, ESPN, and Big Ten Network (for its Student U productions), and it is quickly becoming a logical choice when the technology and the financials make sense.

“People will ask me whether this is the future of all events,” says Loewenstein. “It’s difficult to think of it that way; it’s just another option. I can’t see a Final of the World Cup being done remotely, but this is certainly a way of covering the 80% of the content that generates 20% of the revenue, when you think of a large tournament or season.”