College Football Kickoff 2016: With New Big Ten Deal Ahead, Fox Sports Kicks Off Year of Innovation
Fox Sports enters the 2016 college football season in a unique position: the broadcaster is set to produce its smallest slate of games this season but has its largest college-football package ever on tap for 2017. With its Conference USA rights deal expiring prior to this season and its Big Ten deal starting in 2017, Fox Sports is in a transition. Instead of taking a breather, however, Fox Sports will use the 2016 campaign to cultivate new technologies — including virtual reality, pylon cams, Skycam Wildcat, virtual graphics, and streaming alternate angles on Fox Sports GO — as it ramps up its coverage for 2017.
“This year, with less games and more flexibility in the schedule, we are really taking the opportunity to explore and test out a lot of new technology,” says Dave Jones, coordinating tech producer, Fox Sports. “We want to figure out how the production teams can use these tools best and how it figures into our game plan. By having the luxury of a more open schedule, we have the time and resources to really play with technology, so this season is going to be a lot of fun.”
Fox Sports’ regular-season slate of 60+ Big 12 and Pac-12 games will be televised on Fox broadcast network (FBN), FS1, Fox Sports Regional Networks (FSNs), and Fox Deportes and will be streamed on Fox Sports Go. Fox will also carry several top non-conference matchups, including Oklahoma-Ohio State (Sept. 17), the Red River Showdown between Oklahoma and Texas (Oct. 8), the Big 12 and Pac-12 Conference Championships, and the Foster Farms Bowl (Fox’s first bowl game since it televised the Cotton Bowl Classic in 2013).
“We’ve got a few really great games this year, and we’ll definitely treat them as special events,” says Mike Davies, SVP, field operations, Fox Sports. “That said, everybody — from the big A game to the smallest game — approaches things in exactly the same way. We want people to know that, when Fox comes to town, they can expect a certain breed of [operation]. That’s not only FS1 and the broadcast network, it’s also the regionals, because they’re all under the same umbrella.”
Pylon Cams, Skycam Wildcat Take Center Stage at Top Games
Fox’s high-profile games — Oklahoma-Ohio State, the Red River Showdown, the Conference Championships — will feature pylon cams for the first time this season. A staple of the NFL’s high-profile primetime telecasts, pylon cams made their way to the college stage only in January for the College Football Playoff National Championship on ESPN.
Currently, Fox is working with Admiral Video to deploy four pylon systems with three cameras in each end zone for Oklahoma-Ohio State on Sept. 17.
“[Pylon cams] are going to add a lot of new, exciting coverage that has not really been seen on college football until now,” says Jones. “It’s also great because it serves as the precursor to NFL, and we get to be the first [Fox] team using pylon cameras. We will have four pylon systems, and each pylon will have three cameras. Also, with Admiral, we are looking at how we can use a lot of new POV [cameras] in some different ways.”
The Skycam Wildcat aerial camera system continues to mature and will be featured on every Fox A game this season, as well as a handful of B games (Fox signed a multiyear deal for the system prior to this season). With the ability to insert 1st-and-Ten and other virtual graphics on the Skycam feed, Fox plans to use the angle extensively in its game coverage — as has become the case on its NFL coverage.
“The new Wildcat system is a much more stable platform, which offers a lot more opportunities in terms of virtual graphics and telemetry, so I don’t think we’ve come close to scratching the surface in generating new graphics and information for our audience,” says Jones. “On the college side, you’re going to see us play around with our Skycam coverage. Typically, we have just [positioned] it behind the play and let it be a play-by-play [angle] from the rear. But I think, with the new graphics technology and different options we have, you may see directors using the Skycam a little differently.”
Aside from the Skycam Wildcat system and pylon/POV cameras on high-profile games, much of Fox’s A-game package from last year will remain intact, with an average complement of 12 cameras (more on high-profile games), including Sony HDC-3300 super-slo-mo units and an Inertia Unlimited X-Mo. Jones says Fox will also experiment with a variety of additional high-speed cameras throughout the season as well.
This season, Fox Sports will deploy a quartet of trucks for college football: Game Creek Video’s Patriot and NorthStar and CSP Mobile Productions’ HD1 and HD4. FS1 and FSN games will also use a mix of Mobile TV Group trucks.
VR Set To Take the Field
Fox Lab will continue to delve into virtual reality, applying the technology to college football and other top properties, following efforts at the U.S. Open golf tournament, Big East Men’s Basketball Tournament, Daytona 500, and Premier Boxing Champions.
“This is a big year across a bunch of our platforms to continue our testing and exploration with virtual reality,” says Jones. “We’re experimenting with different technologies, different vendors, and different setups. While it doesn’t really touch our broadcast operation, it’s a great new way to get content out to our viewers.”
Fox Sports GO To Provide Iso Feeds for College Coverage
Fox is also making a concerted effort to ramp up its college-football offering on the Fox Sports GO live-streaming platform. The app will feature at least two iso camera feeds — with plans to add more for high-profile games — in addition to the linear telecast for all A games throughout the season. Fox Sports tested this at the Big Ten Championship last season, including a live feed of both bands’ halftime performances.
“One of things that I think all networks [covering college football] have sacrificed is not covering the bands,” says Jones. “The bands and halftime atmosphere [set] college football apart from NFL and other sports. While there is certainly a lot of value in going to the studio for highlights and information from games around the country, I think, for people that are really interested in seeing the bands, Fox Sports GO is the place to get that coverage, [which] will be continuous throughout the game and halftime.”
Over the first four weeks of the season, Fox will experiment with two workflows to manage the Fox Sports GO operation: a small switcher onsite in the truck selecting the cameras, and streaming 10-12 feeds to the Fox Networks Center in The Woodlands, TX, where the feeds will be selected.
“We are trying several different ways to transport [feeds] to create full fan pages with multiple cameras. There are advantages to doing it onsite since you get a real feel for the flow of the game inside the truck, hearing the producer and director call the game. But there are obvious budgetary and operational advantages doing it back at The Woodlands as well. Over the next four weeks, we will do it twice onsite and twice in The Woodlands. We will decide from there which technology and workflow works best.”
Fox Sports college-football coverage opens on Friday Sept. 2 at 9 p.m. ET, with Kansas State at Stanford on FS1.