Networks Increasingly Take Studio Shows On the Road
It was just a few years ago that sports networks would send their studio shows on the road only for high-profile events, such as postseason and All-Star games. However, today, the remote studio show has become the norm throughout regular-season telecasts for ESPN’s Monday Night Football, Fox Sports’ NASCAR coverage, NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football, and many other live sports events. At SVG’s Sports Entertainment Production Summit last week, an afternoon panel addressed both the benefits and challenges of producing studio shows on-site.
“[Remote studio shows] have evolved so much over the years,” said Sal Cocco, production manager, NFL Network. “It started with no [studio show] on the road, then it was just your commentators doing a few minutes at the beginning of the show, and now we are looking at full large-scale productions. I think it’s just going to continue to grow.”
Storytelling Remains Key
NFL Network’s studio show is on-site for all eight games on its schedule, a number that could jump to 12-13 games in a restructured Thursday-night package next season, according to VP of Media Operations Glenn Adamo. This massive operation requires an almost entirely independent production team and additional mobile unit for the pregame, halftime, and postgame shows — adding to an already crowded truck compound at NFL stadiums.
“There are a lot of challenges that go into a studio show on a remote [production],” said Adamo, who moderated the session. “Not only does the production staff have to go out of their comfort zone of the home studio and deal with the elements, [but] there is also the challenge of going into a stadium with sometimes hostile [labor-]union environments. But, at the end of the day, we still have to help the production team tell the story and capture the real essence of the story.”
The Art of Set Location
One of the most important decisions to be made is where the studio set will be located at the venue. ESPN constructs its primary studio set on the field; others set up in parking lots or even in the stands, as was the case for Fox Sports’ World Series coverage.
“The people at home watching on TV need to feel like they are at the [venue]. That is always our main goal when it comes to the set [location],” said Jennifer Pransky, coordinating producer, features division, Fox Sports Media Group. “They need to see the stadium, the players, and the fans at the event. A lot of times that means doing [studio shows] in parking lots, which has actually turned out to be fantastic because of all the tailgating.”
When Postproduction Hits the Road
Halftime and postgame teams are often faced with creating highlight packages in a matter of minutes, a task further complicated when studio shows are sent on the road.
Monday Night Football has an Avid and an Apple Final Cut edit suite built into its convoy of mobile units. The Avid station works with an on-site ENG crew to create bumpers and inserts that highlight “the flavor of the city and the pageantry of the game,” according to Eddie Okuno, operations manager for ESPN’s Monday Night Football and NBA coverage. “We also send out an ENG camera during warm-ups; then we ingest [off of] P2 cards into the Avid, and we turn it around real quick.”
Meanwhile, NFL Network deploys two Final Cut Pro systems on-site, installed in a dedicated postproduction/graphics truck. One of the Final Cut suites is devoted entirely to commentator Mike Mayock’s needs, as he requires a wide array of highlight packages when breaking down the X’s and O’s of the game. The other Final Cut station is tasked with creating billboards and other highlights packages.
“The key for [on-site postproduction] is, you have to bring editors and graphic artists that not only know how handle themselves in an edit bay but also know how to deal with being on a remote,” said Pransky. “They have to understand the equipment and how to connect to the trucks and EVS [equipment].”
Lighting Can Be a Black Hole
Constantly changing outdoor conditions make lighting one of the most challenging aspects of putting together a remote studio show. Lighting crews often set up during the daytime for a primetime game or set up the day before, when weather conditions can vary greatly from game day.
“You can rehearse the day before, but then, all of a sudden, a storm comes in, and you realize that you need to change [the entire lighting scheme],” says Cocco. “Even in dome stadiums, it’s not always easy. That’s why the best advice I can give is to have dependable rental houses in every city you visit. You’re almost always going to need something [at the last minute].”