Specialty Cameras, Positions Highlight Coverage of CBS Sports’ 31st Consecutive Final Four

Manned cameras, robotic cameras, robotic flying cameras.

Camera, cameras, and more cameras: that’s the name of the game this weekend as CBS Sports presents the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four and the National Championship Game for the 31st consecutive year.

This one arrived with great anticipation, between the story lines of Louisville’s Kevin Ware, an upset-minded Wichita State program, and outstanding Nielsen ratings throughout the tournament’s first two weeks.

A view from the "slash camera" position. CBS production executives agreed to add a second slash camera to this year's NCAA Tournament broadcasts.

A view from the “slash camera” position. CBS production executives agreed to add a second slash camera to this year’s NCAA Tournament broadcasts.

Most notably, CBS added a second “slash” camera to the camera arsenal. Positioned at the corner of the baseline (on the diagonal, or slash, from center court), the slash camera is typically used to capture low-angle replays and live shots of the benches, coaches, and players between plays.

“You get that in-the-paint look,” says Harold Bryant, executive vice president, production, CBS Sports, “and we just decided that we needed it on both sides now.”

Actioncam is also back again this year, providing aerial shots.

Based on a four-point system, Actioncam features high-strength cables fixed at each “point” on a rigging tower. The camera then has the freedom to fly within the area inside the four points via a series of motors and a joystick controller operated by a pilot located in the press box in the upper reaches of the Dome.

CBS has deployed Actioncam now for six straight Final Fours and, this year, it was also featured in three of the four regional sites, one of which was Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, TX — the home of the 2014 Final Four.

The “Signature Shot”
One of CBS’s unique camera positions at the Final Four got a bit of facelift this year.

A position that delivers what CBS Sports’ EVP of Operations, Engineering, and Production Services Ken Aagaard calls the network’s “signature shot” of the Final Four, the production team positions cameras on the floor just off the out-of-bounds line on the near sideline pointed directly at each free throw line.

One of CBS's signature shots during the FInal Four comes from a low courtside camera that is perpendicular to the foul line. This year marks the first time where that came will be manned and not a robotic.

One of CBS’s signature shots during the FInal Four comes from a low courtside camera that is perpendicular to the foul line. This year marks the first time where that came will be manned and not a robotic.

“It gives [Director] Bob Fishman that shot where you’re looking at the player shooting from the free throw line and you can see all of the fans in the background,” says Aagaard. “That [shot] is really different from all of the shots during the rest of the tournament, as well as in basketball you see anywhere else during the regular season.

Those two cameras, to me, are a CBS signature, and Bob Fishman uses it that way.”

In Final Four broadcasts for over a decade now, CBS has captured this shot by positioning a robotic camera. Last year, it was two Ikegami HDL-50 cameras mounted to Ravensclaw Talon remote heads. Now, the new foul line cameras are provided by Fletcher and, with an added human element, the production team has more flexibility to use that camera to grab replay angles and shots of the opposing benches. When the foul-line camera position was a robotic, its lone responsibility was to capture the free throw shot Aagaard spoke of. But it was able to do little else from that position.

Cabling Conundrum
The Georgia Dome is a very familiar building for the CBS Sports team. In addition to the occasional Atlanta Falcons game, CBS broadcasts the SEC Football Championship Game from the venue on an annual basis. Yet, that didn’t keep this Final Four from presenting its own unique set of challenges.

“This is a large stadium to cable,” says Aagaard. “Our primary cameras are on the reverse side of where they normally are, so we had to run a lot more cable. We kind of like how it’s worked out because we like the angles we’re getting. But it’s a little weird being on the reverse side.”

Actioncam took the air inside the Georgia Dome to provide aerial images for CBS's broadcast of the Final Four.

Actioncam took the air inside the Georgia Dome to provide aerial images for CBS’s broadcast of the Final Four.

According to F&F Productions’ VP, Engineering Bill McKechney, his company is working primarily off of fiber this year and transported 14 bins of cable to Atlanta to get the job done. In these bins are 22 500-ft. cables and five 650-ft. cables. That totals up to about 14,250 feet of just SMPTE and triax. On top of the that, F7F also brought along approximately 25,000 additional feet of DT-12 cabling to help cover the Dome.

4K at the Final Four?
While 4K has made its presence felt on the trade show floor (be it at CES in January or this week’s NAB Show), the technology has a tangible presence this weekend in Atlanta.

As part of the fan experience around the Georgia Dome, LG Electronics is bringing basketball in 4K to attendees. At the LG Fan House at Bracket Town, a fan festival, attendees were able to watch college basketball highlights in 4K on LG’s 84-inch class Ultra HD TVs.

Inside the Dome, CBS and their March Madness partner Turner Sports were running some 4K tests of their own. Working with an ENG-type setup and a single 4K camera, the two broadcasters got a feel for what the technology was capable of in a major sports setting.

“At this point,” said Bryant just prior to the start of the NCAA Tournament last month, “it’s more for the engineers to use and learn from, to see how [4K technology] reacts to pans, and zooms, and different light levels.”

None of the live content was produced for the public and was kept to an in-house closed-circuit feed.

Red Bee Finds Its Sweet Spot
Back for a second year in 2013 is Red Bee Media’s Basketball Multicam System, which is referred to as “Virtual Madness” on-air. The replay-analysis system stitches together multiple camera angles, providing a swooping view of a play and allowing more descriptive diagramming and breakdown by analysts Clark Kellogg and Steve Kerr.

“I think that is something that you’re definitely going to see a lot more of,” says Aagaard. “Our operators have gotten better at it. Our production people have gotten to understand it a little bit more. I think, throughout the tournament, that you have seen more Red Bee on the air and during this Final Four weekend you’ll see a good amount [of it].”

Fans got a good view of the technology last night prior to the start of the Syracuse-Michigan National Semifinal when “Virtual Madness” was used by the analysts to break down the Syracuse zone defense.

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