NESN’s Virtual Studio Takes the Ice for Bruins’ Stanley Cup Final Run
NESN has been the benefactor of a very happy coincidence this month, as the Boston Bruins’ Stanley Cup Final berth just happened to coincide with the planned launch of the New-England-based RSN’s new flagship daily news show, NESN Sports Today. The 30-minute news and opinion program – launched on June 11 – serves as the cog in NESN’s comprehensive coverage of the Bruins’ Stanley Cup Final campaign, which includes 90 minutes each of pregame (including NESN Sports Today) and postgame coverage on every game day.
“We planned the launch NESN Sports Today on June 11,” says Joseph Maar, VP of programming and production, executive producer, NESN. “And when the Bruins made the Stanley Cup Final, NESN saw it as a unique opportunity to combine our launch week with coverage of the Cup pre- and post-game and extend our coverage.”
Getting Virtual on the Set
A new virtual set, developed by Brainstorm and Unreel, serves as the home for the newly launched studio show. The three-camera virtual set at the network’s Watertown, MA, headquarters allows NESN to modify the look of the studio for major events like Bruins, Red Sox, Celtics, or Patriots playoff games. For example, the current design theme focuses on the Bruins, integrating elements like dasher boards and a hockey scoreboard.
“This is one of the most sophisticated virtual sets on the globe right now,” says Maar. “Part of what is neat is that most virtual sets look like a spaceship, but this one can truly recreate iron, brick, glass, and wood – almost like a warehouse or loft look. Something that really reflects New England. It created some challenges that were very exciting.”
Home Sweet Garden
NESN’s efforts surrounding the Bruins’ Championship quest go well beyond just the new Sports Today studio show and set, however, with the RSN deploying a wealth of production resources in both Boston and Chicago.
At TD Garden in Boston, NESN has worked out a deal that allows NBC Sports Group to use its main studio area at the arena, which looks out onto the ice. Meanwhile, NESN is utilizing a connected suite space on the ninth floor for its own pre- and post-game coverage. This space, which features three moveable backdrops and two commentators, is near the Bruins executive suites, allowing NESN to interview top front-office execs like President Cam Neely and GM Peter Chiarelli leading into the NBC-exclusive window.
“We cannot be in the inner bowl showing the ice, but we are in a great location convenient to do interviews,” says Brian Zechello, senior producer, remote productions, NESN. “You may not be able to see warmups, but you can hear the music and the crowd. We can’t show it but I think we do provide a feeling of how electric the building is.”
NESN also has established a position just outside the Bruins dressing room for postgame interviews that relies on both a fiber hookup and two LiveU video-over-cellular transmission units. NESN has partnered with WGN to take its feed from the Blackhawks dressing room in exchange for providing a LiveU feed from the Bruins’ dressing room.
Lastly, the NHL provides a satellite feed for all postgame press conferences for both teams, which NESN also integrates into its telecasts.
All feeds are sent back to NESN’s broadcast center over dark fiber, where the show is cut and distributed.
We’re on a Mission From Boston: Adding Bruins Flair to Jake and Elwood’s City
As for road games in Chicago, NESN has deployed a crew of seven – three on-air talent (Jack Edwards, Naoko Funayama, and Billy Jaffe), three camera operators, and Zechello as field producer – to capture all the action at the United Center.
NESN’s primary standup position for pre- and post-game shows at the United Center is fibered back to the truck compound and then distributed back to Boston over HTN’s distribution network. In addition, NESN is bringing back the NHL’s press conference satellite feed, two LiveU units near the Bruins dressing room, and a WGN sat uplink from the Blackhawks dressing room. NESN is also using Skype on an iPad in order to provide a live return feed for the talent.
“We are trying to bring the fans to where they can’t be,” says Zechello. “We try to be inside and outside the dressing rooms with the LiveU, and getting the press conferences, and everything else. And we’ve been out shooting scenics every night in order to give [the fans] the pulse of the city. Plus, our talent has been with the team all year and they know these players and have the relationships so we have our own unique access to these guys.”
On top of NESN’s on-site presence in Chicago, it also has Dale Arnold, Andy Brickley, and a wealth of production resources back at the NESN studios in Boston to deliver live pre and post-game content.
“Back in our studio, Andy Brickley can break things down and let the average fan see things they wouldn’t otherwise see using the telestration technology and editing resources we have here,” says Maar. “He can spend some time during the game with our editor and producer to come up with some unique ways to graphically overlay on the ice exactly what happened on a key play. He has all that technology horsepower here at the studio, so it becomes a significant part of our coverage.”