SVG Special Report: Fox Sports Readies for Landmark FS1 Launch
The launch of a brand-new 24-hour cable sports network is a monumental undertaking. But having to do it while simultaneously running a major network sports department within the same facility — now that’s a challenge. Welcome to the prodigious task that Fox Sports Media Group has faced over the past seven months: wholly revamping its Los Angeles production facility to house the soon-to-launch Fox Sports 1 (FS1) cable network, while maintaining Fox Sports’ day-to-day operations.
“It is always difficult to upgrade a facility that is in use,” says Todd Daly, EVP, Fox Networks Engineering and Operations. “It’s like changing the wheels on a car while it’s going around the track. It’s been a challenge, and it was a very significant amount of work, but everybody made the extra effort to get it all done in time for launch.”
An Instant Force in Cable Sports
Set to launch on Aug. 17, Fox Sports 1 has been years in the making, but the official announcement came in March. Long pondered as a legitimate competitor to cable-sports titan ESPN, FS1 will replace Fox’s motor-sports–driven SPEED network this Saturday, and Fuel TV will be rebranded as Fox Sports 2.
The two new networks (along with the Fox Sports Go TV Everywhere application, which will live-stream FS1, FS2, and Fox Sports RSNs) boast a bevy of rights to live pro and college sports content, making them an instant force on the rapidly growing cable-sports landscape. However, remote production of live events at stadiums and arenas is one thing; creating a 24-hour news operation essentially from scratch is quite another.
“We are going from 2,700 hours of production and studio time to 12,000, according to the current schedule. So that’s obviously a lot,” says Daly. “Most of the infrastructure had to be upgraded as well to support the volume of content we are going to have to manage.”
Building a Network on the Fly
Although Fox has maintained the same overall footprint on Fox Studios’ expansive Century City campus in Los Angeles, the Fox Sports production center is almost unrecognizable compared with what it was just half a year ago.
In addition to totally revamping one on-air studio and upgrading another, along with their respective control rooms, Fox has built out a comprehensive 24-hour newsroom operation with a studio desk and a dedicated control room for live on-air updates. The network has also added more than 200 staffers and transformed its series of edit suites into a “production bullpen” that allows dozens of editors and producers to work simultaneously in a more collaborative environment when producing highlights and features.
Physical construction started in February, with technical integration commencing soon after. Fox’s in-house integration team worked with multiple outside firms on the facility’s systems integration.
“This is a 17-year-old building, and a lot of the systems hadn’t been upgraded prior to this,” says Daly. “So we were methodically going through and upgrading things that needed to be upgraded. But, to deal with the increased volume, we had to catch up very quickly. We have upgraded all the important systems to make this work with the increased volume: routers, intercoms, and all the core systems.”
All this construction and systems integration was completed while Fox’s broadcast network and other cable sports entities were in full operation.
“There was a time when the [construction crew] used to have to come in and seal off my office door because dust was flying everywhere,” says Jack Simmons, SVP, production operations, Fox Sports Media Group. “One day, I walked in, and my desk was covered in an inch of dust. But it was just part of the process. We are very proud of what we have accomplished here and that we were still able to go about business pretty much as usual [during the process].”
Flexing the Fox Sports Studio Muscle
To deliver 24 hours of programming each day for FS1, Fox has put a priority on live studio shows, led by Fox Sports Live, its daily news/analysis/talk show, as well as daily programs dedicated to football, soccer, UFC, and other sports. Fox will also produce Crowd Goes Wild, a new live sports entertainment talk show hosted by Regis Philbin, from a new studio at Chelsea Piers in New York.
All live studio programming (with the exception of Crowd Goes Wild) will be produced out of two state-of-the-art studios at the Century City complex. Both Studio A and Studio B are armed with seven Grass Valley LDK 8000 cameras and jib and a wireless Steadicam. Both control rooms feature Sony MVS-8000G production switchers, Studer Vista 9 audio consoles, and Evertz multiviewer systems for the monitor walls. The revamped facility also boasts two Evertz EQX routers (1052×864 and 576×576) and two Miranda nVision 8256 routers (512×512 and 512×384).
Studio A was constructed last year in time for the NFL season and will continue to serve as the home of the NFL on Fox pre/postgame show on Sundays. In addition, it will now be used for Fox Football Daily, college-football studio programming on Saturdays, and a variety of other productions.
The studio features two sets, a booth for Mike Pereira’s officiating analysis, and a social-media center and is equipped with a combination of Sharp and NEC LCD monitors (including a touchscreen system with Molden Media infrared technology) that can be programmed for any Fox studio show. Studio A also houses the “interactive field” that allows on-air talent to demonstrate techniques on a miniature football field, soccer pitch, or MMA octagon.
Studio B will serve as the home of Fox Sports Live, which is set to air nightly from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. ET. The one-time setting of Best Damn Sports Show, the studio was wholly gutted and redesigned specifically for Fox’s new cable sports networks. The versatile studio will handle much more than just Fox Sports Live, however. Its 360-degree design, free-rolling desks, and adjustable LCD monitor backgrounds (135 NEC monitors in all) will allow the Fox production team to shoot a variety of shows within a single space.
“It is a very flexible and versatile set that will allow us to do multiple shows here,” says Daly. “We will be doing a lot of productions with very quick turnaround times, so we must have the ability to change the look and the feel very quickly for each show. It is a 360-degree set so you can shoot in any direction. You can change any of the [background graphics] very quickly between shows. And all the desks are movable. The only real limitation is lighting, but we can easily modify and move things around when shows dictate.”
Simmons adds, “We have done this with a lot of our studios, where we make them modular so that it seems like there are four or five studios rather than just one. So we could have Fox Soccer Daily early in the day and then have Fox Sports Live in the evening here.”
Fox Makes Call to Production Bullpen
Fox has also transformed a throng of individual editing suites into one open area in an effort to both save space and increase collaborative workflows. The production bullpen, as Daly calls it, is built around a Quantel Enterprise sQ HD system for editing and playback and Dalet Sports Factory for media-asset management and ingest.
“We want to provide the production team the tools to make their own decisions with the content,” says Daly. “In the past, each segment was created, and then people came together in the control room. Now people collaborate throughout the entire planning and production process.”
The Quantel infrastructure is built around 10 sQ servers, providing more than 1,700 hours of HD media storage. The system supports around 80 simultaneous users working on 24 sQ View applications, eight sQ Cut, 12 sQ Edit, and four Qube craft editors. In addition, several Media Viewer applications support Dixon Sports Hilite Loggers. The system also supports multiple sQ Play applications for playout and Livetouch applications for instant playback of live content.
“[Previously,] people were putting together features for their specific shows, rather than this kind of news environment of banging out highlights and getting the product done fast but remaining high-quality,” says Simmons. “They have really streamlined things and made them a lot more efficient.”
Says Daly, “We have a lot of archival content, but, unfortunately, most of it is on tape, so we are in the process of [digitizing] that. We are not doing a wholesale ingest of content, though; we are strategically ingesting what we believe is relevant content. In news, you never know what is going to be needed, though. So, when necessary, we always have access to that [tape] content in a relatively timely fashion.”
New Newsroom for a New Network
While the shiny new studios will receive plenty of the limelight at FS1’s launch, the biggest undertaking of all occurred on the backend, with Fox building a 24-hour newsroom almost from scratch.
Driven by Avid’s iNEWS newsroom-management system and using Vizrt’s Viz Content Pilot for graphics creation, the new Fox Sports newsroom is already a fully functional operation, providing live in-game news updates for Fox Sports networks and RSNs since early this month.
News updates and in-game breakaways are fed to Fox’s transmission facility in The Woodlands, TX, where they are integrated into the various RSN and Fox network linear feeds.
The on-air news desk, which features the sprawling newsroom as its backdrop, uses Ross Video Furio robotic camera systems and has an adjacent dedicated control equipped with Ross Video’s OverDrive automated production-control system.
The newsgathering operation also included the addition of an IP-based contribution system, allowing on-air personalities to report live from their homes, and various file-contribution tools providing quick access to file-based content for air.