2013 NFL Preview: Monday Night Football’s New Production Infrastructure Sets Bar High
On a sunny Wednesday afternoon in Bristol, CT, the technological brain trusts behind the football institution that is Monday Night Football are beaming like two dads whose kids just graduated at the top of their class.
ESPN’s VP of Remote Operations Chris Calcinari and Senior Operations Manager Steve Carter are just days away from the kickoff of a new season, and they are basking in the glow of their new state-of-the-art fleet of live production trucks.
Today has been two years in the making. ESPN worked hand-in-hand with NEP Broadcasting to produce EN1, a collection of four mobile units that those involved believe is the realization of the oft discussed “Truck of the Future.”
“This is the new standard for big-event trucks,” says Calcinari. “Once people see this thing in action, they are going to realize this is the model that a lot people are going to want moving forward.”
A shiny new fleet, a complete painter’s palette of the latest and greatest gear, and some exciting on-field matchups have ESPN’s Monday Night Football geared up for one of its most exciting seasons yet.
For MNF telecasts, ESPN blankets a stadium with 30-35 cameras.
With the new NEP EN1 trucks, ESPN also gets an entirely new collection of Sony HDC2500 cameras. Many of them are stationed in the traditional football camera positions: three across the top of the stadium, low end-zone slash, and two high end zone (if stadium permits).
ESPN’s MNF telecast also uses a cart camera that stacks two cameras instead of the traditional side-by-side design.
“Our design is different from everybody else’s,” says Carter. “End-to-end gives us both cameras on the plane of the goal line when we get down there. When we initially started it, only one camera could get on the plane of the goal. The tiered system is great, and I hear others are following suit.”
The camera arsenal also overflows with slow-motion options. According to Calcinari, up to 12 of the Sony 2500s are capable of producing 2x super-slow-mo. In addition, three Sony HDC3300R Super Motion cameras provide 3x super-slo-mo.
“That’s a lot,” laughs Calcinari, as the final total hits him. “You’re talking 17 cameras that are capable of doing slo-mo, which is pretty impressive.”
To the Skies
Last year, the star of the camera arsenal was the wildly popular Spidercam, which captured shots never before seen on an NFL field.
“I think Spidercam in football is a game changer,” says Calcinari. “The shots that we get out of Spidercam are just phenomenal. It can get much lower, it’s much quieter, it takes off much faster. The shots on the kickoff are just unbelievable. The way that [director] Chip [Dean] uses that particular camera on that shot is pretty impressive.”
Aerial Video Systems (AVS) is also back again this year and in a big way. In addition to providing a wireless Steadicam and a wireless handheld, AVS is living up to its name, flying it its own Partenavia P68 Observer aircraft. With its twin engines and high-wing profile, the P68 provides greater range, flight time, and performance than helicopters and blimps. Outfitted with AVS’s Cineflex V14 and Link microwave systems, the P68 is fully HD-capable.
Additionally, AVS will debut the new Link L1700 transmitter, which will not officially be unveiled until next week’s IBC2013. The 1080p-capable transmitter is one-third the size of the existing technology.
On opening night, MNF will also debut an animation and graphics package designed to update the broadcast’s look while honoring the production’s rich history.
On-screen animations will be designed in a generational format, featuring great players and iconic broadcast teams from MNF’s past. Each theme will be broken up by decades and will feature faces ranging from Howard Cossell and Frank Gifford to John Elway and Barry Sanders.
The MNF team will also use some specialty graphics, including Sportvision’s First-and-Ten line, Orad’s virtual graphics systems, and the ESPN-developed ART telestration system that will be used by analyst Jon Gruden.
One thing not to expect is any 4K replay.
“Like everyone else, we’re experimenting with 4K,” says Calcinari. “I don’t think we’re ready to say that’s something that we’re going to put on the show. But we’re going to keep playing with it and paying attention to it, and, when something makes sense, we’ll use it.”
Band on the Run
Monday Night Football is one of ESPN’s top productions of the year, and, as a result, the crew is made up of entirely traveling staffers that work on every game.
Headed up by the talented producer/director tandem of Jay Rothman and Chip Dean, 200-250 ESPN production staff members are on-site for a Monday Night Football telecasts. Local freelancers will be used only in utility and runner roles.
This season will also feature an updated version of the MNF theme song “Heavy Action,” which is created by Resonate Music Group, the boutique custom division of APM Music.
Karen Hogan contributed to this story.