2014 NFL Preview: CBS, NFL Network Begin Final Push for Thursday Night Football Launch
If your TV is ever tuned into CBS it doesn’t take long to see the massive effort being put into promoting the new Thursday Night Football broadcast TV franchise. And the combined production efforts being put forth by CBS Sports and the NFL Network behind the scenes is shaping up in such a way that it will arguably be the largest week-in-week-out regular season production the NFL has ever seen.
“It is a fair amount of innovations and a lot of equipment,” says Sean McManus, CBS Sports Chairman. “I’m not a believer you just put out as many cameras as you can and hope it goes well, but it is definitely as much equipment as we have [for a sports production] at CBS other than the Super Bowl. So every week, in our mind, Thursday Night Football is an AFC Championship or Super Bowl Broadcast, and it is going to look the same in week 12 and 13 as it does in week one.”
The game production itself will include new toys like a 4K cameras that is suspended between the bench and the sidelines and will go up and down the sideline to capture 4K replays that can offer up HD-quality zoom images.
“If a player looks like he stepped out of bounds the view will be available and the camera can also go on the goaline,” adds McManus.
The production team will also have access to player mics as at least one player per team will be miced each week. “That will provide some quick turnaround voices and atmosphere from the field,” says McManus.
McManus says another step to bringing a playoff-level of coverage to every game is to bring sideline reporters to regular season games and not only for the Thursday night game but all CBS NFL broadcasts.
“It’s a change of philosophy and a change for the better,” he explained.
Also expect new graphics and animations that will be used only for Thursday Night Football. In addition, Thursday Night Football logos and branding will incorporate both the NFL Network logo and the CBS logo.
“The graphics package has some very new and innovative ways to do the starting lineups, which hasn’t been done before,” says McManus. “We are going to have other graphics ideas that haven’t been done before and it will look and feel very big and unlike anything else that has ever been done on television. Sunday and Monday Night Football have their own identity and I think it was important to the NFL that we carved out our own identity. And we have done that and I think it will be well received by the viewers.”
The programming around the game will also be more expansive. The pregame show, for example, will begin on the NFL Network at 6 p.m. and will involve two stages, one along the edge of the field and another in an area with fans. Then at 7:30 p.m. the pre-game show is simulcast on both the NFL Network and CBS stations that will continue until kickoff at 8:20 p.m.
“We don’t look at it as if we are coming on the air at 7:30 when CBS starts it’s broadcast, we look at it as coming on the air at 6 when NFL network starts, so when you see a pregame feature on either network it is going to look the same and the quality is going to look the same,” adds McManus. “Every game on the NFL Network, whether it’s the opening game or the last game, it’s going to look and feel the same. Our top talent and production team will be doing all the games. It really is about as seamless and integrated as you can imagine. If you go in trying to protect your turf on these deals it’s just not going to work.
Harold Bryant, CBS Sports, EVP and SVP, Production, says that Game Creek Video’s Glory and Pride production units will be at the center of the production.
“We will ramp up the equipment levels to our higher-end playoff levels,” he says. “We want to put on a primetime show that is as big and as grand as possible.”
The relationship with the NFL Network is benefitting from the Turner Sports/CBS March Madness relationship as many of the processes, like the need for communication and how to best have two different organizations work together effectively, is something CBS Sports has been through.
“We’ve talked everything through with the NFL Network and have gone through line-by-line to figure out what works and what can improve,” says Bryant. “We’ve moved some cameras around but what the NFL Network already had in place was impressive.”
Adds McManus: “A few weeks after we signed the deal we started a Monday conference call, which Brian is on and I’m on leading our teams and we talk about everything – from music to graphics to commercial integration to promotion. There are no secrets.”
What’s also not a secret is that the first three weeks of the season will be a bit of a grind for the lead production and broadcast team at CBS as they will work six NFL games, accelerating the speed with which game preparations, like meeting with teams and watching practices, is done. But Lance Barrow, Thursday Night Football coordinating producer, has confidence in the team.
“When it comes to doing the football game it’s not a lot different but it’s in primetime and it will be the only game in town,” says Barrow. “And it’s a lot of football but we’re all football people and we wait each year for football to come around on the schedule.”
Out of the new bells and whistles Barrow is looking forward to the use of the 4K cameras.
“It’s the future not only in football but in all sports and all TV so we’re going to try that out and see what happens,” he adds. “But it’s exciting to also have Mike Carey, an NFL official who is well respected and liked as well as Tracy Wolfson as a sideline reporter who can reach out and tell stories and advance other stories.”
Barrow and the Thursday Night Football production team will have a front bench seat to an exciting new era for CBS as the network has two NFL packages and they will be working on both.
“It’s exciting to have two football packages and the entire CBS corporation is behind Thursday Night Football and we are working hand in hand with the NFL to establish the Thursday Night franchise,” says McManus. “And I don’t think we have ever mounted a larger or more expansive promotional campaign than we have for this as from the minute we got the rights the promotional campaign started. We are going to work with the NFL to put all of our resources both in front of and behind the camera to work to make this a success.”