2014-15 NHL Season Preview: High-Speed Cameras, Dual-Feed Trucks Power NHL on Fox Sports Regional Networks
When it comes to local NHL coverage in the U.S., Fox Sports is king, carrying the local rights for 12 of the league’s 30 franchises. More than 900 NHL games will air on Fox Sports RSNs (regional sports networks) through the 2014-15 season, which gets under way tomorrow.
For the new season, Fox Sports is prepared to roll out some hefty technological enhancements across all regions. Those deployments include plenty of specialty slow-motion cameras, RF cameras, specialty graphics, and new production trucks.
“Our shows are probably the biggest hockey shows across the country,” says Mike Connelly, senior VP/executive producer, Fox Sports Regional Networks, “but we’re just adding little bells and whistles now and simplifying our trucks to make the sharing of content easier across all of the networks and Fox Sports 1.”
Mobile TV Group (MTVG) remains the production truck of choice across all Fox Sports NHL regions; a Lyon Video truck in Columbus, OH, is the lone exception. A new truck is in place in Minnesota for the Wild, and plans are to roll out a new “dual-feed” unit in Detroit later in the season.
The “dual-feed” model of trucks from MTVG has proved a successful strategy at four Fox Sports networks (West, Florida, South, and North). The compound layout features two units: a main 53-ft. expando for the home-game show and a separate unit networked with the main truck for the visiting show’s crew to use.
“It’s made a world of difference in our productions,” says Connelly. “We can split the [Grass Valley] Kayenne switchers; we have 7M/E switchers. It gives both shows full capabilities and all of the resources of a complete show.”
Many of the Fox Sports regionals will start the season integrating Grass Valley’s new LDX ExtremeSpeed 6X ultra-slow-motion camera systems into their production workflows. Some trucks are currently working the MLB Postseason. After the World Series, they will be distributed evenly across the hockey broadcasters, accompanied by high-speed cameras, such as the Dyno Super Mo from Grass Valley and Phantom cameras from Inertia Unlimited.
Fox RSN hockey telecasts range from 12 to 16 cameras, depending on the region. Each network has an RF camera unit, Viz Libero from Vizrt for special graphics for analysts, and all will have audio upgraded to 5.1 this fall.
One unique production enhancement can be seen in Dallas, where Fox is working with team and American Airlines Center officials to cut Plexiglas-covered slots in the bottom of the boards behind each net. There, Fox Sports Southwest will place cameras at ice level for unique new angles.
The technological deployment is impressive, especially for a widespread collection of regionals, but, in local markets, hockey is big business. Despite noted obstacles on the national sports scene, the NHL excels locally in many markets, and RSNs pick up juicy ratings in many cases. That puts Fox in an advantageous position to capitalize on niche markets and integrate them with Fox Sports 1
“We try to take advantage of it as much as we can,” says Connelly. “We educate all of our talent in all of our regions about how important that is. Over the summer, we went and met with a lot of our teams to make sure that they understand that the local show is more important to them than any national show. That’s especially true in areas like Arizona, where there are new owners who are from Canada. I explained to them that their connection to Mexico City is more important than their connection to Toronto. You really have to adapt to your community in order to be successful.”