SVG Summit: Network Execs Share 2015 Plans
New studios, new events, and new workflows are all on tap for some of sports broadcasting’s biggest national networks as executives from CBS Sports, ESPN, Fox Sports, and MLB Network took to the stage to discuss 2015 plans during the 2014 SVG Summit.
The MLB Network, for example, is building a new 8,000 sq. ft. studio that will be home to a new morning show and give the network a third studio. Located next door to the current MLB Network facility in Secaucus, NJ, the building will also include more office space and a cafeteria, putting the network squarely into the realm of having a campus.
“It’s amazing how quickly you can outgrow your space and we are bursting at the seams,” explained Susan Stone, MLB Network, SVP, Operations and Engineering.
The MLB Network currently has two studios and they are constantly doing back-to-back shows and that limits the opportunities for pre-taping segments or programs. But the new studio will also give the network a chance to have a new look.
“In our main studio we do a lot and hours of hours of programming so when adding a new two-hour show it seemed like we needed to differentiate it,” said Stone.
From a programming standpoint the move gives MLB Network even more live content which tends to do better in the ratings.
“There is a lot of news that happens in the morning and this also gives us a chance to use newer technologies like LED lighting and new virtual enhancements,” she added. “So this is an opportunity to move forward.”
The MLB Network isn’t the only sports broadcasting network undergoing a facelift. Fox Sports will open up a revamped technical operations center in Los Angeles that will feature 60 control rooms and three co-ordination rooms for programming on FS1, FS2, FX, Nat Geo, and more. And as if that isn’t enough the network will also tackle two massive events next June for the very first time, the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada and the U.S. Open outside of Seattle, while also producing NASCAR, MLB, and even coverage of the Champion’s League. Game Creek Video will build a new truck for the golf coverage (called Encore) and A-level NFL games that will also be offer an industry first: an Evertz all-IP routing switcher as the size of the shows requires a new philosophy in routing.
Pete Radovich, CBS Sports, creative director, offered insights into the launch of Thursday Night Football, a joint effort between the team at CBS and NFL Network.
“It was a big thing for us and we still have a full slate of Sunday games so we basically added a pretty big primetime event to our plate,” he explained. “And doing high-quality, high-production value NFL coverage in the middle of the week was challenging.”
Work on the project began in May as the two networks came together to give the coverage a new logo, color palette, and graphics look compared to the Sunday games that CBS broadcasts.
“The easy thing would have been to take the look we already had but we wanted a distinct look,” said Radovich. “It took a lot of work…and was a difficult sprint that was the toughest deadline I have ever faced.”
Assembling the production team for the additional game was solved by doubling up the Sunday A crew.
“It’s all for the greater good and everyone was on board although when we found out in the spring it blew up a lot of people’s summers,” added Radovich.
ESPN, meanwhile, is gearing up for one of its biggest production efforts ever: the first-ever College Football Championship Game, to be played at ATT Stadium in North Texas on January 12. And later in the year ESPN will take over host duties of the U.S. Open tennis tournament in Queens, NY. Don Colantonio, ESPN, senior director of Production Elements and Interactive TV, said that ESPN is also looking to bring more SportsCenter productions on the road. For example, when Lebron James returned to Cleveland for the first game of the season SportsCenter was there.
“It helps us drive and increase the depth of coverage and reach to the audience,” said Colantonio. “It’s a great promotional tool.”
Delaney added that all sports broadcasters face the same challenge: squeezing as much as you can out of an event.
“Like a fastball in baseball everything else comes off of the event,” he explained. “And it’s about talent and how much they can talk and entertain.”
The continued expansion of “at home” productions are also becoming more reliable and less experimental. ESPN, for example, will have more events produced from control rooms in Bristol, CT and the MLB Network will continue to use control rooms in Secaucus, NJ to remotely produce studio shows taking place hundreds or thousands of miles away. Cost savings can quickly hit six figures, an important step in an age where rights are getting more and more expensive.
“We have a fantastic graphics department in Secaucus and trying to replicate it would take too much time and cost and give us about the same look,” she explains. “And with the cost of bandwidth going down and down it is easier to do a lot more from Secaucus.”
Even if a network is not producing the show from a home studio the use of pipes to allow for graphics and other content to be delivered between broadcast center and remote location continues to become more and more the norm.