Fox Sports’ NFC Championship Reaps Tech Benefits From Super Bowl XLVIII
Nearly a year removed from the most-watched program in U.S. television history, and Super Bowl XLVIII is still paying dividends for Fox Sports.
As in previous years, Fox has once again leveraged the technological advances made during its triennial coverage of the big game to boost its production of the following year’s NFC Championship coverage. As a result, this Sunday’s NFL on Fox finale will feature a host of production enhancements reaped from the Super Bowl XLVIII show, including ncam augmented-reality graphics, additional 4K cameras for Super Zoom, and Kernwer’s Z-stage set for the onsite studio show.
“What typically happens on an NFC Championship year following a Super Bowl is, you are pretty close to a Super Bowl scenario in terms of equipment levels,” says Mike Davies, SVP, technical and field operations, Fox Sports. “We maybe have slightly less in terms of sheer quantity, but we were able to take the most important elements from our Super Bowl and include them here.”
Fox Welcomes FreeFly MōVI to Live Sports
One camera that will debut this weekend is a FreeFly MōVI M15 three-axis gyro-stabilized wireless handheld rig outfitted with a Canon EOS C500 4K camera. Fox uses the C500 for its Inertia Unlimited Fencecam system in its UFC coverage, but this version is a wireless unit (BSI is providing RF services). Fox has enlisted an operator familiar with MōVI handheld Steadicams specifically for the game and expects to get a variety of compelling shots to use during pregame, rollouts, and bumpers.
“We got the idea from our friends at Fox Sports Netherlands, who used this MōVI for a single Steadicam shot around the opening of one of their biggest soccer games,” says Davies. “It was this really cool cinematic shot. Using the MōVI, which is used all the time in ENG and field production, for one of the first times as a live camera should provide us with some really interesting and dramatic shots.”
ncam Goes Mobile With TowerCam Rig
Highlighting a camera complement that exceeds 30 in all will be an ncam-enabled robotic camera atop a mobile TowerCam (provided by JitaCam) capable of extending from 6 ft. to 17 ft. high. The unit will provide Fox with the ability to overlay virtual graphics and augmented-reality elements onto the field, including virtual billboard, player comparison, and team-stat graphics.
“We are hoping to get some elements into the pregame with graphics on the field in an immersive environment,” says Davies. “It’s not unlike what we and other networks have done in the past with ncam, but we are looking forward to seeing what kind of flexibility the TowerCam gives us on a wheeled cart. We are hoping to get a few positions out of it rather than the standard [locked-off] position.”
Also on the virtual-graphics side, Fox will be using Sportvision’s Kick Trax system, which graphically extends the goalposts upward on field-goal attempts, to allow viewers to discern whether a kick was good or not.
Plenty of 4K for Close Plays
For 4K Super Zoom applications, Fox will have a Sony F-55 4K camera on hand (as it does for all its NFL A games), as well as a Vision Research 4K Flex provided by Inertia Unlimited outfitted with a Canon Cine-Servo 50- to 1,000-mm T5.0-8.9 EF lens and feeding into an Evertz DreamCatcher replay system. Fox tested the Canon lens during its first-ever golf coverage at the Franklin Templeton Shootout in Naples, FL, in December.
“We typically use those cameras down the sidelines, and it is all about capturing that magic in a bottle and being right there for those close calls,” says Davies. “Sometimes you get nothing, and sometimes you get it six or seven times. Regardless, it ends up being a great safety net for those close calls.”
High Speed and RF Galore
Among the high-speed cameras on hand will be four Sony 3300 super-slo-mos, two X-Mo ultra-slo-mos (provided by Inertia Unlimited), and the 4K Flex.
BSI will provide two wireless Steadicams, one for game coverage and one for pregame along with its role in the MōVI system. BSI will also provide Blue Steel MIC 1500 wireless microphones for sideline reporters Erin Andrews and Chris Myers.
At the Set and in the Compound
Having been at CenturyLink Field in Seattle for the NFC Championship a year ago, Fox opted for the same location for its onsite pregame/halftime/postgame set. The Kernwer-designed Z-stage features a five-man desk and was custom-built for Fox’s Super Bowl coverage
Inside the truck compound, Fox is operating out of its primary Game Creek FX trucks (A, B, C, and D units), which are used for all its NFL A games. Game Creek Liberty will serve as the home of the onsite studio show (as it did for last year’s Super Bowl), while Bexel BBS1 has also been brought in for a variety of ancillary operations.
Most notably, Fox has rolled in Game Creek’s new double-expando edit truck, which will be a staple of its NASCAR coverage come February. The custom-designed unit (which debuted at the Franklin Templeton Shootout) can be split into two large edit rooms and two small rooms or six small rooms, depending on the needs of the production.
The NFL Championship will mark the end of an era because the FX trucks will move to Fox’s B games next year to make way for Game Creek’s new state-of-the art Encore mobile unit.
“We are really excited about these trucks,” says Davies. “The sheer size —in terms of both physical space and routing capacity — is going to be something that simply hasn’t been seen before.”