Live from Super Bowl XLIX: Inside Look at the Making of a World Feed
The Super Bowl’s impact beyond the U.S. continues to grow and this year 18 countries are on site with productions that range from commentary only to three-camera shoots in studio booths. And for Jeff Lombardi, NFL, senior director of international production operations, and his team the goal is to make sure a wide range of production needs are met and, more importantly, nothing is lost in translation.
“The biggest challenge is technology as it is always evolving and we have to make sure we have the technology in place to accommodate all the partners,” he says. “There are some that are stuck in their ways and then there are the Japanese who are already asking about when the Super Bowl will be done in 4K. So we need to get all of their information and make sure it is accurate. We have managers on each show that collect information and pass it on to us.”
At the core of the international service is a world feed that the NFL produces and distributes in 1080i. Foreign rights holders can take that feed and convert it to other HD formats or downconvert it to standard definition.
“We used to provide both the standard definition and high definition signal but we stopped doing that in 2010,” says Lombardi. “Channel 7 in Australia is the only one network that broadcasts standard definition and their operation involves a camera on the field that is connected to a Level 3 circuit and then they cut between that camera and the world feed back in Sydney.”
The foreign broadcasters will the biggest presence include Televisa and Azteca from Mexico, Germany’s Sat-1, ESPN’s international operations and a separate operation for ESPN Brazil, and Sky Sports in the UK.
“Sky Sports is very ambitious as they have a studio show being done on site,” says Lombardi. “Everyone has their own nuances and specific ideas of what they want.”
Nine foreign broadcasters will make use of more than 20 production trucks from providers like NEP, Game Creek, and Sure Shot to produce personalized game coverage. NEP’s Super B production unit serves as the distribution truck, making everything from isolated camera feeds from NBC, four unilateral camera feeds operated by the NFL, clean and dirty feeds of the world feed, and more available for the rights holders on site.
“They can cut their own shows or just sit on the world feed,” adds Lombardi.
The world feed will be at the center of the on-site foreign network productions and it will also be delivered to more than 170 countries around the world. Creating that world feed will be NFL world feed Director Joe Zucco and Producer Brian Hennessey. This year they will be working out of an expansive production facility as ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” truck, also known as NEP EN1, will be used as it was on site last week for the Pro Bowl.
“This is the real deal,” says Hennessey. The A unit is the main production area and the B unit includes tape, video, and audio.”
Zucco and Hennessey have both been involved with the world feed for nearly 10 years and Zucco says the approach is pretty straightforward.
“We use the resources we have to give the best program to the world feed,” he says. “So most of the time we give them the feed from the [U.S. broadcaster]. We have a handful of cameras, EVS replay servers, and graphics but we certainly cannot replicate what NBC does.”
Hennessey says that the world feed team has access to more than 45 camera feeds, a few of the NBC replay servers, and then a dirty and clean feed of the NBC game coverage and a dirty and clean feed of the halftime show. In addition the world feed dives deep into the post-game press conferences with coverage from all 16 post-game interview podiums.
“We fed down as much good sounds as we can from the podiums,” he says.
The four world feed cameras include a high camera and a reverse camera on the 50-yard line plus a low camera in the left end zone and a handheld. Those cameras will play a key role in providing shots of players, coaches, or officials that play-by-play announcer Bob Papa so that images best match his words.
“During the game we will be on NBC’s feed a lot but we do have the ability to do an iso of a player,” explains Zucco. “And we also don’t want to put out anything with NBC’s sideline reporters or sponsorship elements.”
Anticipating what the U.S. production is doing next requires Zucco, Hennessey, and the associate director to monitor the NBC intercoms so that they can cut out of the NBC feed and then find a good place to cut back in.
“It’s a different philosophy,” says Hennessey of creating a world feed. “I will be watching the [NBC] cameras and my instinct is to tell the cameraman what to do but here I can’t talk to them. So it is against our nature that is to take the best shots and call them. But we are not going to call a better moment than [NBC Sports Director] Drew Esocoff as he has spent a year preparing for this.”
Hennessey says that the biggest challenge is actually the halftime show as there are sponsored elements that can be integral to the performance but need to be sidestepped. So the production team pays close attention to the rehearsal of the halftime show to make sure they have a proper plan of attack. The team also has things like performances from the Super Bowl tailgate party and other video packages at their disposal.
The pre-game festivities feature a similar challenge.
“We will get the timings from the league and NBC and then work on it like we are programming a studio show with pre-produced pieces from NFL Films and the NFL Network to fill the time and educate our audience.”