Fox Sports Launches Fox Lab Initiative

Network boots its commitment to innovative live-production tech

Developing and implementing cutting-edge — and, at times, disruptive — live-production technology has been a Fox Sports cornerstone since its inception.

Looking to put all of that hard work and innovation under a single banner, Fox Sports has introduced Fox Lab, an initiative designed to brand and further open the working relationships it has with many of its production-technology vendors.

“We have always been charged with taking big strides in technology as it pertains to sports on TV,” says Mike Davies, SVP, field and technical operations, Fox Sports. “There’s a lot of things that we are proud to say that we have done first.”

In the early days of introducing the yellow 1st & Ten line (with partner Sportvision) and slapping a score bug (or Fox Box) on the screen, Fox Sports emphasized what the network called UVD, or “unique visual difference.” The goal was to get people talking by adding production enhancements that were anything but subtle: “Something you’d notice at a bar,” as Davies describes it.

This year — working with technology companies Sony Hawk-Eye, ChyronHego, Vizrt, Inertia Unlimited, and others — Fox Sports has gone full speed into some innovations that are creeping into sports production: such enhancements as drones, ball tracking (and other graphics enhancements), and even virtual reality.

Among future-facing enhancements, Fox Sports has put significant effort into integrating drones into its sports coverage. This drone was used this summer for at U.S. Open golf championship.

Among future-facing enhancements, Fox Sports has put significant effort into integrating drones into its sports coverage. This drone was used this summer for at U.S. Open golf championship.

“I think what [Fox Lab] does is allow us to really put a brand on the different types of innovation that we do,” says Zac Fields, VP, graphics and technology, Fox Sports. “Putting it under one umbrella allows us to partner with different sponsors to give them a unique message and allows us to utilize those tools in interesting ways for our production team to tell stories.”

Looking ahead, the Fox Lab is set to unveil some developments during the MLB Postseason, including advanced ball tracking and 3D graphic trails developed with Hawk-Eye. Fox is also looking to grow its relationship with Inertia Unlimited as it relates to its ground-based cameras, such as DirtCam. According to Davies, those cameras, which have always been a fixed shot, could now have the robotic ability to pan and follow action.

Davies is also excited about bringing together ultra-high speed and 4K in a single camera. “It’s all well and good to have a nice blown-up piece of video without very much resolution loss. It’s another thing completely to have that with no motion blur.”

Some developments will also be implemented off-screen, where the viewer won’t necessarily notice. For example, Fox is developing better replay and telestration tools that will help game analysts better review plays instantly and at their command.

“It’s an extremely exciting and challenging time to be working in sports television,” says Davies. “The limits are being expanded more rapidly than ever before, and, under Fox Lab, we are being encouraged to go out and test those limits on a daily basis.”

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