CBS’s Massive AFC Championship Production To Deploy Next-Gen Player-Tracking Graphics

SMT graphics system will leverage NFL Next-Gen Stats, be implemented on CBS’s Skycam and all-22 camera

This Sunday’s Patriots-Steelers AFC Championship showdown in Foxboro, MA, will mark the culmination of one of the most technologically innovative NFL on CBS campaigns in history. After debuting on the broadcaster’s epic production of Super Bowl 50, several innovations have become standard for CBS Sports’ A-game productions. Their deployment will be even more robust on Sunday, when CBS Sports’ largest NFL production of the year will feature more than 50 cameras and the debut of player-tracking graphics on the Skycam and the all-22 camera angle.

cbs-afc-champ“We continue to ramp it up with each game,” says Harold Bryant, executive producer/SVP, production, CBS Sports, “adding more cameras, including more high-speed, super-slo-mo, and 4K [cameras]. We’ll have more than 50 cameras when you add it all up; just a few years ago, that was a Super Bowl level. So that’s pretty impressive for an AFC Championship game.”

Virtual Tracking To Be Integrated Into Replays
For the first time, CBS Sports will implement player-tracking graphics (using the NFL Next-Gen Stats system) on the Skycam and the high-angle all-22 camera position showing all the players on the field. CBS has been working with SMT in recent weeks to develop the system (including a full live test during last week’s Divisional game in New England), which will integrate virtual-tracking graphics/telestration of players in replays.

“Essentially, this is an enhanced telestrator that’s combined with NFL Next-Gen Stats,” says Bryant. “On a big play, you will be able to see the exact moves LeGarrette Blount, for example, makes on a big run using a virtual line drawn on the field. Or, if there’s a defender that’s mirroring Antonio Brown step for step, we can put lines on the field to see that. If every receiver is covered — you hear that a lot — we can highlight all the defenders and show how tight they are against all receivers. The [all-22 camera] will give us a high look, and [the Skycam] will give us a lower wide look.”

According to Bryant, the system is fast enough to serve as the first or second instant replay, allowing the production team to integrate the segments into the telecast as they would any other replay.

CBS Sports also worked with SMT to implement the 1st-and-Ten virtual graphic on the Skycam system, which has been used throughout CBS’s NFL Playoffs coverage and will be integrated into the AFC Championship game telecast.

Pylon Cams Come of Age
Over the past two seasons, pylon cams have dramatically changed the way broadcasters cover the NFL, creating new, never-before-seen angles of key scoring plays. CBS has helped lead that effort, and Bryant expects the use of pylon cams to become more prevalent.

“The pylon cams have been a tremendous addition to football broadcasts,” he explains. “I believe it’s going to become a staple in all major football broadcasting in the [near future]. It gives you that great look down the goal line and end line, and that is so important since so many plays happen in those corners of the end zone. It gives you that really low, intimate look, especially when a player is reaching out trying to get the ball over the pylon, which we had last week. And it will only get better as the cameras get better, so there’s a lot of potential for growth with the pylon cameras as the technology improves.”

Inside the Truck and On the Field
The AFC Championship production will be run out of NEP’s SSCBS, which was rolled out for the 2015 season and continues to serve as the NFL on CBS A unit. At the front bench will be Coordinating/Lead Producer Lance Barrow and Lead Game Director Mike Arnold, both working their 13th consecutive AFC Championship games for CBS.

Among the highlights of the 50-plus cameras deployed at Gillette Stadium are 10 high-frame-rate cameras of various speeds and multiple 4K cameras, including a Sony HDC-4800 4K 8X slo-mo system.

Wrapping Up the 2016-17 Campaign
Sunday marks the finale of CBS Sports’ 57th year broadcasting the NFL, and, with its Sunday schedule and the first half of the Thursday Night Football package, the network aired more NFL games than any other broadcaster this season. Among the highlights for Bryant was a simple and sleek new graphics package, which debuted at Super Bowl 50 and carried into the 2016 regular season.

“One of the things we’re most proud of is the implementation of the new graphics look this year,” he says. “We didn’t let up [after] a Super Bowl year, and graphics was a big part of it. For us, it was continuing to push to advance our coverage — whether it was trying out the new virtual graphics with SMT, working in more high-frame-rate cameras, or using the pylon camera more. Sometimes, those things happen for the Super Bowl only and don’t carry over to the season, but we brought a good number of the achievements from Super Bowl into the regular season and the playoffs. So that’s what made us very proud this year.”

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