NFL Kickoff 2017: NFL Network Ramps Up Studio Programming at Home, MediaCruiser on the Road
At-home production, new synergies with digital are planned for the new season
After a customarily busy offseason that included in-depth onsite training-camp coverage, a memorable Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement weekend, and airings of all 65 preseason games, NFL Network is ready for the real deal: kickoff of the 2017 NFL regular season. In addition to launching new studio programming at its Culver City, CA, broadcast center, NFL Network will roll out the MediaCruiser mobile set as the home of its TNF GameDay pregame show for the majority of the 18-game Thursday Night Football schedule (which it shares with CBS, NBC, and Amazon Prime Video) this season.
“We’ve taken on a lot more studio shows and original programming this year, and we’re also very excited about our plans for Thursday Night Football,” says Dave Shaw, VP, production, NFL Media. “What’s amazing to me about our team — in our L.A. studios, our crews on the road, and our digital and social folks — is how quickly they can adjust to taking on all this [additional] work and doing it with a great attitude. The communication between us has improved dramatically, and we’re really looking forward to the season.”
MediaCruiser Enters the TNF Fold
After debuting its MediaCruiser for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement in August, NFL Network will deploy the mobile set for its TNF GameDay pregame outside each TNF game with an eye on increasing fan interaction outside the stadium. Designed by XDS and constructed by CGS Premier, the MediaCruiser design is inspired by DuMont Television Network’s classic Telecruiser production vehicles of the 1940s and ’50s.
“We originally built it to be a portable set that we can move around and take to different locations, focusing on Super Bowl and Draft,” says Shaw. “But then we realized that it’s a perfect solution for our Thursday-night pregame show as well. That will allow us to consistently have [pregame shows] at the remote to better [serve] the fans.
Last year, NFL Network produced its pregame shows for CBS’s TNF games out of its Culver City Studios and NBC’s games out NBC Sports’ studios in Stamford, CT. With the MediaCruiser now in place, the TNF GameDay studio will be onsite for every game.
NFL Network will produce the pregame show for CBS games with an at-home production model out of a Culver City control room (using The Switch and Level 3 for connectivity); pregame shows for NBC games will be produced traditionally onsite out of Game Creek Video’s Pride truck.
“We are bringing the shows back here remote-style a lot more than we did previously, so we continue to [use the at-home production model] more and more,” says Shaw. “The media cruiser will help test that even more this year with the CBS games since we’ll be producing our [pregame show] in Culver City with all the stages at the stadium. So there are different production and transmission complexities depending on which [broadcaster] we’re working with.”
No Studio Goes to Waste in Culver City
NFL Network has always injected a healthy dose of studio programming into its slate, and that will continue to increase this year.
In addition to expanding Sunday’s NFL GameDay Morning to a 7 a.m. ET start time, NFL Network has added a two-hour Saturday-morning live show — Good Morning Football: Weekend — produced at NFL Films in Mt. Laurel, NJ (10 a.m.). The Sunday lineup is rounded out by NFL GameDay Live (1 p.m.), NFL GameDay Highlights (7:30 p.m.), and NFL GameDay Prime (11:30 p.m.).
As for the weekday schedule, NFL Network has added a variety of studio shows: NFL Power Rankings, 21st and Prime, NFL Players Only and NFL Playbook. The schedule will also feature returning studio shows The Aftermath and NFL Fantasy Live; NFL Media original series A Football Life, The Timeline, Tackle My Ride, Football Town: Valdosta, and Elite 11; and daily editions of Good Morning Football, NFL Total Access and NFL Up to the Minute.
“We’ve increased the quantity of shows being done in our studios, and we’ve got a lot of great programming this year. We’ve hired some more full-time staff to [accommodate] that, but we’ve always had the hardest-working [studio] team in the business,” says Shaw. “We’re also excited to have our Saturday edition of [NFL GameDay Morning] being done out of NFL Films this year. We already do our early show from NFL Films on Sundays, so this is now a Saturday-Sunday package live from NFL Films.”
Not Just Linear: NFL Network, Digital Teams Find New Synergies
NFL Media’s studio programming boost isn’t limited to the linear cable network, however. #NFLBlitz, a new 30-minute live show on Twitter, is being produced by NFL Network from its studios. The social-centric live-streaming show, which debuted on Aug. 29, will air Monday-Thursday at 7 p.m. throughout the 2017 NFL season.
In addition, NFL has built a dedicated social-media department in Culver City that works closely with all NFL Media entities to create and distribute social-friendly content.
“We’ve done a lot of work over the last couple years to merge the content-creation, digital, engineering, and operations teams,” says Shaw. “We have done tremendous work to make sure that the production teams on both [linear and digital] fronts have everything they need. So now everyone is pulling content from the same content sources, and standards are being met as far as quality and accessibility.”
To serve both NFL Network and NFL Digital, Shaw and company took some of the little remaining available space on its campus during the offseason and merged 40 desktop edit systems to create a central editing and production area for both teams.
“For game day, we created what we call floor pods — where each pod is covering a game with a producer, a logger, and two editors — because one editor just couldn’t service all the needs of both the digital and the network,” says Shaw. “They package content throughout the day and have gotten very organized. The system is very robust, and our team’s done a great job, so it’s culminated in a great workflow.”
Prepping for the Twin Cities: Super Bowl LII Is 21 Weeks Away
Believe it or not, Super Bowl LII is only 150 days away, and NFL Network’s plans for its onsite presence in Minneapolis are already in full swing. In addition to three studio locations at US Bank Stadium, NFL Network will deploy the MediaCruiser at Nicollet Mall and live sets at the Convention Center for the Super Bowl Experience and also at Radio Row at Mall of America. In addition, the network will produce shows from the opening-night festivities at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul and the NFL Honors show at the University of Minnesota.
“We are well on our way in terms of [Super Bowl planning] and are close to having our plans finalized already,” says Shaw. “One thing we know is that Minnesota will be cold. While the game is indoors, we will be on live for 90 hours prior to the game starting on Monday — and we’ll be outside for a lot of it. So we’re making sure to take all the necessary precautions. It’s going to be a great week for us.”