NFL Kickoff 2018: From Green Zone to Dual SkyCams, NBC Sports Has Big Plans for Sunday Night Football

Full access to NFL Next-Gen Stats, upgraded ND1 D unit are also on the agenda

Kicking off the 2018 NFL campaign tonight in Philadelphia, NBC Sports is bringing new and enhanced production elements to its Sunday Night Football slate. From the much discussed new Green Zone graphic — which illustrates the distance between the line of scrimmage and the first-down marker — to a heavy dose of SkyCam and NFL Next-Gen Stats to its largest camera complement to date, fans can expect Sunday Night Football to once again be among the most innovative properties in all of sports.

Green Zone Takes the Field
The “Green Zone,” which debuted on the Arizona Cardinals–Dallas Cowboys game Aug. 26, highlights the distance needed on third down to reach the first-down marker. The broadcaster worked with SMT, longtime provider of the 1st-and-Ten graphic, to make the field surface a darker shade of green between the line of scrimmage and the yellow first-down line.

NBC debuted the Green Zone on the Arizona Cardinals–Dallas Cowboys game Aug. 26. The SMT virtual graphic highlights the distance needed on third down to make a first down.

Although the graphic created plenty of controversy and opinion on Twitter, NBC expects it to be a key storytelling device, allowing viewers to see just how far players will have to go at any point during the play to make a first down.

“The Green Zone was originally developed for when we do live game coverage from SkyCam,” says NBC Sunday Night Football Executive Producer Fred Gaudelli. “It allows the viewer to better tell how far ahead or behind the runner is from the line of scrimmage or close to gaining a first down. We liked how it looked and functioned so much, we decided to use it on third and fourth down from the conventional play-by-play camera. Again, we think it’s a stronger visual for the viewer, and it doesn’t detract from the viewing experience.”

Although the system can be used on any camera on which the 1st-and-Ten line is available at any time, the system will be deployed primarily on third/fourth downs and on SkyCam.

“It’s unique that we can alternate the system camera by camera,” says SMT Coordinating Producer Tommy Gianakos. “The lighting and the look of SkyCam is very different from any of the hard cameras in a lot of games. To bring that color up a little bit more is important for how that camera has evolved over the past few years. To be able to enhance that view as much as we can is very important.”

Eight SNF Games To Get Dual SkyCam Treatment
Having first deployed dual SkyCams last season and even used the system as the primary play-by-play camera on two Thursday Night Football games, NBC will continue to ramp up use of the four-point aerial systems in 2018. The network plans to deploy two SkyCams on at least eight games this season plus its NFL Playoffs coverage. In addition, the production team will produce several series each game using SkyCam as the main play-by-play cameras, according to Gaudelli.

“Yes, we will do a handful of series live from SkyCam in every Sunday Night Football telecast,” says Gaudelli. “Last year, on Thursday Night Football, we did two games predominantly from SkyCam. When we went back and watched with a critical eye, we liked the visceral feel one gets from watching the play live from SkyCam.”

According to Gaudelli, NBC hopes to position the SkyCam in different new locations this year, such as shooting down the line of scrimmage on third or fourth and one. In addition, NBC is looking to shoot from behind the defense when teams are in the red zone.

“This has all evolved from that game last year in New England, where the fog came in and our upper cameras were virtually useless so we used SkyCam for our main coverage. We had great reviews from that,” says Tim Dekime, VP, NFL operations, NBC Sports Group. “This year, Fred will devote various downs and series totally to SkyCam. He really liked it a lot, and we are working with the league to get more locations where he can place those SkyCams. The hope is that Fred will be able to use the SkyCam at different new angles than we have used in the past.”

Including both SkyCam systems, NBC now has its largest SNF camera complement to date: 39. The broadcaster has brought back its Sony HDC-4800 4K cameras (equipped with Fuji glass and running at 8X slo-mo) at left/right end zone and near/far-left sideline positions.

The network has also increased its arsenal of Sony HDC-4300’s to a dozen: nine running at 6X slo-mo (upgrading low-left/right end-zone positions from 4X last year), one in 4K (high-left end zone), and two in 4X slo-mo (with upgrade to 6X planned for early in the season) — all outfitted with Canon lenses. Football Night in America has added a second Steadicam for its pregame coverage this season.

NBC Gets Full Next-Gen Stats Access
This season, the SNF production team will have full access to the NFL Next-Gen Stats system, driven by Zebra Technologies and SMT. The system — which uses RFID chips in the balls and in players’ shoulder pads to capture high-speed player data and convert it into real-time usable statistics — has been integrated into NFL telecasts in the past but will be used on a larger scale this season by NBC and other NFL broadcast partners.

From an operations perspective, NBC is deploying its own manned all-22 camera position for NFL Next-Gen Stats, rather than taking the coach’s feed as it has done in the past. In addition, it has added a second SMT operator position to handle the Next-Gen Stats system.

“Since we are going to have full access to Next-Gen Stats this year, we needed to add own high-55, all-22 camera,” says Dekime. “For many years, we’ve been taking the coach’s camera feed for the all-22; now we have to have our own configured camera there in order to get the Next-Gen Stats feed.”

As Footprint Grows, ND1 D Unit Gets a Facelift
NBC Sports SVP, Operations, Ken Goss notes that the scope of the Sunday Night Football production has grown over the years. So too has its onsite footprint. NEP’s ND1 (A, B, C, and D units) mobile unit is back but with a new double-expando D unit, which houses SMT, two edit suites, virtual graphics, RF- and robotic-camera operations, and transmission.

“We outgrew the former D unit,” says John Roché, senior technical manager, NEP. “Quite a lot is packed into the D unit, and, with a double-expanded truck, we can comfortably fit personnel and equipment for new technology.”

NBC Sports is also deploying a new UPS power system provided by Aggreko, according to Keith Kice, technical manager, SNF, NBC Sports. “The system consists of four pods that contain the UPS systems and an automatic transfer switch. Each pod is also climate-controlled. There are two 100-kVA 400-amp UPS systems and four 50-kVA systems located within the four pods. The UPS system is computer-driven and eliminates any outage due to possible house power issues.”