NFL Kickoff 2018: Fox Continues Dual SkyCam, Plans Use of RefCam as Thursday Night Football Debut Looms

Commitment to high-frame-rate cameras remains a hallmark

Fox Sports will generate lots of headlines later this month when it officially takes over production of the Thursday Night Football package, which will happen in earnest on Sept. 27 with a Week 4 matchup between the Minnesota Vikings and the Los Angeles Rams.

But before then, there’s a big opening weekend to tackle and the return of America’s Game of the Week, one of the most-watched programs in all of television. It would be no understatement to say the 24th season of the NFL on Fox may be the network’s biggest yet.

The NFL on Fox returns for its 24th season this Sunday. The network debuts as the new holder of the Thursday Night Football package on Sept. 27.

For the 2018 campaign, Fox Sports will continue its commitment to high-frame-rate cameras for some of the sports industry’s best slow-motion coverage. The main A game — which is the one anchored by the talent of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman with the network’s top producer/director team for NFL coverage, Richie Zyontz and Rich Russo —  will have one Sony HDC-4800 shooting in 4K with as many as six Sony HDC-4300’s shooting in frame rates ranging from 3X to 6X and even 8X, depending on their locations in the stadium.

Fox Sports will also continue to experiment with the dual-SkyCam model that featured prominently last year. The network spent the offseason getting in practice reps with two SkyCams up in the air of a stadium, including visiting an empty U.S. Bank Stadium in Minnesota (where Fox produced perhaps its most exciting game of last season with the “Minneapolis Miracle”) to run some drills. According to Michael Davies, SVP, field operations, Fox Sports, the ops team is trying out new ways of using the systems together, and viewers might expect to see some new moves from those angles this year.

“I think that allowed us to play in a non-pressure atmosphere to find out new things that it might be able to do,” he says.

Fox is also looking to bring back “RefCam” this year but will deploy it in a different way. The technology, originally developed by Vicareo, is typically a camera affixed to a hat worn by the umpire, who stands behind the defensive line and linebackers. This Sunday, however, Fox will have analyst Tiki Barber wear it on the sidelines of the Jacksonville Jaguars–New York Giants game at the Meadowlands. It’s something that production wants to get a look at, and Davies believes it will take only a couple of weeks for the team to know whether the RefCam should be kept.

According to Fox Sports, any other big tech enhancements will wait until later this month and Thursday Night Football’s season debut, but announcements could be coming in the next couple of weeks. Davies points out that many tech tests for the season will likely debut on TNF prior to moving on to Sundays or even playoff games.

Thursday Night Football production will feature Zyontz and Russo at the front bench, and PylonCam will likely make its way to TNF games. In addition, Fox will deploy Game Creek Video’s Encore production unit nearly exclusively on Thursday Night Football during this regular season.

“We are lucky with Game Creek in that they supply us a bit of continuity between these games,” says Davies, noting that Glory A, B, and Edit 4 will handle the weekly Sunday A game. “We’ve been working in lockstep between Thursday and Sunday to make sure that that we’ve got all the bits and pieces we need to make them happen.”

All in all, the excitement at Fox Sports’ L.A. campus for TNF is palpable.

“It’s just a football game,” says Davies, “but, being in that primetime spot, having your schedule mapped out for the season, working with the NFL Network, and opening our New York studios, it’s a big show. We don’t think we’re going overboard on it, but, at the same time, we’re putting in all of the tools and all of the talent that will make Thursday Night Football better than ever.”

Jason Dachman contributed to this report.

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