Donning Thursday Night Football Mantle, Fox Sports Flexes Tech Muscles
Specialty cameras (including dual SkyCams), high-end audio, NYC-based pregame show highlight top-flight effort
After a year with NBC and another with CBS, the NFL’s Thursday Night Football package finally has a long-term home: Fox Sports kicks off a five-year, $3.3 billion deal on Thursday. And, as one would expect, the network is prepared to bring its broadcasting-technology A game.
Its top on-air talent and production crew will work the whole Thursday Night Football schedule, including the folks at the front bench in Game Creek Video’s Encore mobile production unit: producer Richie Zyontz and director Rich Russo. It’s also a group that has had a couple of “practice” swings, if you will, including broadcasting last Thursday’s New York Jets–Cleveland Browns game for NFL Network.
“We feel like we’ve gotten off to a really strong start on Thursdays,” says John Entz, president, production/executive producer, Fox Sports. “This NFL game crew is taking Fox into the next phase of our existence, and we couldn’t be prouder.”
It’s also a crew that has handled numerous big games, including NFC Championship games and multiple Super Bowls. Even so, there’s a special feel to this TNF effort.
“I think it has a little bit of a different feel,” says Thursday Night Football lead play-by-play man Joe Buck. “First of all, when you’re the only game in town — the only time that [we] have really felt that before is when we’re doing a championship game, a playoff game, or a Super Bowl; now we’ve got that feeling every week — and you need to be ready.
“[On Sunday,] a lot of the time [we] would have to talk is taken up by game breaks,” he continues. “While we’re on, something big could happen in our game [when] we’ve got a game break loaded up, and we’re going to tell you what happened in another location and in another stadium. That’s not there [on Thursday night], so it gives you a little more room to play with, and I think you can play with that room in a lot of different ways. You can do straight football, or you can have a little fun with it. And I think we’ve come up with a pretty good balance of football and fun. All of this gives us a little bit more room to breathe.”
Under the Hood: Deploying the Latest Tech
Fox’s take on Thursday Night Football will be loaded with high-end production enhancements. On the camera front, the game broadcast will boast 45 total units, including a whopping eight super-slow-motion cameras. According to Fox Sports, all field-level cameras will be super-slow-motion devices, with one Sony HDC-4800 shooting in 4K and as many as six HDC-4300’s shooting in frame rates ranging from 3X to 6X and even 8X, depending on their locations in the stadium. Building on an experiment during last season’s NFC Championship Game in Philly, one of those Sony 4800’s will reside on the sidelines with the goal of shooting NFL Films-type shots for a more cinematic feel to replays within the game broadcast.
A key feature of this year’s TNF package will be the use of two SkyCams above the action at the same time. The Fox operations team took some time in the offseason to practice with the dual-SkyCam model, experimenting with and practicing new moves and roles for each camera. Although only one SkyCam will be used this Thursday for the Minnesota Vikings–Los Angeles Rams game (the L.A. Coliseum is not suited to the dual-SkyCam layout), the approach promises a new look at NFL football from the air. Fox will use augmented-reality graphics on SkyCam shots as well.
When Intel True View is available, Fox will have access, delivering the sweeping 360-degree replays that viewers have become accustomed to on major football events in recent years. TNF games will also have PylonCams. The latest edition features three lenses built into the pylons at the end of each goal line, adding 12 viewing angles for potential playback.
It also wouldn’t be a Fox production without a strong focus on the audio experience. The whole show will be produced in 5.1 surround, and the network will mike key players on both sides of the ball. To take fans inside the sidelines action throughout the game, Fox is also bolstering its immensely talented audio team with NFL Films technicians.
On the nitty-gritty side, there are more than 25 paths of transmission to and from each game site. Important camera feeds will be fed directly to Fox Sports’ studios in Los Angeles via IP transmission.
Fox also unveiled today the official location for the special Thursday Night Football Pregame Show: Fox News Channel headquarters in New York City. The show will be housed in the network’s new Studio F, which includes an outdoor plaza, Fox Square, and offers spectacular views of Midtown Manhattan. The set has eight cameras, interactive monitors, and AI/virtual-set graphics.
“It’s just a football game,” says Michael Davies, SVP, field operations, Fox Sports, “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.”