Fox Sports Detroit, NECF Tackle High School Football With New Production Philosophy

‘Networked Everywhere, Connected Forever’ initiative takes at-home to new level

Fox Sports Detroit this past weekend embraced a new approach to remote production for the Legacy Football’s High School Senior All-Star Game at the Legacy Center Sports Complex in Brighton, MI. The RSN tapped the recently launched NECF (Networked Everywhere, Connected Forever) marketplace to allow the production team to be split among six shadow sites rather than locating the entire production team at a single location or control room.

Fox Sports Detroit tapped NECF to create a new form of at-home production for a high school football game.

According to Jeff Byle, executive producer, Fox Sports Detroit, the two events that the network produced with NECF, the first a game in Kent City and the second in Brighton, would not have been financially viable using traditional production methods.

“With NECF,” he explains, “we had a choice of a number of production models, based on features and cost, which made producing both of these games — and further serving our Michigan viewers — possible.”

The Senior All-Star Game took place an indoor field house that had almost no internet capacity or fiber. Camera signals were sent to a B unit onsite and then, via cellular bonding and internet, to a non-sports control room at Fox Sports Detroit. The director and producer were located at FSD with some replay operations; graphics and camera shading were done from other locations, including a TV station in New England.

“Fox Sports Detroit had full control over these productions,” says NECF CEO Joseph Maar. “They hired the onsite announcers — who could have also been offsite — and the sideline reporter.”

The show turned out fairly well, Byle says, with the biggest issue that the internet was limited, which caused some camera hits as well as a program return in the announce booth.

“We added more facilities to the show, like an RF camera, additional replay source, wireless mics on the coaches, and robos,” he says. “There are very few things that are normal when producing a show in this method, because we don’t use our studio for live events. So it was new to everyone, and nothing was on cruise-control.”

A busy schedule of events, 13 in three days, also required the production team to be stretched more than usual. “There was lots of heavy lifting by all involved,” notes Byle, “but it was worthwhile.”

Also taking part in the two events were Elite Edge Productions, EVS, Good Problem Productions, Haivision, Live (based in Abu Dhabi), LiveU, NESN, Net Insight, Red Brick Sports, Skyway Studios, Teradek, The Switch, and V-Nova.

NECF is a new industry consortium founded by Maar, a seasoned production veteran for networks like NESN and Fox Sports North and ESPN. He says its goal is to bring the sharing economy to broadcast and video production by helping networks like Fox Sports Detroit coordinate various production services and skills from more than 100 global providers and distributors.

He explains, “We provide solutions by coordinating up to 16 verticals from talent to telecom, producers to produsction gear, and strive to help partners avoid costly decisions.”

A New Revenue Stream From Underutilized Resources
NECF looks to increase utilization of equipment and telecom and event staff, which can often sit idle for hours, days, and sometimes even weeks. During primetime hours around the globe, production facilities and control rooms are in heavy use, but, often in the hours before or after the event, the facilities are unused. What if it were possible to make those assets available to new clients around the globe? Even at home, control rooms, for example, can be underutilized.

“In the end, these games air because our model provides marketplace pricing,” says Maar. “The legacy at-home model is outdated; this new model is more in line with the needs of today’s broadcasters.”

Neither a vendor nor a technology company, NECF serves as intermediary between broadcasters and vendors. The vendors — truck companies, communication companies, crewing companies, and many others — contract with NECF but provide the services directly to the broadcasters. NECF is responsible for pricing and for clearing the payments for each event. Using this exchange platform, NECF allow broadcast-production capacity purchased for one event to be used for multiple events with little incremental cost.

“NECF is accepting any vendors and broadcasters who want to be first movers in developing this new revenue-stream model,” says Maar. “As a consortium, we save broadcasters and media organizations time and money while increasing their volume, margin, and productivity.”

As the number of technology and production-services providers grows, the flexibility, reliability, and usability of NECF also grows. Even equipment located in a production truck at an event could possibly be used during downtime to meet the needs of a local TV station or a production located thousands of miles away.

“For content creators, we provide access to previously unaffordable technologies,” says Maar. “For equipment owners, we leverage production equipment sitting idle, thus providing an additional revenue stream. And for production staff, we provide the ability to work closer to home, sometimes even at their own home, if they have a fast-enough internet connection.”

NECF has a patent-pending model and technology that cover 16 verticals, including traditional control rooms, truck resources, and crewing. The goal is also to allow the client to dial in the most appropriate quality of services and talent given a budget. For example, do they want A-level talent that doesn’t have to be onsite, or is B-level talent that is onsite a better fit? Is latency an issue, or can it be increased to reduce transmission costs? Is cellular-bonded signal transport okay, or is satellite or fiber-based transport desired?

“We work with network executives in the finance, production, operations, engineering and programming departments to architect solutions unique to their specific needs and cultures,” says Maar. “Every event or package is developed around the broadcaster’s strategic, long-term needs. We include their long-term partners and help avoid ‘race to the bottom’ pricing, which is not sustainable for the industry to remain healthy.”