Live From the Indy 500: NBC Sports Revs Its Engine in Inaugural Coverage
The broadcaster lauds the quality service, synergy, and partnership of IMS Productions
When Memorial Day Weekend rolls around in the U.S., racing fans know what time it is. At the world-renowned Indianapolis Motor Speedway, 33 drivers will rev their engines and embark on a mechanical sprint towards history in the 103rd Indianapolis 500. This weekend also marks a massive milestone for the team at NBC Sports, who take over as the host broadcaster this year, bringing “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” to homes across America for the very first time.
NBC is deploying an impressive arsenal of live video technology to give this year’s race a truly elite on-air look. Much of it is made possible by working alongside the racetrack’s experienced in-house operations unit, IMS Productions.
“From the engineering and operational side, it has been a success working directly with IMS Productions,” says Ken Goss, SVP, Remote Operations and Production Planning, NBC Sports Group. “They’ve been great partners, and they did a terrific job [with helping us] converge all of our operations here. We’re looking forward to our first Indy 500 and are happy to forge a strong, ongoing partnership with IMS Productions.”
A whopping 80 cameras are scattered across the sprawling 560-acre campus, highlighted by a grouping of five Sony HDC-4300s at 6X super-slow motion. These high-speed cameras will be located on the cars’ right side at Turns 1, 2, 3, and 4.
Out of the 21 specialty cameras being leveraged, BSI and Fletcher are providing fans unique perspectives on the day’s competition. With the help of an extensive line of POV cameras, NBC will have on-board cameras installed on more than a dozen cars.
“We’re excited to have BSI here due to our success with them on [NASCAR broadcasts],” says Goss. “When you have a show of this size, it is better for all involved.”
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Fletcher units will help cover the nuts, bolts, and tire jacks of pit row with overhead robos in the boxes of No. 20 Ed Carpenter, No. 21 Spencer Pigot, No. 25 Conor Daly, No. 24 Sage Karam, No. 5 James Hinchcliffe, and No. 12 and 2018 Indy 500 winner Will Power.
Outside the track, a combination of six HDC-3500 and HDC-2400 handheld and HDC-P1 robotic cameras with RF wireless capabilities will allow reporters to conduct hits from famous areas like Gasoline Alley. Down the final stretch near the start/finish line Inertia Unlimited cameras will capture high-speed footage of any close calls near the conclusion of the race.
NBC Sports will provide picturesque and stunning views not only from ground level but also from high above. NBC is deploying cameras on a blimp and helicopter to provide aerial views of the track and an 85-ft. Strada camera system will also take to the skies with looks from inside the concerts in the Snake Pit. Lastly, a Technocrane will also be on hand.
All these cameras will be fitted with lenses that include 20X, 22X, 100X, wide-angle, and a special 180-degree fisheye from the famous Pagoda.
Decked Out Trucks: EVS, Grass Valley, and More in the Compound
Inside the operational nucleus, five trucks supplied by IMS Productions will house a fair number of the 200 staffers onsite. The main race coverage will operate in IMSP’s HD-3 and HD-5 mobile production units. HD-3 is built around a Grass Valley Kayenne K Frame 5M/E switcher, while HD-5 features Grass Valley’s Kayenne K Frame 8M/E switcher. The main race telecast will also have 103 iso record channels at its disposal and a full slate of replay equipment from EVS: four 12-channel servers with ChannelMAX and 10 eight-channel XT3 servers, two with SpotBox and two with IPDirector.
“IMS [Productions’] engineers have done a great job integrating the five mobile units to service the race, as well as the pre- and post-race shows,” said Craig Bernstein, Senior Director, Remote Technical Operations and Engineering, NBC Sports Group.
On the transmission end, NBC Sports is sending 14 discreet feeds out using fiber from AT&T. That’s all being backed up by dual C-band and KU-band satellite uplinks owned by IMSP.
Meanwhile, NBC is loading up its NBC and NBCSN airwaves with wall-to-wall pre-race coverage. Working out of IMSP’s HD-6, Tom Popple, VP, Studio Operations and Facilities, NBC Sports Group and his team are supporting a full menu of programming that will take fans from 9 a.m. ET to the start of the race at 12:45 p.m.
“We have multiple sets with multiple talent,” Popple points out. “We’re at the Pagoda Plaza, at the front of the grid, on the third floor of the Pagoda, and also at the host position. We’re trying to capture the look and feel [of the race] and do something that hasn’t been done.”
Popple is joined on the production team by Mike Sheehan, Coordinating Director, NBC Sports Group, and a bunch of other professionals.
“Mike Sheehan just wanted to get a good shot in front of the grid [that] will be our signature shot and will look spectacular,” says Popple. “Everyone across the board is excited to be here and to be able to work with IMS [Productions] on this collaboration.”
NBC set up shop at The Brickyard near the beginning of last week with coverage of practice and qualifying on the digital front. Through NBC Sports Gold’s INDYCAR Pass, fans indulged in more than 35 hours of content. On linear channels, a special edition of Today took place on Thursday morning with Savannah Guthrie and Tom Hanks. For Carb Day activities, viewers at home enjoyed a live edition of NASCAR America with Krista Voda, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Steve Letarte, A.J. Allmendinger, and Marty Snider.
As the highly anticipated start looms, NBC Sports is upping the ante with close to four hours of pre-race programming. Host Mike Tirico and former INDYCAR driver Danica Patrick will be on the mic starting at 9 a.m. ET. Rutledge Wood and Earnhardt Jr. will report on various segments around Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and Voda, Townsend Bell, and Paul Tracy will be amongst the crowd in Pagoda Plaza.
Talent for the coveted race will be Leigh Diffey (play-by-play), Bell (analyst), and Tracy (analyst). Reporters Kelli Stavast, Kevin Lee, Jon Beekhuis, Robin Miller, Dillon Welch, and Snider will provide the insight of what’s happening down on pit row.
“We’re going to take you through the timeline of everything that happens to build up that moment between the [start of pre-race] and the green flag,” says Sam Flood, executive producer/president, production, NBC and NBCSN. “We have some really special taped elements highlighting some of the stories of the drivers and people connected to this event. At NBC, [we] make you care about people and take you inside a story at a different level. We’re hoping we can tell those same kinds of stories to welcome the entire sports world and not just the race-car fan.”
Staying True to the Mission
Despite this being its first year in the big broadcasting chair, NBC Sports’ creative arm will rely on its core principle of telling compelling stories and bringing a relevant connection to every viewer. With the help of IMS Productions’ technical services, Goss and Bernstein have the utmost confidence that their first run at Indianapolis Motor Speedway will be one filled with immense success.
“[IMS Productions] knows exactly how this works. From the flow of the track to the amount of infrastructure they need to put for fiber, this is their home base,” Goss points out. “They have worked hard to build these facilities up to where they can do a show of this magnitude.”