NFL Network Flexes ‘At-Home’ Muscles With The Switch for Conference USA Schedule

Five of the 10-game schedule were produced from The Switch’s Burbank, CA, studio

With college-football championship week and bowl season just around the corner, conferences are assessing their regular-season broadcast operations. While organizations like Pac-12 Networks lead the way in producing games remotely, other conferences are moving toward that model. This year, NFL Network forged a partnership with The Switch and produced five of the network’s 10-game schedule of the Conference USA season via at-home production.

“When we picked up one game per week from Conference USA, we put out bids and responses from traditional production [companies], but The Switch came back with an at-home model,” says Leon Schweir, VP, broadcast operations, NFL Network. “There was a price point we wanted to hit, and I think they helped get us there, so we signed up with them during the first week of June.”

Bang for the Buck: Both Parties Save Cash on Crew
The main benefit of an at-home model is its cost-efficiency. With a lighter structural footprint at each stadium, the team in Burbank had a lot of flexibility to customize the production as much as necessary.

Inside the control room at The Switch’s studio in Burbank, CA

“The idea behind it was to efficiently use the crew,” says Glenn Adamo, managing director, The Switch. “One of the challenges of doing college-football packages is getting local operators and technicians that are at a different level. We’ve been able to leverage the workforce in Los Angeles with some of the best technical people to work on our games.”

Onsite staffers comprised announcers in the booth, a stage manager, and operators for the nine game cameras, but the studio in Burbank housed producer, director, TD, and a crew of operators handling audio, EVS replay, and graphics (scorebug and 1st-and-10 line).

Using familiar technicians enhances the value of the broadcasts and also creates camaraderie, familiarity, and a better sense of communication.

“I often had directors or producers come in and be amazed at the crew they had,” says Schweir. “I called it the house band because they’re always there [in the same studio] and they’re all competent technicians.”

Not only did NFL Network and The Switch have complete autonomy on who worked these telecasts, but the decision to go with at-home production put extra money in their pockets.

“[The workflow] was legitimately a 20%-25% saving on what a traditional broadcast would cost since there wasn’t a travel day on each side of the game,” says Adamo. “On the day of the game , the crew came in, worked, and went home usually within eight to 10 hours. It allowed us to maximize the use of personnel that we selected, and it kept the travel costs down to a bare minimum.”

Keeping the Quality: Productions Remain Consistent Throughout
From a network perspective, the choice to work with The Switch was a simple one. Having spent time with the Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences, Schweir is accustomed to churning out a high-level product on a relatively low-level budget. The current season provided reliability with a sturdy home base in Burbank.

“In previous experiences,” he says, “we would sometime have trouble with getting competent EVS operators in a certain market, so we maybe got two when we wanted three or four. We would have those additional EVS operators in the central [Pac-12 Networks] location in San Francisco contribute to that same truck show via fiber and IP transport. Sometimes, depending on the type of event, you want to have quickly edited bumpers or resets. Those were often done back in the studio base and dropped into a folder in the EVS on the traditional truck show.”

Although the productions are being engineered from thousands of miles away, there wasn’t any drop-off in quality.

“We’ve had great success with the at-home version since there was really no noticeable difference between that and the traditional show,” says Adamo. “Somebody had called us and wanted to know when we were doing our next at-home, and I said, ‘Look at the screen now, and you’ll see we’re doing it,’ and they said, ‘Really? Wow.’ As the announcers are drawing on the telestrator, they’re seeing it on the screen as they would if there were a truck outside and a telestrator downstairs.”

Getting Comfortable: Blending Traditional and New-Age Production
Despite each site’s having its own unique set of characteristics, operations at The Switch leveraged the stadium infrastructure when possible.

“Out of the whole 10-game package,” says Adamo, “we had five what we call ‘traditional’ broadcasts and five at-home broadcasts. The five locations [where at-home production was deployed] were fibered — Rice Stadium,  for example. We were able to capitalize on an installation by bringing back the cameras and 24 tracks of audio.”

The crew produced a game between Rice University and North Texas University from 1,560 miles away.

The model combines both at-home and traditional operations to provide a conducive environment for any type of technician.

“The workflows were pretty simple,” he adds, “and, since we did this via fiber, it allowed little to no latency. We tried very carefully to build a facility that allows you to feel like you’re in the truck downstairs at the stadium. So It’s allowing our customers to streamline their live productions without compromising quality.”

The Road Ahead: At-Home Structure Gains Momentum
With at-home models gaining ground in sports-video production and this successful test-run in Burbank, NFL Network has further conviction to deploy this model as a viable solution for other properties in future seasons.

“I knew [this project] would work with the proper diligence,” says Schweir. “We’re also interested in this because, as NFL Media looks to move into their new facility [in the SoFi Stadium entertainment district in Inglewood, CA, in 2021], we know it’s going to be more of an IP-based network that’s going to use HDR. This was another way of getting used to working with The Switch since we’re headed in that direction in the next couple of years. It was overall a very good experience.”

To learn more, make sure to attend “The Switch Case Study: NFL Network CUSA Remote Production Series” at 2:50-3:05 p.m. on Day 2 of the upcoming SVG Summit Dec. 16-17 in New York City.