CBS Sports Looks To Wrap a Season of Innovation With Epic AFC Championship Production

Dual Skycam and new-this-season Field Eye top the tech complement

When CBS Sports closes out its NFL season with Sunday’s Tennessee Titans–Kansas City Chiefs AFC Championship matchup, it will mark the conclusion of one the network’s most technologically innovative campaigns. From the addition of Field Eye (Line-to-Gain camera technology) to an increase in high-speed cameras to more live aerial shots, the CBS Sports operations team has significantly boosted its NFL production complement this year and will lift equipment levels even higher for its largest production of the year on Sunday in Kansas City.

“The goal in 2019-20 from Week 1 was to increase the A game with more facilities, including additional super-slo-mo technology, a dedicated weekly RF sideline camera, redundant power, more live aerials, and new technology such as Field Eye,” says Patty Power, EVP, operations and engineering, CBS Sports. “The playoffs, of course, ramp up week by week until we get to the AFC Championship, which features a significant increase to the tech.”

Going All Out: 75 Cameras for Game, Studio Shows
CBS will deploy a whopping 75 cameras between the game production and remote studio shows at Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium, including two Skycam systems (high and low). The low will carry a weather instrument to measure wind and a decibel meter to monitor the loudest stadium in the NFL.

Lead Director Mike Arnold and Lead Producer Jim Rikhoff will have 15 high-speed cameras at their disposal, including four Sony HDC-4800’s running at 4X slo-mo with high-level zoom capabilities and 11 Sony HDC-4300’s running at 6X slo-mo. CBS will also have PylonCam systems in both end zones (totaling 16 cameras), four wireless RF cameras (including two Steadicams), a jib, two sideline carts, and live aerial shots from a fixed-wing plane.

“Every week, our normal A game includes super-slo-mos, PylonCams, and a Skycam. In the game this weekend, we go way above those levels to capture as many angles as possible from a variety of camera technologies and innovations,” says Jason Cohen, VP, remote technical operations, CBS Sports.

In terms of new technology, the biggest difference-maker this season has been CBS’s Field Eye, which is created by the two wireless robotic pylons carried up and down the sideline to give fans a line-to-gain perspective.

“Increase of the super-slow-motion cameras and a significant increase in live aerials have been great,” says Cohen, “but the Field Eye technology was our greatest new add: two wireless pylon-shaped objects have a robotic head, allowing full 360 pan and tilt with RF transmitters capturing incredible POV angles from the sidelines during game play.”

CBS Sports will also have access to the Intel True View 360-degree replay system installed at Arrowhead Stadium. It leverages dozens of 5K cameras and Intel-based servers (processing up to 1 TB of data) for volumetric capture. Replays in the CBS broadcast will feature 360-degree reconstructions of plays that can be viewed from any angle (for example, the perspective of the quarterback reading the defense).

A total of 21 replay devices — 18 EVS replay servers, three Sony 4500 zoom-capable replay servers — will be on hand for CBS’s largest NFL production of the season, along with five ChyronHego Mosaic graphic systems.

On Set, Inside the Compound: NEP Supershooter CBS, F&F GTX 17 Team Up
The NFL Today studio show will be onsite for the AFC Championship Game with its full talent roster (James Brown, Boomer Esiason, Bill Cowher, Phil Simms, Nate Burleson, and Jason La Canfora) and production team (led by producer Drew Kaliski and director Bob Matina).

CBS has erected two sets, one outside the stadium and one right on the field. The NFL Today production features its own dedicated RF cameras and a jib and will tap into the array of game-production facilities for its two-hour pregame show (beginning at 1 p.m. ET). The NFL Today will also handle halftime and postgame duties.

Inside the compound, NEP’s Supershooter CBS (A, B, C, and D units), home to CBS’s A game throughout the season, will be deployed for game production. In addition, CBS has rolled out F&F’s GTX 17A for the NFL Today studio show (pre/postgame and halftime) and GTX 17B to house studio graphics and four robotic–pan-bar operators.

CBS also has an army of technology vendors onsite to support the show. Filmwerks is supplying the power with two fully redundant twin-pack generators and three UPS systems. SMT is providing onsite 1st-and-Ten Line technology on four hard cameras, the All-22 camera, and the Skycam, as well as handling clock-and-score functions. Bexel is onsite with the audio sideline cart and is supporting RF communications, while BSI handles RF video, including the Field Eye cameras.

A Look Back: A Year of Innovation and Expansion
It has been quite a season for the NFL on CBS production and ops teams, which were coming off an epic production at Super Bowl LII last year. CBS Sports used the Big Game as a springboard to boost equipment levels and integrate cutting-edge technologies into its regular-season A-game production, and, according to Power, the moves have paid off.

“The year has been very smooth thus far from both technical and operations standpoints,” she says. “Being able to grow the regular-season show as much as we did afforded the production team the ability to operate at a regular-season level that more closely matches the postseason, so the ramp-up isn’t as significant and gives the viewers more during the regular season.”