SEC on CBS Embraces New Workflows; F&F GTX-19 Is at Center of Production Efforts
Golf, NFL coverage gives the team a leg up on the college football season
SEC on CBS has become a tradition for college-football fans, and it returns this week, with LSU hosting Mississippi State. CBS production, operations, and technical teams have overcome numerous challenges to get the network to this place.
“The past few months have been challenging and a huge grind,” says Steve Karasik, VP, remote production, CBS Sports, “but it has been helpful as it gives us a sense about how to approach these productions. We got a jump-start in June with our golf coverage, and the first two weeks of the NFL and three weeks of college football have gone well.”
The number-one priority since June has been the health and safety of the crew. To that end, CBS Sports has had some production and technical personnel working offsite. For SEC on CBS, that will mean one of the tape associate directors will be located at Freedom Studios in Clifton, NJ, and will be tied into the F&F Productions GTX19 production truck that will be onsite at the games. The truck features a Grass Valley Kayenne Elite K-Frame X switcher, Sony HDC-4300L cameras, Fujinon lenses, Evertz router, and Calrec Apollo audio console. The F&F Productions unit also has some safeguards: positions are distanced 6 ft. apart with plexiglass dividers.
“One of our broadcast associates for graphics will be remote,” Karasik adds, “and the operator who keeps track of all the stats is also remote. We will have two Hawk-Eye replay operators working remotely from their homes. Comms and monitoring will be managed remotely.”
One challenge with covering football on a weekly basis is that, every week, the broadcast booth is a different size. The good news this week: there is plenty of room in the LSU booth for announcers Brad Nessler and Gary Danielson to have many of the support staff onsite.
“People will be more distanced than they are used to, and the stage manager will be virtually connected, cueing up cards for Nessler to read,” says Karasik. “That worked well all summer for [announcer] Jim Nantz with golf and has worked for the first two weeks of NFL and the three weeks of college football. The operations team, led by Coordinating Producer Craig Silver and Lead Director Steve Milton, is getting a sense of each booth; some of them are smaller and can’t fit the entire support team.”
Fingerworks has built a touchscreen spotting system tied into the stats program, allowing the spotter to be socially distanced and control a monitor that the announce team can use to see which player made the tackle, block, or catch.
“We won’t need that this week,” says Karasik, “but, in the future, it will definitely be in play.”
The SkyCam and Pylon Cams will be deployed for the game production, which overall will be robust.
One of the questions facing everyone with respect to new remote-production workflows was, Would the viewer at home notice the difference?
“One of the people working at the studio asked me last week which game was being done with the crew remoted,” Karasik notes. “The fact that they couldn’t tell which was being remoted and which had a producer and director onsite is a good sign that we’ve done our job well. The top priority is to keep the viewing experience the same at home and to cover football the way we have always done at CBS.”
One notable aspect of this season is that the SEC requested that TV partners make game selections prior to the start of the season, when possible, to assist the conference and schools with planning and logistics. For any games not chosen before the start of the season, the normal 12- or six-day selection process will be followed. On Oct. 3, fans will see Texas A&M at Alabama. Also selected in advance of the season: Georgia at Alabama on Oct. 17, LSU at Auburn on Oct. 31, Florida vs. Georgia in Jacksonville on Nov. 7, and Alabama at LSU on Nov. 14. CBS will also televise the SEC Football Championship Game on Dec. 19.
“I can’t express my appreciation enough for what our technical team has done to pull off not just college football but sports in general,” Karasik says. “The group — led by [EVP, Operations and Engineering,] Patty Power, [VP, Remote Technical Operations,] Jason Cohen, and [VP, Remote Engineering and Planning,] Mike Francis — has literally worked every day and night to figure out not just the technology part of this but the health and safety part, which is our biggest priority.”