CBS Sports’ Super Bowl LV Plans Have All the Angles Covered With 120 Cameras, Specialty Rigs
An almost 3D look, augmented reality, new graphics will enhance America’s most-watched event
CBS Sports is pulling out all the stops for Super Bowl LV. When the game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs kicks off Feb. 7 at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium, the production will include 120 cameras, never-before-seen camera angles, and a Trolley Cam flying alongside the field from 10 rows up.
“This is the biggest event in America each year,” notes CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus, “and we couldn’t have asked for a better matchup, with arguably the greatest player of all time and the most exciting player in the NFL.”
Producing football in a pandemic has been different, he says, adding that the same strict procedures and protocols that have been in place all season to keep staff safe will be part of the plan. “We will have testing and screening and wearing of PPE, and we also have extra mobile units for social distancing.”
McManus lauds the job Coordinating Producer Jim Rickhoff and Lead Director Mike Arnold have done in maintaining the quality of the production each and every week. He notes that Arnold will be directing his sixth Super Bowl (and working on his 13th since his first in 1982).
“We’ll also have all the bells and whistles, cameras with unique views,” McManus adds. “It will be an incredible technical showcase.”
Noting the numerous challenges getting to this point, Harold Bryant, executive producer/EVP, production, CBS Sports, says, “We’ve embraced those challenges, and the quality and innovation are better than ever going into this Super Bowl. It allows us to bring viewers closer to the game, and that is our goal.”
The arsenal CBS will rely on totals 120 cameras, including 32 in the eight end-zone pylons, two wireless pylon cameras that will move along the sidelines with the down markers, 18 robotic cameras, four flying cabled cameras, 25 super-slo-mo cameras, 10 4K cameras, two 8K cameras, and a camera on a MovieBird crane. Those cameras will be part of more than 350 channels of replay recording/playback, with Rickhoff and Arnold calling the shots from NEP Supershooter CBS.
Topping the list is Trolley Cam, one of four flying camera systems that will be in use. The Trolley Cam will speed from one end of the stadium to the other, zipping along a wire and positioned to provide the viewing angle of a fan in the eighth row of the stands. The rig can travel up to 65 mph and will provide a look at the players from a vantage point not used in the history of the Super Bowl.
Rickhoff says the Trolley Cam, which was tested last week at the AFC Championship Game, is an example of a new look that is possible only because of the absence of fans in the stands. “It goes across the field and runs parallel and will give a look you might not have seen.”
Adds Bryant, “It’s almost a perfect view.”
In recent weeks, one of the most buzzed-about technical additions to NFL broadcasts has been the Sony Venice camera, which CBS has used to capture images following a scoring play, during warm-ups, or on the sidelines. Offering a completely fresh look with a shallow depth of field. Offering a completely fresh look (some liken it to a 3D videogame), two Sony Venice cameras, provided by Inertia Unlimited, will be used for the first time ever live at a Super Bowl: one will be operated on a traditional Steadicam rig; the other will be on a MōVI rig.
“[The Venice camera] almost has a 3D look,” Bryant points out, adding, “It will be moving and walking onto the field with players during timeouts.”
Crane shots will also, literally, get a big improvement with the use of a 53-ft. MovieBird crane, traditionally reserved for major motion pictures and television productions. It will be located on the upper concourse to give dramatic sweeping shots of the Super Bowl Today pregame set and game action, as well as serving as one of the many augmented-reality–encoded cameras strategically placed throughout the stadium.
“It will give us a very cinematic look,” says Bryant, noting, “It’s the first time we’re using it.”
To provide new angles of coverage during the game, 10 4K cameras and two 8K cameras will be scattered throughout the stadium, allowing the production team to extract close-up shots in key moments. The 4K cameras will be controlled robotically from high up in the stadium concourse levels, and the two Sony 8K cameras will be fixed on robotic gimbals slung to the stadium in a way that provides an angle from near field level for a unique view of the action.
“On replays,” Bryant explains, “we will be able to zoom in tight when we need a clear shot of something, like a foot on the line.”
America’s most-watched event, the Super Bowl is a great time to bring out unique graphics looks. CBS will use four augmented-reality cameras to provide the Super Bowl LV motif of sea and sand. Animations, in-game graphics, and augmented reality will be deployed to enhance the viewer experience. Powered by Unreal Engine, embers and particles will light up the Tampa night with detail never before seen on sports television.
“AR will be weaved in throughout the game to help tell the story,” says Bryant.
All year long, CBS Sports has decentralized its NFL coverage, and that will continue for the Super Bowl. Remote replay operators working from home will provide instantaneous footage playbacks, and dozens of other editors, graphic operators, and show-production personnel will be located at the CBS Broadcast Center in New York City. McManus says that, although those remote-production workflows have allowed production teams to become more nimble and flexible, he expects those workflows long term to impact mid-level productions like basketball rather than top-tier events.
Workflows for Super Bowl LV aren’t the only thing that have changed since CBS broadcast Super Bowl LIII two years ago. McManus says CBS is much more powerful than it was then, having been fully integrated within Viacom.
“It provides us promotional opportunities we have never had before, and we can take advantage of those,” he explains. The Nickelodeon game, he says, was a perfect example: it received enormous attention and unbelievable reaction and is the kind of opportunity that will transfer to other events in the future and even with other networks, such as MTV.
“It was a different kind of broadcast,” he acknowledges, “but we learned you can have fun and do some crazy graphics and overlays. It opened up our eyes a little bit to maybe trying some things and having some fun.”
And it is part of an NFL season that, despite all the challenges, saw the league do what no other professional sports league did this year: start on time, end on time, and play every game.
“I do want to thank the NFL for putting the season on almost flawlessly,” says McManus. “There is great anticipation for the game, and it comes at an important time. America needs this Super Bowl. It’s a great opportunity to come together: it’s uplifting, unifying, and a celebration of everything that is great about this country.”