146th Preakness Stakes: NBC’s Pimlico Setup Builds on Onsite Derby Production
Health and safety protocols are eased with changing CDC guidelines
After a return to big-time onsite productions at the Kentucky Derby, NBC Sports is at Pimlico this weekend for the second gem in horseracing’s Triple Crown. All three of NBC’s 2020 Triple Crown races were produced remotely, with the production team located at NBC Sports’ production-operations center in Stamford, CT. This year, however, the production team is back at Pimlico, along with Director, Sports Operations, Tim Dekime and Senior Technical Manager John Roché, who were focused on NBC Sunday Night Football during last year’s delayed race in October.
“Since [the Preakness and Derby took place during] football season last year, John and I couldn’t even be here,” says Dekime. “So [Technical Manager] Keith Kice was able to focus on this while we were focused on NFL, which created some continuity since he knows [Triple Crown productions] well. This year, it’s really good to be back and have a full operation onsite again.”
Stamford Still in the Mix: Editing and Graphics Operate Remotely
At the Preakness this weekend, NBC’s primary production team will once again be housed in NEP ND1 A, B, C, and D mobile production units — as was the case at Churchill Downs. Unlike at the Derby, though, NBCSN’s broadcast also will be produced out of ND1 instead of in Stamford.
“I think the 2020 [Derby] was a different year altogether, but we learned a lot,” says Dekime. “This year at the Derby, we did a hybrid [production] of what we did in 2020 and our [traditional onsite] setup that we had done in the past. Our NBCSN broadcasts were produced and directed through Stamford, and our NBC network broadcasts were done onsite with ND1, so we eliminated a TV truck that was dedicated to NBCSN in the past, and those cameras were streamed back to Stamford.”
However, with far fewer hours of NBCSN programming for the Preakness than for the Derby, NBC elected to locate all productions onsite in ND1. Although the front bench will be in Baltimore, the bulk of NBC’s graphics and editing teams will once again be in Stamford, deploying the same setup as for the Derby.
“We have a lot of editing being done back in Stamford, along with our graphics operations, and that worked out really well [for the Derby],” says Roché . “It’s very similar to what we do for Sunday Night Football, so we just basically mirrored that. The only difference with football is, there are a lot more cameras coming from the site. But it has been successful, and I think everybody thought was a good formula [for the Preakness].”
According to Roché, NBC has deployed 31 cameras at Pimlico, primarily a mix of Sony HDC-4300’s (including four in 6X-slo-mo mode), 2500’s, and 1500’s plus one HDC-4800 4K high-speed system and one HDC-P1R POV — all with Canon lenses. BSI is also on hand supplying seven RF cameras.
As CDC guidelines continue to evolve, so too do NBC’s onsite safety protocols. For example, if on-air talent is vaccinated, they now need to be separated by only 3 ft. — instead of 6 ft.. — on the set or in the announce booth.
“We still have very stringent safety protocols,” notes Dekime, “but, as CDC guidelines are changing, so are ours. We are still [enforcing] mask wearing and social distancing. We also have rented a large catering trailer so people could be separated during meals, as well as additional office trailers so we didn’t have our talent and staff crowded together in one small area. Even as [protocols] change, we certainly continue to do a lot to create more space so we can social-distance.”
Despite the lessening of social-distancing regulations, NBC’s main set will be the same expanded desk used at the Derby, allowing all talent to be separated by 6 ft. Dekime expects the set at the Belmont next month to have a more traditionally sized set.
“In order to have a larger depth, we have to [expand everything] from the platforms to the lighting,” says Dekime. “We have a pretty elaborate lighting truss set up and have heightened the rooftop to account for the larger desk and the lighting.”
A Look Back at the Derby: Drone Is Popular with Crew and Viewers
Though not deployed at Pimlico this weekend, the drone that debuted on NBC’s Derby coverage was a hit among production personnel and viewers. Provided by Beverly Hills Aerial (which also provided the drone for NBC’s outdoor NHL game in Lake Tahoe), the heavy-payload drone featured a Sony HDC-P50 camera and captured shots never before seen in Derby telecasts.
“They loved the drone in the production room, and it got some great shots,” says Roché. “The only limitation was that the battery could last only 10 minutes at a time because we were dealing with a heavy payload. But the shot worked great.”
Dekime adds, “That’s the restriction of having a drone with a heavy payload. But they were extremely happy with the shots that we got, and I would imagine the drone will be a part of our broadcasts to the future.”
Whether it’s at the Derby, the Preakness, or next month’s Belmont, Dekime and Roché are just happy to see some familiar faces in the compound after such a challenging Triple Crown year in 2020.
“On the technical side of things,” says Roché, “it’s just good to see a lot of people back to work, and everyone here is so happy be back to work. These are some of the most capable people around, and it’s great to be back [onsite] and see them here again.”