NFL Kickoff 2021: CBS Sports Is Back Onsite With Reinforced Production Arsenal
The broadcaster also plans another Wild Card simulcast on Nickelodeon
After airing the National Football League’s biggest game in two of the past three seasons, CBS Sports has introduced a blistering number of production techniques, and, despite this being a non-Super Bowl year, the Eye Network is bullish on the upcoming season. The return of onsite crews is noteworthy, but implementations like the Sony Venice cinematic camera in its second season, line-to-gain technology, and player tracking will make this season a pleasurable experience for fans at home.
“We had a great season last year, but it was heavily dominated by the pandemic,” says CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus. “[The pandemic] is certainly not over, so health and safety are still a major factor in regard to all of our productions and studio shows.”
In the Compound, On the Sidelines: Onsite Crews Have a Familiar Environment
The 2020 season was full of twists, turns, and random cancellations that pushed logistics to the limit. With the rollout of the vaccine and a better understanding of COVID-19, CBS Sports has developed a plan that promotes a safe work setting for everyone involved. Instead of last year’s remote workflows, coverage of top-tier games will rely on crews located in the television compound at the stadium. It’s a welcome development, but McManus believes that there is still work to be done.
“I don’t think we’ll be back to where we were before COVID, but we’re getting closer,” he says. “Our crews will be vaccinated, and the mobile units will be back to their normal configuration.”
These decisions will be adaptable to the country’s continued reaction to the Delta variant, but current plans are for the first few weeks of productions to follow a more traditional approach. A customary mode of communication last year, Zoom meetings will be decreased in favor of in-person production meetings with coaches, players, and other key individuals to script out storylines to be addressed on the telecast. Sideline reporters — Tracy Wolfson, Evan Washburn, Melanie Collins, AJ Ross, Sherree Burruss, and Amanda Balionis — will not have to operate from the first row of each stadium.
“Announcers will be back on the field, unlike last year,” adds McManus. “There will not be as much social distance as there has been in the past.”
Ultimate Viewing Experience: New Broadcast Elements for Better Storytelling
Led by Executive Producer/EVP, Production, Harold Bryant, the season will feature a new bag of broadcast enhancements. As the industry continues to adopt the cinematic look, the Tiffany Network will further the use of the technology. A Sony Venice camera on a Steadicam rig will once again provide shallow–depth-of-field shots of touchdown celebrations in the end zone, player entrances out of the tunnel, and other close-up shots during warmups or halftime.
In addition, robotic line-to-gain cameras and such technologies as 4K Zoom and Hawkeye will allow fans to see game-changing plays during challenges and other replay opportunities.
CBS Sports also is doubling down on its use of super-slow-motion cameras during each broadcast as well as promoting its new graphics package. Debuted during Super Bowl LV, the on-air elements have been refined to evoke a more classic look and feel. Player tracking will also play a vital role in storytelling each week. Second Spectrum, a provider of data-tracking and visualization solutions under the umbrella of Genius Sports, will generate information for Next-Gen Stats and analytical graphics seen on the broadcast.
Pregame Prep: Inside the NFL on Paramount+ Highlights Programming Changes
NFL on CBS will still have familiar faces, but fans will have to access Inside the NFL through a different medium. Moving to Paramount+, the broadcaster’s premier streaming service will highlight the previous week’s action every Tuesday and set the table for the upcoming slate of games. The Emmy Award-winning studio show that once called Showtime home will feature James Brown, Phil Simms, newcomer Julian Edelman, Ray Lewis, and Brandon Marshall.
On linear television, The NFL Today on Sunday morning will feature its regular crew of Brown, Simms, Bill Cowher, Boomer Esiason, Nate Burleson, and Boomer Esiason. As for game coverage, the trio of Jim Nantz, Tony Romo, and Wolfson will head the A games each weekend alongside Lead Game Producer Jim Rikhoff and Lead Game Director Michael Arnold.
Other game-day personalities on hand will include Ian Eagle, Charles Davis, and Kevin Harlan. To access a full rundown of assignments for the first two weeks of the NFL season, click HERE.
Building On Recent Success: Nickelodeon Simulcast Headlines Late-Season Efforts
Although 2020 had its fair share of obstacles, there were success stories over the course of the season. The most notable was the simulcast presentation of the New Orleans Saints vs. Chicago Bears on Nickelodeon during Wild Card weekend. The special broadcast attracted a new generation of NFL fans with AR-powered slime overlays and show-specific graphics like SpongeBob Squarepants. Because of the positive buzz generated by the game — more than 2 million viewers watched the simulcast — additional Nickelodeon-based content was pushed to social media before Super Bowl LV. Give this success, CBS Sports is committing to another edition during the late Wild Card window.
“Nickelodeon has been having very productive talks with the NFL about potentially doing more programming,” says McManus. “It’s a demographic that the league wants to reach, and they saw how incredibly effective Nickelodeon is with reaching that audience.”
NFL on CBS kicks off on Saturday, Sept. 12 with seven games: a quintuple-header — Jaguars vs. Texans, Chargers vs. Washington Football Team, Jets vs. Panthers, Cardinals vs. Titans, and Steelers vs. Bills — at 1 p.m. ET and a doubleheader – Browns vs. Chiefs, Dolphins vs. Patriots — at 4:25 p.m.