NFL Playoffs 2022: CBS Sports Rolls Out New Sony F5500 Shallow–Depth-of-Field Camera, TrolleyCam, Live Drone for AFC Championship
NFL Today show iw onsite in KC; RomoVision makes big strides
Coming off one of the greatest games in NFL Playoffs history, CBS Sports is primed to deliver its biggest production of the year at the AFC Championship on Sunday. With more than 80 cameras covering the game and its NFL Today studio show onsite at Arrowhead Stadium, CBS is looking to go out on a high note in Kansas City.
“Overall, it has been a really amazing season for us,” says Steve Karasik, VP, remote productions, CBS Sports. “We’re looking forward to another exciting and innovative production on Sunday. I think we showed last week — not just in that unforgettable Kansas City-Buffalo game but also in the Tennessee-Cincinnati game — just how great our production can be. We’re going to carry that momentum into this weekend, and we’ll have every possible angle covered.”
80+ Cameras: Sony HDC-F5500, TrolleyCam, Live Drone, and More
CBS will be well-covered in the air — with TrolleyCam and Skycam cabled aerial systems, as well as a live drone — and on the ground with 16 super-slo-mo cameras and two shallow–depth-of-field wireless RF cameras on the sidelines.
In addition to the “Atlas Cam” RF Sony PXW-FX9 shallow–depth-of-field system that has become a staple of CBS’s NFL coverage, the network will deploy an RF Sony HDC-F5500 handheld shallow–depth-of-field system. The F5500, which first appeared on NFL coverage in November, can switch between a traditional broadcast sideline handheld configuration and a shallow–depth-of-field cinematic configuration.
“We’re very excited about the new Sony F5500 camera because it allows [the operator] to go back and forth between a normal game camera and a shallow–depth- of-field camera,” says Karasik. “We experimented with it on a regular-season game a couple of months ago, but we wanted to [formally] debut it for the first time on a major national game like this. We feel like it’s going to add a whole new element to the broadcast.”
The TrolleyCam point-to-point cabled camera system is back, having drawn rave reviews on CBS’s Playoffs coverage last year and this year (check out the aerial replay shot it captured of a Bills-Chiefs TD at 00:27 in this clip). Provided by Flycam, the camera zips along a wire from one end of the stadium to the other at up to 65 mph to capture “front- row” angles for viewers.
“It gives us a lot of really exciting and different types of shots that you haven’t seen much in football,” says Karasik. “We got a lot out of it last year in the playoffs and so far this year as well. The TrolleyCam really shines on long runs and big plays, so, with the explosive offenses of both the Bengals and the Chiefs with guys like Tyreke Hill, Jamar Chase, and Travis Kelsey, there’s going to be a real opportunity to get some exciting replays out of that TrolleyCam.”
— NFL on CBS 🏈 (@NFLonCBS) January 24, 2022
After deploying a live drone first during a game in Green Bay earlier this year, CBS will bring back the Beverly Hills Aerial-provided camera for the AFC Championship.
“The drone will give a lot of real impressive sense-of-place shots for director Mike Arnold to weave into the broadcast,” says Karasik. “We used [Beverly Hills Aerial drones] a lot on our SRX auto-racing coverage, and they were tremendous. We’re excited to see what the drone can give us on Sunday.”
3G Wireless is also supplying 20 pylon cams across the two end zones, as well as two line-to-gain cameras embedded in the first-down markers.
NEP’s Aerial Video Systems (AVS) is handling RF for all the wireless cameras (including the Sony PXW-FX9) and also providing the RF Sony HDC-3500 handheld, and the RF system for the TrolleyCam system, as well as an RF Sony HDC-P1R Steadicam and an RF Sony 3500 handheld for the NFL Today studio show.
In addition, NEP’s Fletcher division is providing four Sony HDC-4800 high-speed 4K camera systems zoom-in replays, two Sony HDC-P43 high-speed goal-post robos, a Sony HDC-P31 booth robo, two Sony HDC-P1R hallway robos, and a Panasonic AW-UE150 PTZ camera for the commentator camera system.
Inertia Unlimited is supplying the RF Sony PXW-FX9 shallow–depth-of-field camera, as well a Sony Venice 4K cinema camera in the booth to shoot play-by-play man Jim Nantz and analyst Tony Romo.
The broadcaster has gone heavy on Canon glass, including a full arsenal of 4K UHD-DIGISUPER 111x and 122x lenses. In addition, the SkyCam system is outfitted with a Canon CJ20ex5 lens, while the Sony 5500 has a Canon 17-120mm Cine Servo lens.
RomoVision Hits Its Stride: Now Available on First Replays
As this season progressed, so too did CBS Sports’ “RomoVision” augmented-reality–driven replay segments. The technology, which CBS created in conjunction with Second Spectrum (owned by Genius Sports) and the NFL’s Next Gen Stats system, shows 11 X’s and 11 O’s on a virtual field on the left side of the screen as Romo breaks down the play.
By the time the regular season came to an end, CBS Sports was using RomoVision on first replays, thanks to an accelerated turnaround time in the truck.
— NFL (@NFL) December 5, 2021
“We’ve been developing this for months,” says Karasik. “It took a while to get to where we needed to be, but it has gotten better every single week, and it has come into its own for the playoffs. We’ve now gotten turnaround time down to less than 4 seconds, so we can use that as a first replay, which is huge.”
He credits CBS Sports’ operations, technology, and graphics teams for leading the RomoVision effort over the past year, including VP, Remote Technical Operations, Jason Cohen; VP, Engineering and Technology, Mike Francis; VP, On-Air Graphics and Design, JP LoMonaco; Director, Graphics Production and Technology Innovation, Drew Simon; Broadcast Associate Elizabeth Graham; and Lead Replay Producer Ryan Galvin.
“All the credit goes to them and to Tony for embracing this,” says Karasik. “At the beginning of the year, the turnaround time was a little slower, so we would show it on the next drive. It just didn’t feel organic and looked like we were just trying to get the technology in to show it off. Now that we’ve gotten it to the point where it can be first replay, that makes all the difference in the world. And Tony’s energy is just naturally more excited because it’s in the heat of the moment right after the big play has occurred.”
Aside from RomoVision, CBS’s broadcast of the AFC Championship will also feature an abundance of AR graphics, and SMT continues to provide the 1st and Ten Line and other virtual augmentations.
Ops Spotlight: NFL Today Is Onsite; Nantz Calls PGA From KC; All Editing Is Remote
The NFL on CBS A-game production team is on hand in the trusty confines of NEP’s Sharpshooter CBS (A, B, C, and D units), as has been the case all season long. But, with NFL Today onsite at Arrowhead, CBS has also brought in F&F Productions GTX-20 truck to support the studio-show production.
“This is our biggest show of the year, so we’ll have the set right on the field,” says Scott Davis, VP, Broadcast Operations, CBS Sports. “Having the full studio crew and talent on the road for a game of this magnitude is huge, so it makes sense to bring in separate production trucks to do that show along with the game.”
Filmwerks is providing all power for the compound and studio set.
One group that won’t be onsite is the editing team, which will be located remotely as it has been for the majority of its NFL productions this season. And, with the NFL Today production team onsite at the game rather than at the CBS Broadcast Center in New York, the remote-editing operation will be bigger than ever this weekend.
“We have to bulk up pretty significantly on data and connectivity,” says Davis, “so we can serve all that remote editing and all those file transfers. We’re also bringing in a live shot from [the NFC Championship] in L.A., a watch party in Cincy, and a few other feeds. There are a lot of feeds and content coming into the compound from the outside.”
With the NFL adding an 18th week to the regular season this year, the NFL Playoffs have bled into the start of the PGA season. As a result, The Farmers Insurance Open from Torrey Pines in San Diego will conclude on Saturday instead of Sunday, creating a unique scenario for Nantz, who, besides handling NFL play-by-play duties, is also CBS Golf anchor.
He will call the Friday and Saturday golf action remotely from Supershooter CBS D unit at Arrowhead, where he will be preparing to call the Bengals-Chiefs game on Sunday. Nantz, who will also do live on-camera hits from the trailer during the PGA broadcast, will have a dedicated producer with him along with his trusted editorial consultant Tommy Spencer. Nantz’s announce booth will be connected to CBS Golf Coordinating Producer Sellers Shy and the production team in San Diego through a dedicated fiber path backed up by a redundant satellite uplink.
“It’s complicated because we have to provide both IFB and program audio and video for [Nantz] to see when he’s calling the golf,” Davis explains. “And then we also have to [transmit] Jim’s audio and video to be inserted back into the golf show there. We’re doing all that on data paths, and then we back that up on satellite in both directions. It’s a very fairly complicated process, but we’ve gotten it to the point where there is virtually zero latency.
“We now are also able to essentially trunk all of our trucks together in terms of comms, along with the broadcast center, which is a huge breakthrough,” he continues. “[Nantz] can talk to the truck exactly like he would if he were [onsite] at the course.”
Look Back: Managing the Pandemic, Maintaining Production Quality
With the NFL on CBS docket set to wrap on Sunday, Karasik says that, despite the challenges presented by the pandemic, the 2021-22 NFL season is among the most fulfilling of his career.
“I couldn’t be prouder of what our production team, technical team, and talent did this year,” he says. “Our number-one priority through this whole pandemic at CBS Sports has been keeping our people safe and healthy, but everyone still had to deal with the mental stress of traveling again every week for 18 straight weeks and, for this particular [A-game] crew, for 21 weeks in the middle of a pandemic. But everyone just put their heads down, worked hard, and abided by all the [safety] protocols that were put in place. As a result, our production values were still the same that they’ve always been, and we delivered a top-notch product.”
Davis adds that the leadership of EVP, Operations and Engineering, Patty Power and EVP/Executive Producer Harold Bryant helped the NFL on CBS team weather the innumerable challenges presented by the ongoing pandemic this season.
“They have done a phenomenal job of making this a collaborative team effort from the top down,” says Davis. “All of us understand that each respective area has challenges, and we work together to get through those to continue to put a quality product on the air despite all this adversity. As things changed from fall to winter, we had to be ready to quickly adapt on short notice and still deliver the same quality that CBS Sports is known for. I think the group collectively has done an amazing job.”
CORRECTION 1/31: This story has been updated with information regarding equipment provided by Inertia Unlimited.