College Football Kickoff 2023: CBS Sports Welcomes Big Ten, Sunsets SEC, Expands Usage of AR Graphics

Three CBS Sports Network games to feature producer-director working from their homes

It’s both the end of an era and the dawning of a new one this college football season at CBS Sports.

2023 will mark the final season of one of the more iconic brands in modern sports television: the SEC on CBS. Meanwhile, CBS also begins its highly-anticipated relationship with the sports’ other big dog, the Big Ten.

Call it a transition year, a crossover campaign; or whatever you like. What it ultimately means is one of the busier college football programming slates that CBS Sports has presented in recent memory. That means innovation; both at the top-end and in the longtail of CBS’s college football slate.

“It’s a unique season for us,” says Jason Cohen, VP, remote technical operations for CBS Sports. “It’s been a challenge as far as trying to figure out the best way to strategize and organize TV trucks, crews, technologies, and so on, to leverage every game with its unique opportunity to make it as big as possible.”

High-End Shows at New and Familiar Locales

The top CBS college football crew – headed up by Producer Craig Silver and Director Steve Milton – return to their traditional 3:30 p.m. ET timeslot this weekend with the network’s first game of its Big Ten relationship: No. 3 Ohio State at Indiana. The top crew will weave in three Big Ten games this season among its lineup of SEC on CBS broadcasts.

What CBS hopes to bring to its full slate of games is that ‘A Game’ level of production that viewers have come to expect for big Saturdays in the southeast to other iconic venues across the country. The production complement includes everything from SkyCam, to C360’s wired Pylon Cams with pan-tilt-zoom control in 4K, to the Atlas Cam (shallow depth-of-field RF stabilized camera) to drones (likely only in the SEC), and a more expanded usage of augmented reality graphics that the network first introduced to its college football coverage last season.

“I don’t think there’s a college football director in the business better than Steve Milton at making our games feel big and taking advantage of these enhancements,” says Steve Karasik, VP, remote productions for CBS Sports (a veteran of CBS Sports since 1995 and holder of his current role for a decade). “[With a drone] we’re not just putting something on the air to put it in the air. He’ll really be using it in a clever way that makes the show and the game feel like the biggest thing going on that weekend.”

Those AR graphics are developed by CBS Sports’ internal team – CBS VFX – and leverages Trackmen real-time 3D tracking technology on the live video feed from Skycam to deliver eye-catching bumps to production as well as strong visual storytelling tools to break down plays for Lead Game Analyst Gary Danielson.

Prepping to Go B1G

To prepare for its Big Ten future, CBS operations brass spent some of the summer visiting Big Ten venues across the country and consulted with the conference’s lead broadcast entities – FOX Sports and the Big Ten Network – to get a lay of the land of the stadiums and to prepare their resources. They also used the trips as an opportunity to conduct shoots of venues and campus landmarks to weave into live game coverage.

“We’ve been partners with [the Big Ten] for years on college basketball and they’ve been great partners of ours,” says Karasik. “We’re excited to have this new venture with them. It’s going to be very exciting to go into new stadiums; places we haven’t been in many, many years. Places like Ann Arbor, where we’ll be next week doing a game at ‘The Big House. That’ll be exciting for our team. Obviously, we’re very proud of what we’ve done with the SEC over the past few decades. It’s been a great partnership and we’re excited to have one last season with them. But we’re excited to bring that quality of production that we’ve had on SEC football for so long now to Big Ten football. It will be a fun year for us.”

CBS Sports Network Experiments with REMI

Of course, CBS Sports’ work doesn’t stop at the big 3:30 network window. In addition to the network’s partnerships with the nation’s Service Academies (CBS will again carry the Army-Navy Game in December), CBS Sports Network is home to 70 games this season through partnerships with conferences like the Mountain West and Conference USA.

Perhaps the most interesting operations wrinkle in the CBS Sports Network plans is for three games in that package to be produced via an at-home workflow that will have the producer and director calling the broadcast from setups in their own homes. Via a partnership with Broadcast Management Group, Producer Matthew Kushner and Director Alanna Campbell will be on the calls of these broadcasts and will be working with on-air talent still on-site at the game’s venue.

“We’ve done some REMI games, but we’ve never done a true “at-home” game where the producer and director are literally at their homes. We feel like by the end of the season we’ll really have a good understanding of these new workflows and if it’s something that we can utilize more on CBS Sports Network for efficiencies and to give us a different way of producing games and getting them to our audience. We’re learning the technology and it’s exciting to see how these will turn out.”

“What we try to do is we try to take our biggest college football game of the week on broadcast, and we throw a lot of technology at it. Then, on the other side of the spectrum, we’re constantly looking to innovate on CBS Sports Network in ways that may not necessarily be the whizbang SkyCams, but more in methodologies that could help us down the road in the future.”

The first game to be produced under this workflow is Air Force at Sam Houston State on Saturday, Sept. 9 at 7 p.m. ET.

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