Super Bowl LVIII: Nickelodeon, CBS Sports Are Set To Show Off AR, XR Tech

Side-by-side broadcasts will share some resources, and Nick will have its own cameras

The CBS Sports TV compound for Super Bowl LVIII will be a little bit larger than usual, housing production facilities not only for the CBS Sports production but also for the Nickelodeon production, which will bring the Big Game to Bikini Bottom, the realm of SpongeBob SquarePants.

Noah Eagle (left) and Nate Burleson will “share” the booth with SpongeBob SquarePants and Patrick Star for the Nickelodeon broadcast of Super Bowl LVIII.

Explains Jennifer Bryson, VP, production, tentpoles, events, and music and specials, Nickelodeon, “While all of the action on the field will remain, real players and the plays and everything going on, everything around the field will be in Bikini Bottom.”

The Nickelodeon effort will be a side-by-side broadcast from separate trucks alongside the main CBS trucks. Sharing resources will be important, says Shawn Robbins, coordinating producer, Super Bowl LVIII on Nickelodeon, CBS Sports, but Nickelodeon will rely heavily on its own cameras.

“What’s great,” he says, “is that we’re using the whole backbone of CBS to get this on the air. It’s all flowing through CBS Sports EVP, Operations and Engineering, Patty Power and her group and CBS Sports Executive Producer/EVP, Production, Harold Bryant and his production team, as well as our own production team. We will have access to all the game cameras, and then we will have our own cameras as well that are doing our own augmented reality.”

Nickelodeon will rely primarily on 12 cameras as its main cameras for game coverage, says Robbins. “But we will cut an independent game to what the main broadcast is doing because of the layers and layers of AR that we’re doing from our own truck and our own graphics truck.”

The Nickelodeon team did three tests at Allegiant Stadium during the regular season to make sure that the animated SpongeBob SquarePants world of Bikini Bottom via AR maps properly over the real-world stadium. Animation studio Silver Spoon played a big part as a technical partner in the design of the graphic elements; SMT is involved technically in getting those elements into the right place. And, of course, the army of Nickelodeon animators have been working closely to bring all the characters — including Dora the Explorer, who will help explain some of the rules — to life for the broadcast.

Bryson notes that the AR graphics will make the stadium look different and more vibrant. “We’re bringing in animated characters, and we’ll have SpongeBob and Patrick in the booth. We’ll also have some characters on the field, whether it’s sideline reporters or Larry the Lobster. We’re adding more and more elements to each game, and this one will have more AR than we’ve ever done.”

Robbins emphasizes the importance of showing the real players, the plays, the real field, and the real ball. “That helps the co-viewing experience we want to deliver, where dads and moms can watch the game and [the Nickelodeon version] doesn’t interfere that much with the [main] broadcast. It just enhances the broadcast as we look to keep the kids engaged.

“It’s going to be spectacular,” he continues. “The stadium [is imagined as an abyss], and the Nick Blimp, which is now a submarine, will be able to leave the stadium and come back into the stadium. It is football reimagined in this Bikini Bottom, SpongeBob World, and it’s going to blow people away.”

CBS Sports Embraces AR, XR

The use of AR will obviously be a big part of the main broadcast and the “Nickified” show, but XR elements are also going to be incorporated, allowing players to appear virtually in the pregame studio set.

CBS Sports has done some specialty shoots in Kansas City and San Francisco with players on an XR stage that will transport them to different places. “One of them, of course, being Las Vegas,” Bryant notes. “We can take them anywhere we want from there.”

The portable XR stage was tested in Los Angeles from NEP Sweetwater before hitting the road for the player shoots.

“The uniqueness and the value of that stage’s not just residing in a sound stage but being able to move quickly is a backbone strength,” Jason Cohen, VP, remote technical operations, CBS Sports, points out. “We obviously didn’t find out the teams involved until recently, and we were able to execute and get the stages shipped and deployed.”

Nickelodeon also will use live-motion capture in its set located in Section 101 of the stadium. That set will bring real-world announcers Noah Eagle and Nate Burleson together with the real-world actors who will play animated on-air talent SpongeBob and Patrick.

“What our viewers will see are the animated AR characters right next to the live Noah and Nate,” says Cohen, “and it’s going to appear to our viewers that we have the best seat in the house across at the 50-yard line. The set is full of AR capabilities mixed with green-screen capabilities.”

AR will be used during the CBS coverage as well, in opening graphics displaying on the stadium field and over the Bellagio Fountain, where four studio sets will be located. “It’s really cool, interesting stuff that will make it feel Vegas, like the entertainment capital, make it feel big, and make people want to be in Vegas,” Bryant says. “But there are also AR elements that help tell the story, whether it’s something that captures a touchdown or a special graphic for a big drive of the game. We’ll use AR to help enhance the storytelling.”

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