Super Bowl LVIII: CBS Sports’ Jason Cohen on the ‘Doink Cam’ Development, Making Vegas Shine
The 165-camera production will cover much more than the Big Game
CBS Sports VP, Remote Technical Operations, Jason Cohen sat down with SVG during a CBS Media Day event to discuss how the broadcaster will make the city of Las Vegas shine and offered a deep dive into the development of the much anticipated “doink cam.”
How is CBS trying to bring Las Vegas home to viewers this week ahead of Super Bowl LVIII and use the city as a storytelling element?
Personally, I went to UNLV, and I know the city like the back of my hand. You can’t go to Las Vegas and not embrace the city as part of the environment, the story, the atmosphere, and, quite frankly, the game.
We’re happy with the way we blanketed the city, starting at the camera at the very highest point of Las Vegas on top of the Strat and working our way south toward the strip with cameras covering the Sphere, with cameras on top of Planet Hollywood, or shooting the Bellagio with all our activations at the fountains from the multiple sets and the 1,000-ft. Flycam as well as a heavy-lift drone and an FPV drone.
As you continue to work your way south down Las Vegas Boulevard, when you get to the stadium, there is a 53-ft. MovieBird crane, a tethered drone at a parking lot next to the stadium, and a robo camera on the top of Mandalay Bay shooting both the Strip and Allegiant Stadium. We felt like we had to capture every angle, every marquee, every light, the overall essence of Las Vegas, and I think we are [doing that].
Also, this is about more than the three hours on Sunday for the game. We’re giving all those cameras, all those angles, the drones, the Flycam, the robos, and they’re being used on CBS News and HQ CBS Sports Network. We’ve distributed them to multiple outlets all over the country to bring what we’re doing in Las Vegas to life for people across the country.
How did the doink cam go from a vision to a reality. Whom did you call to make it happen?
There are two phone calls we had to make when we first had the idea. First, you need to talk to the NFL and ask if it is even feasible. Their response was “We’re not going to say no. We’re intrigued, but you’ve got to do some engineering background and prove it’s not going to affect the integrity of the uprights. You need to call the company that makes the uprights, Sports Field, learn about them, give us some engineering background, and then do a test in the preseason.” We said, “Got it.”
The second call we made was to Fletcher. They never back away from a crazy innovation or a new enhancement, and a specialty camera is kind of in their DNA. Fletcher, combined with a company called Antelope, which was known for the Pico cameras, had developed a new camera called the Nucleus. It’s similar to a camera that we’ve started to embed in the pylons as well, but it is a 4K 4X–super-slow-motion mini POV camera. I had said, “Great, let’s just put a regular [small] camera in there.” [Fletcher] said, “No, no, no, you want to go super-slow-motion; you want to go to the 4K cutout. Let’s bring in Antelope.” So Fletcher kind of pushed me to think a little bit higher-tech about what could be inside the uprights.
How did you work through the design phase?
We started to make some drawings with how big the cutouts [in the uprights] need to be and what is the best position on the upright. Should it be high? Should it be low? Should it be facing inward or at a 45-degree angle straight outward? We got feedback from production, and we even asked analyst Jay Feely, our resident kicker.
We debated amongst ourselves and came up with a plan for the first preseason game on Aug. 19 at the Meadowlands, when the Jets played the Buccaneers. We got a kicker in the game who kicked the ball and hit the upright. It was a home run; it was what we were praying for.
What else did you learn?
We learned that there are some camera angles that might work better and to use a wide-angle lens and not a narrow lens because a wide-angle lens gives a sense of place and lets you see if the ball went through the uprights. We also learned that a little yellow filter on the lens give the illusion that we’re inside the upright, where we’re not supposed to be.
We tested it again on the Las Vegas home game in Week 6 of the NFL on Oct. 15. That was another successful test, and we learned a little bit more about angles. From there, the NFL gave us the green light and said, Okay, you’re approved for Las Vegas.
Can you share more details on the cameras and setup?
Each side of the field will have three cameras for a total of six doink cams. Each upright has a camera shooting at a 45-degree angle. You basically see a little bit of the [opposite] upright so you can see a doink when the ball hits the other upright, but you can also see the upright the camera is in in case it gets hit. The third camera is a little bit closer to the bottom of the base so, if the ball just clears the crossbar, you can see it just pass through. It gives some different looks and angles.
It seems that this camera can provide more than just coverage of field-goal attempts.
Yes. When we did the test in October, we learned it is a 4K 4X camera in a position that has never been done before. It’s not a high-slash or a high-end-zone, and it’s not a low-pylon. It’s new, unique, and almost mid-high-angle. It even gets cool angles of the goal line, and you can zoom in on the pylons with super-slow-motion and get shots from an angle that has never been done before. Yes, it could be used on extra points or field goals. But we don’t have to get a doink for it to be used as it could be used on touchdowns or good plays near the end zone.
But, if we do get a doink, we’re going to be excited.
Were the 165 cameras planned from the beginning, or did that just happen organically?
It’s the sum of all the parts, right? The technical team for this encompasses everything because it’s a shared project; you can’t have any entity working on their own and going rogue. When you say 165 cameras, right, it’s not all the cameras pointed to the field.
What does it include?
That includes the game cameras, obviously, and the cameras on the sets at the Bellagio. Our studio cameras are used on multiple sets around the stadium, and then there is Nickelodeon and all their augmented cameras. 165 cameras are a lot, and it’s certainly a lot of replay machines for one game. But it’s a huge project when you consider all the different branches of the production all over Las Vegas.
This is an example of not possible without IP, fiber, and robotics.
Yes. What NEP has done with their TFC Connect and the size of the router they’ve been able to have in such a small footprint compared with the old days of baseband, when we used to have a whole truck, is remarkable. I was talking to [NEP Chief Engineer] Dan Turk earlier today, and, as much fun as the doink cameras are and the live drones are, which have never been done [before], what NEP is doing and what they did for us at the Masters and here is the biggest advancement in technology in years.