NEW YORK: In 2011, the NFL signed
an eight-year broadcast rights deal with
ESPN, followed by nine year rights’ deals
with CBS, Fox, and NBC. For the networks, these long-term contracts
were a mixed blessing. On the plus
side, they justified making long-term investments
in new equipment. On the negative side, the deals are forcing
the networks to predict what technology will be sufficiently future-proof.
“We all know we’re going to have to
upgrade our trucks, and our cameras and
switchers,” said Ken Aagaard, CBS Sports’
executive vice president of Operations,
Engineering & Production Services. “But
we find ourselves—as usual—in-between
The challenge: Broadcast technology
will likely evolve and advance exponentially
between now and the end of the
NFL deals in 2021 (ESPN) and 2022 (CBS/
Fox/NBC). So broadcasters must predict
what these advances are likely to be and
purchase equipment accordingly.
MOVING TO 4K
When it comes to future-proofing
their technologies, both CBS and Fox are
moving towards 4K cameras, which capture
and deliver pictures that measure
4096x2304 pixels, four times the number
of pixels found in a 1080p HDTV image.
“We are looking at several 4K cameras,”
said Jerry Steinberg, Fox Sports senior
vice president of Field Operations & Engineering.
that Fox already has
experience in working
cameras, thanks to the
network’s Fox Super Zoom camera system.
“Inertia Unlimited supplied the Vision
Research [Super Zoom] cameras for
last season,” Steinberg said. “If everything
goes according to plan, we will be using
Sony 4K cameras this coming season.”
|CBS Sports is tweaking what it already has in the field for this season while it tries to figure out the next big leap in NFL coverage.
CBS is also looking at a range of 4K cameras,
but the shopping process doesn’t
stop here: Incorporating 4K cameras into
a broadcast system will require upgrades
throughout the entire production chain.
This is why broadcasters are having serious
talks with Sony and Grass Valley about
their next generation
switchers, and the
they’ll have onboard.
“We need to
know what these
will look like,
and how they will
cope if we go to
4K cameras, recorders,
and routers,” Aagaard said.
It’s not just 4K that’s
a concern. Broadcasters
want to know what
level of IP signal traffic
their NFL production
units will need to handle
in the years ahead. “The
issue isn’t just how we’ll
be moving signals around the truck, but
also how we’ll be communicating among
ourselves, and back to the network,” said
Aagaard. The only consolation he can take
from this process is that U.S. broadcasters
have gone through it before. “It’s like the
switch from SD to HD,” Aagaard said.
“It’s that big a change that we are trying
to plan for.”
Future concerns notwithstanding, U.S.
networks have to be ready when the 2012
NFL season starts on Sept. 5 when the defending
Super Bowl XLVI champion New
York Giants take on the Dallas Cowboys
on NBC. And they will be.
At Fox Sports, the plan is to extend
the use of the network’s Super Zoom
and Skycam overhead cameras in its NFL
broadcasts. “Super Zoom is an incredibly
effective way to deliver the ‘money shots’
for us,” Steinberg said. “We are extremely
happy with this technology, which is why
we plan to use it more this season.”
Over at CBS Sports, Aagaard sees the
network “tweaking” what it’s already got
in the field for this season, while it tries to
figure out the next big leap in NFL coverage.
However, 3D will likely not be on the
shopping list, because the 3D transition is
going slower than expected.
The reason: No matter how good 3D
images look at the originating location—
“where we put everything we can into
getting the highest resolution,” said
Aagaard—the subsequent compression
that these signals experience on their way
to cable/satellite TV viewers robs them of
their viewability. “People look at these
compressed 3D signals at home, and wonder
‘what’s the big deal?’” Aagaard said.
“Full resolution for the left eye and right
eye will be important for 3D to succeed.”
Right now, that’s not what viewers are getting
from their cable/satellite providers.