The special chemistry between the NFL and high-definition television has been cited since the origins of the video format. NBC Universal capitalized on that synergy with the integration of two 103in Panasonic TH-103PF9UK professional plasma displays into the set of the network's “Football Night in America” studio show. NBC Universal was the first commercial customer for the 103in display. As the largest plasma television available, it was the dream display option for “Football Night,” which premiered last fall and served as the lead-in to “NBC Sunday Night Football.”
The stakes couldn't have been higher for “Football Night.” The country's weekly marquee football game was shifting from Monday night to Sunday night, the most-watched night on TV, and to a new network — ours. From the top on down, there was concern that this not be just another pre-game briefing, but rather the essential destination show for football fans, providing the first complete look at all of the NFL highlights and stories of the day.
Following the completion of our six-year NFL deal (including Super Bowls in 2009 and 2012), we assembled a broadcast team consisting of Al Michaels and John Madden in the game booth; Bob Costas and Cris Collinsworth as “Football Night” hosts; and analysts Sterling Sharpe and Jerome Bettis, along with reporter Peter King. Both “Football Night in America” and “NBC Sunday Night Football” would be broadcast in high definition, and the visuals had to be stunning.
Last April, “Football Night's” director, Bucky Gunts, and production designer, Jeremy Conway, saw the 103in plasma firsthand at NAB2006. It was clear that this was a viable commercial display product that offered a picture quality and size to handle all of “Football Night's” story lines and segments. The stumbling block, however, was availability. Panasonic was talking about fourth-quarter deliveries, which would be too late for our September kickoff.
It was at this juncture that Panasonic North America's chairman, Yoshi Yamada, became intimately involved in our discussions. He secured a commitment to meet our install and production schedules. That passion for the product extended down to a great team that Panasonic assembled to support our project timeline. The result was that when “Football Night in America” debuted on Sept. 10, 2006, two 103in plasma displays were located on each side of the on-air talent desk on the newly constructed set at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.
Not incidentally, the set also features five Panasonic 50in TH-50PH9UK HD plasma displays for bumper shots, graphics and game look-ins. Two sit atop each 103in display, and one hangs high in the center from the ceiling.
Perhaps the most daunting aspect of being the proud owner of 103in 1080p displays is the actual installation process. The imposing plasmas weigh 475lbs each, so exceptional forethought and care were given to delivery. In Japan, Panasonic handled packaging and shipping. Once received in the United States, the displays were tested for signal and picture quality by company engineers in Secaucus, NJ.
Panasonic provided specs and handling suggestions to our freight company and set construction firm. Brackets were fabricated to support the weight of the plasmas. And the walls where the displays are hung were specially reinforced.
We brought in the plasmas on rollers, removed packaging in our basement, and then used a special forklift to situate the 103in displays in our freight elevator. The final portions of the studio, such as the glass windows, were built around the plasmas after their installation. All this took place a full month before the show's debut, allowing ample time for final rehearsals, camera placements and adjusting the look.
During football season coverage, the plasmas added a stunning visual element to the game action and story line breakdowns that we brought to our viewers each week. Beyond the inevitable “wow” factor, the 103in plasmas, which are equivalent in size to four 50in Panasonic plasma displays, are easy to use. They also were easily integrated with NBC's video production equipment with optional TY-FB9HD HD SDI terminal boards.
The plasmas also proved to be highly flexible, as we used the displays quite diversely. For instance, Costas did live tie-ins to Michaels and Madden on the 103in plasma. In addition, Costas and Collinsworth analyzed game plays using the 103in in a telestrator application. And finally, we played out previously recorded profiles. Whether the application was graphics, telestration, live commentary or playout, the displays excelled and were an integral part of the studio show's success.
Studio 8G, where “Football Night” is produced, is prime NBC real estate. (The studio shares a control room with “Saturday Night Live” studio 8H.) Therefore, the studio will be used for future broadcasts in the football off-season. While specifics regarding upcoming sports or news coverage aren't immediately available, the studio has been used for such big events as 2006 election night coverage last November. This coverage originated from studio 8G with Brian Williams, Tim Russert and Campbell Brown commenting on breaking news and polling data displayed on the 103in plasmas.
We partnered successfully with Panasonic this season. The 103in plasmas afforded the audience of NBC Sunday night football broadcasts a big window onto the NFL's fast-paced and dramatic game action.
Randy Raddatz is vice president sourcing & production logistics for NBC Olympics.