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Fox Sports 1 Set for August Debut

Fox Sports 1’s engineering and operations crew includes (L to R): Mike Wilken, vice president, Todd Daly, executive vice president and Richard Friedel, executive vice president and general manager.LOS ANGELES—When founding a sports network, it’s helpful to be able to start the build-out as a division of a legendary, multi-billion dollar media entity that’s been a pillar of the industry since what seems like the beginning of time. Those are the circumstances for the execs at Fox Sports’ Los Angeles headquarters, who are finding that scenario has helped to facilitate the founding of its new sports channel, Fox Sports 1, which is being created as Fox Sports’ answer to ESPN.

While the arrangement has offered some economies of scale, the project remains a huge undertaking, requiring the renovation of more than half of the 250,000-square-foot Fox Network Center in Century City, Calif.

But the ramp-up has progressed well and Fox Sports 1, and its flagship show, “Fox Sports Live,” are on schedule to debut the program on a platform near you—be it in your living room, on your desk or in the palm of your hand—on Aug. 17.

“Fox Sports Live” will air from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. eastern time and will be refreshed hourly; the most recent hour will be repeated overnight, with breaking news as it happens. The network will also air other programming during those day parts, based on its seven pillar sports: college basketball and football, NASCAR, soccer, UFC and ancillary programs about the NFL, with Major League Baseball to become part of the schedule in 2014.

Among the programming will be “Fox Football Daily” and “Crowd Goes Wild,” a one-hour talk show to be hosted from New York by Regis Philbin that will air on weekday evenings.

The Fox network engineering and operations trio of Richard Friedel, executive vice president and general manager; Todd Daly, executive vice president; and Mike Wilken, vice president, are in charge of the buildout for the sports news operation, which will emanate from an 8,400-square-foot full production set known as Studio B; with a working, on-camera newsroom located on another floor.

While there has been some consolidation of services at the Fox Network Center, which came online in 1997, some complications arose due to the fact that the building cannot physically be expanded.

Therefore, to accommodate Fox Sports 1, the center (which is located on the Fox movie/television production lot and houses playout functions for Fox’s national cable channels, including FX, National Geographic Channel and others), has been “retrofitted, in spots, to make room for about 200 new employees,” said Friedel, who runs engineering and operations, noting that “some old offices were ripped out” in the process.

Fox Sports 1 will emanate from an 8,400-squarefoot full production set, known as Studio B; with a working, on-camera newsroom located on another floor.FROM THE INSIDE
Fox had already purchased most of its new equipment and was finalizing installation at press time. The updated roster will include multiple cameras, with Grass Valley LDK 8000 cameras operating in Studio B and three of the latest Ikegami HDL 50s in use in the working newsroom.

The network has also expanded its existing Quantel server-based production system, with additional ingest ports and editing capabilities. In addition, Fox is deploying a sports content management system using Dalet and Brio ingest servers to enhance production workflow. Fox Sports is also implementing the Ross OverDrive system in its automated control room to support news production and breaking news.

“The entire news operation is heavily automated, where appropriate,” said Friedel, “such as in the production of news breaks,” and Fox Sports is in the midst of expanding the internal video distribution system to more than 200 channels.

That equipment roster and the correlating expansion were designed to meet certain goals, according to Daly. “The creation of Fox Sports 1 meant an incredible increase of production, so the new equipment additions will give us maximum flexibility to handle that dramatic increase in volume and handle more production on our new, tighter schedule,” he said. “In addition, it will allow us to react to new production requests that arise with any new channel.”

Wilken echoed that thought. “We have a large facility here,” he said, “but to accommodate Fox Sports 1, almost every system that was already here had to be expanded.”

That’s because “we’re doing more editing and have added additional Mac graphic systems for design, Vizrt for sophisticated playback, added a full control room and are upgrading others, thus expanding our remote acquisition,” said Friedel, also noting expanded bandwidth of the Fox fiber network. “We’re very lucky that we’re on Vyvx POP here at the broadcast center. That’s allowed us to add additional transmit and receive capacity to handle the increased volume that Fox Sports 1 will create.”

“Studio production is increasing four fold, while transmission receive and transmit capabilities are also expanding with inbound receive capability nearly doubling to accommodate our expanded news operation,” Daly added.

With Fox Sports 1’s space and equipment equations just about solved, next comes “the final technical preparation and operator training for as many as 300 production employees” with about a month to go before its early August debut, Friedel said. “We’re creating completely new workflows, evaluating everything and improving whatever we can, wherever possible.”

The idea, he said, was to understand the importance of providing better service capability for the producers, who will need more tools to make better decisions upstream in the production process. “We expect that this will make us more efficient,” said Daly, adding that Fox is also automating repetitive processes in the production chain, such as moving files through the plant.

And the setup of any project of this size, especially given the construction parameters, will have reverberations throughout a facility, even one the size of the Fox Network Center.

“The challenge is that this is such a large increase in production for us that it’s having effects on other parts of the company,” said Friedel. “On the bright side, it’s hastened the modernization of our facilities.”

And in any big network center, “there are always upgrades,” he said. “The work never stops.”

Mark R. Smith has covered the media industry for a variety of industry publications, with his articles for TV Technology often focusing on sports. He’s written numerous stories about all of the major U.S. sports leagues.  

Based in the Baltimore-Washington area, the byline of Smith, who has also served as the long-time editor-in-chief for The Business Monthly, Columbia, Md., initially appeared in TV Technology and in another Futurenet publication, Mix, in the late ’90s. His work has also appeared in numerous other publications.