NBC Preps ND1 for NFL

STAMFORD, CONN.—When it came to building a new truck to cover the upcoming season of Sunday Night Football, the production engineers at NBC began with a premise in mind: space, space, space.

Beyond the simple annoyance of bumping elbows with your TD, the NBC production team knew a change was needed. The team behind NBC’s newest remote production unit looked long and hard at their existing truck, an eight-year-old mobile unit, and realized that to adequately handle the grueling schedule and demanding weekly productions of the network’s 23-game coverage of the National Football League’s season, (two pre-season games, the 2014 NFL Kickoff, 17 regular season games, two playoffs and the Super Bowl), something unique was needed.

The result is a multi-unit caravan built by NEP known as the ND1, a remote production unit that was built first and foremost to tackle NBC Sports’ production of “Sunday Night Football” this fall. The truck was announced in April but got its first taste of NFL coverage during the preseason last month.

According to Ken Goss, senior vice president of remote operations and production planning for NBC Sports, the ND1 is a four-unit fleet custom-built for Sunday Night Football specifically. That translates to a truck that has a dominant replay capability, advanced graphics features and lots of smartly engineered space—room for more than 75 operators within the four units, to be specific.

“It has the capacity to handle the size of a Sunday Night Football production,” Goss said, pointing to the unit’s arsenal of 36 cameras and 16 replay devices. “The layout is a reflection of how our production works.”

The ND1 is four units in one: Unit A is a “full-size production control room,” Goss said, along with a graphics room. Unit B handles transmission as well as hosting the engineering heart of the unit and rooms for audio mix and sub mix, and one for video shading. Unit C is dedicated specifically to recording and replaying, while unit D holds the sports media room and two separate edit rooms.

NBC will rely on EVS XT[3] production and playout servers, in part because of the system’s ability to expand up to 100 channels of record capability. To illustrate the growing importance of replay in covering professional sports— particularly slow-motion HD replay, NBC Sports decided to dedicate the C Unit—a separate mobile unit—for replay.

“Because we have so many replay devices, we were exceeding [the space we had], and so we centralized the concept to handle all our replay technology,” Goss said. The network will be relying on EVS XT[3] production and playout servers, in part because of the systems’ ability to expand up to 100 channels of record capability. In addition to the record/replay room, unit C will serve as the primary storage hub for all audio and video recordings.

The network is also upping the ante on its camera arsenal by deploying 36 HD cameras for each telecast. The team will use two super hi-motion cameras, an overhead cable cam, an RF steadicam as well as feeds from a cameraman in a blimp or airplane shooting HD aerial shots. NBC will use a mix of Canon lenses as well as an assemblage of Sony cameras including 21 HDC-2500s.

NBC Sports is also looking into prospect of employing 4K cameras to cover football this season, and at press time the network was in the midst of a 4K camera shootout in the Southwest to determine which model might make it into the fall lineup.

ND1’s Unit A is a full-size production control room. “We’re looking at that technology for sure,” Goss said. “It’s high resolution to start with, and for our utilization we have to downconvert to 1080i in our relay box.” The beauty of that technology is that “when we zoom in, the higher resolution can zoom into a highlight shot and it doesn’t break up,” he said, making 4K an ideal technology for the high-speed, high-drama world of professional football.

Boosted by the success of its Olympics coverage, NBC will again rely on the ChyronHego Mosaic graphics platform. Switching will fall to the purview of a Grass Valley Kayenne Elite, a 9 M/E 1080pcapable switcher. The audio mix and sub mix rooms in the B unit are 5.1 Dolby surround-capable, and will be running on Calrec Artemis and Apollo audio consoles.

Up to 10 inbound and outbound feeds will be uplinked back to the NBC Sports Group’s International Broadcast Center in Stamford, Conn.

Even as the network contemplated what they needed to cover a sporting event such as professional football, they began looking ahead: “As we looked for [the right] technology, and built our system toward [covering] the Super Bowl, [we knew] all those enhancements would [pay off down the line],” Goss said.

After 22 weeks on the road, heading from San Francisco to Pittsburgh and everywhere in between, the ND1 will trek back to the East Coast in 2015 to cover all three races in horse racing’s Triple Crown.

Susan Ashworth

Susan Ashworth is the former editor of TV Technology. In addition to her work covering the broadcast television industry, she has served as editor of two housing finance magazines and written about topics as varied as education, radio, chess, music and sports. Outside of her life as a writer, she recently served as president of a local nonprofit organization supporting girls in baseball.