Smart Editing Sparks Gridiron Coverage

NFL Network, ESPN use latest editing techniques to become better storytellers


The images move fast, the scores change fast, the athletes talk even faster. And in the last 20 years, there's been no televised medium that has evoked such love, such anger, such all-consuming devotion as the sporting event.

For example: Winners of baseball's World Series make headlines around the world, in this country, NASCAR racing is one of the most popular events on television, and for better or worse, soccer single-handedly gave a new generation of mothers a new moniker.

But there is perhaps no sport that provokes quite as much ire--or encourages fans to paint their heads with as much glee--as the game of football.

Two of the reigning kings of all things football know this all too well. Each decided to take the game to the next level by creating programming that better tailored to the wishes and needs of the football sports fan. And each did that by focusing on one area in particular: the art and science of editing.


Take for example the newly minted NFL Network. A year ago the National Football League put its time and money behind building a new broadcast network focused specifically on the gridiron. In November 2003, the round-the-clock NFL Network debuted, and is now delivered to 11.5 million homes, making it the most-widely distributed sports network in the history of cable and satellite television, the company said.

As the network celebrates its one-year anniversary, what is making the network unique is the way the organization--which receives programming from its NFL Films division as well as from broadcast network game feeds--handles editing.

"This is not your traditional post-production style facility creating programming for syndication, " said Jeff Howard, senior executive of engineering and broadcast technologies for NFL Films and the NFL Network.

The network handles dozens of live football games--both professional- and college-level--over a two-day span every weekend through the fall and winter, and produces original programming throughout the year. At its peak, the NFL Network has up to 70 producers working on ingesting, editing and rebroadcasting feeds, as well as producing programming for various outlets.

For the ingest of programming, the network uses 10 Avid Media Station XLs attached to a Unity central storage archive. High-resolution, broadcast-quality editing is done on a variety of Avid platforms including Media Composer 9000 XL, Media Composer Adrenaline, Avid Meridian, Media Composer Xpress and Avid|DS HD systems attached to the same Unity. Offline editing is done on 50 Media Composer offline nonlinear editing systems attached to a second Unity system. All equipment, except for the Media Stations and Adrenaline, are Mac-based, Howard said.

When the NFL and its programming counterpart, NFL Films, decided to start the new network in 2003, the organization also made the decision to go to a nonlinear-based environment.

"We'd already seen what the power of nonlinear editing could do for us creatively, as well as the improvement in resolution and features," Howard said about the move to nonlinear. The organization did retain a few linear-based rooms for some of the NFL Network's more basic graphics needs.

As the network reaches its one-year anniversary, Howard said the decision to go nonlinear and with Avid have turned out to be the right moves.

The Avids have been ideal for NFL Network's editing forte: storytelling. Flexibility is key, he said, because "we don't use it in the same way as a network editing a typical sports package. We are more geared toward telling stories with our packages."

The Media Composer has been particularly useful when it comes to editing creatively, Howard said, "and with the advent of Unity, we've been able to put together workflow that ties everything together, improving efficiencies immeasurably."


Improving efficiencies was also key to ESPN when the network opened its new digital facility last June (see "The House That HD Built," June 9, 2004). But of equal importance was delivering the kind of programming that its loyal fan base had come to expect.

"We needed an editing system that would allow us to tell more compelling stories," said Chuck Pagano, senior vice president of Technology, Engineering and Operations for the sports cable network.

ESPN uses Quantel editing systems primarily for its weekend NFL coverage. The network is doing a fair amount of highlight package work in the native HD format, making ESPN one of the first broadcasters in the nation to do regular HD sports highlights, Pagano said.

The network decided to rely on systems with HD capability, and installed an editing package that included 16 QEditPros, seven eQ nonlinear high-definition editing systems as well as QCut editing software and QView journalist browse application stations.

The organization is also moving toward a tapeless editing environment that will allow for more flexibility and faster turnaround.

"The benefit [of being able to edit in a tapeless environment] is not so much financial reductions or production staff efficiencies," he said. "Rather it's a better collaborative storytelling system that gives us faster access to highlights.

"When you're working off tape you can't begin editing until the program is over," he said. "With a tapeless environment like we have here, the time to completion and time to story is much faster. We found the Quantel system fit due to its scalability and integration capabilities."

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.