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Major new channel launches are something of a rarity these days. That makes the Aug. 17 premiere of Fox Sports 1 notable not only because of its likely impact on the increasingly competitive TV sports business. It also offers a window into the major tech trends that make the end result of live news and sports production so can’tmiss compelling. “We have really focused on trying to give the production people as much creative control as we possibly could,” says Richard Friedel, executive VP and GM of Fox Networks Engineering and Operations.
Why This Matters
The plan will streamline operations and workflows, “which allows us to be more efficient in production and more creative in what ends up on-air,” adds Todd Daly, Fox Networks Engineering and Operations executive VP of strategic operations and systems engineering.
In recent years, the move to give reporters and producers more control over content creation has pushed many local stations to deploy technologies that let reporters shoot, edit and send completed stories from the field. But large networks and sports channels have been generally slower to abandon traditional workflows. “The local stations have done this more extensively than the networks,” Friedel acknowledges. “It is definitely a change for us at Fox Sports.”
Out With the Old
In the run-up to the Aug. 17 launch of Fox Sports 1, achieving that vaunted goal has involved a major rebuild of the Fox Network Center, which handles playout functions of the company’s cable channels and has production facilities for Fox Broadcasting and Fox Sports. “The facility went live in 1997,” Friedel says. “So there was really a lot of stuff that had to be expanded, upgraded or replaced.”
The complexities of those upgrades were compounded by the difficulties of finding space for around 200 new FS1 employees and the Center’s large ongoing operations.
“It has been a huge challenge,” Friedel says. “In the last eight months, the facilities team moved about 900 people.”
As part of the upgrades, Fox is building all new master controls. “The first control rooms on the air will be for Fox Sports 1, just because they are launching in August but even football and the rest of the network activities will be run on these facilities this fall,” he says.
For the new master controls, Fox is using Harmonic for master control units and storage; Snell for automation, Vizrt for graphics and L-S-B Technologies for a control system that ties the graphic engine “together with the routing, monitors and automation,” Friedel adds.
It is also deploying a media asset management system from Dalet and the Dalet Brio ingest and playout broadcast video servers, which will allow them to bring in as many as 100 games or events. Last fall it upgraded Studio A in the Network Center to HD. Since then, it has been working on Studio B and a new production control room for FS1.
The studios use Grass Valley cameras and Fujinon lenses. The set on Studio A has 167 monitors while Studio B has around 137 monitors from NEC, Panasonic and Sharp. Vizrt provides the technology to control the monitor walls. The new production control room in Studio B for FS1 uses a Ross OverDrive production automation system, Avid’s iNews newsroom management system, Vizrt for graphics and Ross’ Furio robotic camera systems, Daly says. Meanwhile, Fox’s existing Quantel server production system was expanded with additional ports and storage to handle more content.
New Space to Huddle
Daly says Fox built “collaborative work spaces that allow editing producers, playback operations and others to all work collaboratively as show units.”
“These rooms have great flexibility so you can adapt them depending on the needs of a show or the time of the day,” Friedel adds. “It gives us more flexibility to adapt to changing production needs more readily than we could in a more traditional plant.”
Much of this was designed to make the production process more flexible and to streamline workflows by putting more creative control in the hands of the editorial staff. “Producers can create shows in iNews,” Daly says. “It then populates information into OverDrive that controls the equipment for the production.” In addition, the Vizrt Content Pilot system lets “producers input editorial information for creation of on-air graphics,” he adds.
All of this will translate into a higher-quality production and on-air look, Fox engineers believe. The new control rooms, for example, should lead to more sophisticated graphics, virtual sets and other on-air enhancements.
These will include “double boxes with commercials,” Friedel says. In the past, Fox has put an ad on the screen along with a box showing the live action in its NASCAR and Major League Baseball coverage. “The double boxes with commercials is the sort of thing that the new master controls will allow us to do,” Friedel says.