After facing an embarrassing interruption of its coverage of the first game of the World Series when its main and backup generators shut down, Fox Sports has revamped its power plans for the second game by bringing in new generators and by having its main production truck hooked up to the stadium’s power.
Sports producers rarely hook up their trucks to the stadium’s power supply because the generators are typically more reliable, explained Michael Davies, senior VP, technical and field operations, Fox Sports.
Davies said they may also bring in some new technology called a UPS or uninterruptable power supply when they return to New York City at the Citi Field.
The supplier of the power generators, Cat Entertainment Services and Fox engineers are still trying to determine the exact cause of the generator failures.
“We have a primary and backup and the whole machine went down,” Davies said. “That is not supposed to happen. When one goes down, the other is supposed to start right up.”
One possibility is that there was a problem with the electronics and that the computer shut the generators down. Other possibilities may be contaminated fuel.
“At this point we are not really sure,” he said. “Those guys [the generator suppliers] are industry leaders and the largest supplier of entertainment generators out there,” Davies said. “We’ve done many events with them—the U.S. Open, Super Bowl are powered by their generators. We like them because they have an incredibly good maintenance record.”
Major networks spent an enormous amount of time and money preparing back-up systems to avoid any interruption in coverage but network executives and viewers once again got a good reminder during the first game of the 2015 World Series that such plans are never foolproof.
During the 2013, Super Bowl for example, CBS had deployed back-up systems for everything including the generators. But one part of the production system was plugged into the main power supply of the stadium and when the stadium power went down, they lost the feed from their announcer booth even though the generators continued to supply power for their on-field crew. It also took some time after the game for the engineers to ID the problem.
“We do an enormous amount of contingency planning,” said Davies. “Whenever this happens to another network, I always say it is a good thing that it didn’t happen to us but that we should pretend that like it did.”
In the aftermath of the glitch, Davies noted that what it does do is "give everyone an opportunity to think about what their power plans were and to go over their own protocols and get a lot smarter. I think it will catalyze a lot of discussion in the industry.”
Davies added that other networks, including CBS and Turner, quickly reached out to see if they could help.
Following the loss of power, Davies said it took only about 20 seconds to switch to their live studio in Los Angeles. The power loss only impacted the Fox Sports production compound and the NEP EN2 truck that was being used to produce the U.S. feed.
After six or seven minutes of frantically switching wires, they were able to switch to the international feed that was being produced by MLB from the Game Creek truck called “Amazin’” This truck is used to produce regular season Mets games. The switch to the international feed, however, reduced their graphics capabilities and replay angles, which prompted complaints from viewers on social media.
The outage was particularly frustrating for the Fox production crew because they had made a number of technical improvements to their production systems for the series. They added more slow motion cameras, including a 4K camera for reframing replays, and were using a total of 45 cameras to shoot the game. They had also ramped up their audio game.
“You can hear the ball hit the base and people sliding into home,” Davies said.