Later this month, National Mobile Television (NMT) will roll out a new concept in digital sports production: the SBS, or side-by-side, vehicle, a 30-foot truck that gives visitors their own production facility.
The smaller truck ties directly into the larger host truck, giving the visiting team access to all camera feeds and replay functions available in the main truck. (The host team gets access to the visiting camera feeds and replays, as well.)
“This gives out-of-town broadcasters as much autonomy as they need,” says Joe Washington, a coordinating producer for Fox Sports Network, which will be the first network to rent the unit.
Host-team trucks are usually 50 feet long and cost approximately $8 million to construct. Besides being smaller, the SBS is also cheaper, at $1.25 million, for NMT to build. “It leverages today's digital and networking technology,” says NMT President Jerry Gepner.
The SBS truck is particularly helpful for sports networks that broadcast in HD. Covering road games in HD is cost-prohibitive, since it involves renting an $8 million-$10 million HD truck. “It gives our regional-sports customers access to as many resources as possible from the main truck,” says Gepner. It affords more comfort, thanks to the additional work space.
From a market standpoint, the move gives NMT a new way to compete with companies that rent dual-feed trucks, like Mira Mobile Television in Portland, Ore., and Mountain Mobil Television in Denver. Gepner says the SBS rental prices will be competitive. (Industrywide rentals are typically about $10,000 per event; SBS price is still to be determined.) Those vehicles have two production areas: one for the host feed and a smaller one for the secondary broadcaster.
The problem for dual-feed trucks is that visting crew members sit behind the host broadcaster's crew and have a much smaller area dedicated to the audio portion of their broadcast. While they get access to all of the game material, neither the visitor nor the host has any real privacy.
Bay Area Debut
The first SBS vehicle will be unveiled in San Francisco and Oakland, Calif., for regional sports network Fox Sports Bay Area.
FSN Bay Area was also involved with some of the equipment choices for the truck. It signed off on the use of Sony's MVS-8000A production switcher, which has 1.5 mix effects (M/E). One advantage of the MVS-8000A is that it is now possible to download nonlinear-editing software onto the unit, turning the truck into an editing bay. “We like the internal digital mix effects of the Sony unit, and it's easy to expand in case the unit is used to cover an event on its own,” says Washington. “With Sony located in San Jose [Calif.], we have all the training and technical support we might need.”
Gepner, however, warns, “That's not to say that every SBS unit will have a Sony switcher.”
The production switcher sits at the center of an 11-foot-wide control room. It has six racks of video monitors (enough space for about 30 monitors), but more space can be dedicated for monitors if needed.
In the audio department, the truck shines in comparison with the usual dual-feed truck. “Typically, in a dual-feed situation, the audio mixer isn't located in the truck because there isn't enough room,” says Gepner. Without the mixer in the same room, communication can sometimes be an issue. Not so in the SBS unit, where the Midas Heritage 1000 analog console is less than 26 feet away and in the same room.
Other dedicated SBS gear includes an EVS HD and SD replay unit and up to four tape machines, with the first truck including two Sony Digital Betacam decks.
The SBS truck will also give the visiting broadcasters their own phone system. “They'll no longer rely on the host truck for telephone connectivity,” says Gepner. “They'll also have their own transmission area and a dedicated engineer.”
The transmission area gives the truck great flexibility. It can transmit HD and SD productions. The visiting broadcaster can do an HD production even if the home team doesn't. Cross-conversion gear is also on hand to turn 720p signals into 1080i signals and vice versa.
Gepner says it is also possible to connect more than one smaller truck to the main truck, which could save space in the parking lot for events where there are not only host and visiting broadcasters but also international or other networks.
One thing the truck doesn't have is its own cameras, but it does have room for storage. Gepner says they weren't included because most regional sports home broadcasts don't use the full camera complement in the main truck. The SBS truck will use up to three of those leftover cameras to help the visiting team personalize its telecast.
And the first SBS will soon have company. NMT plans to have two more rental trucks by the end of the year, with one used on the East Coast and one dedicated to the Southeast.