NBC Super Bowl Team Still Riding High
By Ken Kerschbaumer
The production of Super Bowl XLIII by NBC Sports drew a record TV audience, provided countless thrills for football fans, and, more important, has the production team at NBC Sports beaming over a production that exceeded expectations. “The NBC and NEP technical crews ran flawless production,” says NBC Sports director Drew Esocoff, who directed the big game inside NEP’s ND3 production truck.
Esocoff, who this weekend is in Hawaii on Pro Bowl duty, says planning for the big game focused on how to add cameras and equipment that would provide defining looks of a play. And on Sunday night, they needed it: without proper camera angles, numerous plays” including the longest TD in Super Bowl history, by Pittsburgh Steeler James Harrison, and the game-winning catch by Steeler Santonio Holmes” could have been long-time controversies à la 1972’s Immaculate Reception.
“Where you can get bagged are the controversial plays, and that can be compounded in a Super Bowl,” says Esocoff. In addition, the large number of still photographers, police, and others on the sidelines meant that the production team couldn’t always guarantee that the handheld cameras were able to get that defining shot.
“We decided to put several cameras on the higher photo deck,” says Esocoff. “If there is a quandary over whether to place a camera lower or higher, go higher because you can never get burned by going higher.”
That’s not to say the handheld team didn’t rise to the occasion on Sunday. NBC Sports cameraman Pete Stendel captured the biggest moment of the game, Holmes’s go-ahead TD catch with 35 seconds left, in a way that left no doubt about whether Holmes had made the catch. “His framing was perfect because he got both feet in the shot,” says Esocoff. “Between that shot and the Harrison runback, the whole day was awesome.”
Another critical component to the coverage were two additional sideline carts as well as high-speed cameras from Inertia Unlimited. “The high-speed cameras add a great look,” Esocoff explains. “Sometimes, when you spend extra money on a production, it’s just trickery, but super-slow-motion pays off in every game you do. In today’s environment, every dollar has to be spent properly, and that means stuff that gets to air.”
Meanwhile, in the truck, the production staff was ready to take the great camera shots and get them ready for analysis. When Steeler Ben Roethlisberger appeared to have intentionally grounded a pass, the NBC graphics crew quickly whipped up graphical lines that showed viewers where the tackle box ended. “The graphic even surprised [announcer] John Madden,” says Esocoff.
While Esocoff focused on the big game, Sam Flood served as coordinating producer for the pregame show, a five-hour programming block filled with live shots from multiple locations, including the pirate ship at the stadium (which served as the main stage for NBC on-air personnel), a stage in the NFL Experience that featured the Today show and other guests, and the Super Suite, where Al Rocker would interview celebrities and others coming to the game. Shots also came in from the locker rooms and both team hotels.
“I was amazed at how smooth it went,” Flood says. “We had all the different elements, trucks, and even Avid editing suites and graphics linked together. All the elements worked as well as they could.”
Many of those elements were graphics and audio packages that made use of Omneon’s ProCast CDN content-distribution platform, allowing four NBC Sports staffers to remain at 30 Rock and work on graphics and audio packages and send them directly to a 12-TB storage area network and 8-TB server in the NBC Sports Super Bowl compound in about three minutes. The system was previously used during the Beijing Olympics.
“We only had one circuit and a little bit of backup, so we needed to be a little more patient than we were during the Beijing Olympics. There, we had two circuits that were six times larger than this one,” says Phil Pauly, NBC Sports director of graphics. But the team still saw speeds more than 40 times faster than regular drag-and-drop workflows.
Tools relied on include the Maxon Cinema4D, Chyron Duets, and Digidesign Pro Tools for audio mixes. “We did scratch mixes in Tampa, and then the team in New York would send down finished audio pieces,” Pauly explains, noting that 70% of the graphics came out of New York.
“We saved a ton of money by not having people come down here for the week,” he adds, “and we had all the benefits of their work.”
David Barton, senior designer, NBC Sports and Olympics, updated the scorebar used during the game. “I didn’t want the information to lie in a different place because we’ve been doing this for three years, but, geometrically and design-wise, it was all different and had a cleaner look,” he says. The new graphics were created on Maxon Cinema4D.
NEP’s SS24 unit served as the main unit on the pregame coverage, putting NEP front and center during the entire Super Sunday.
“NEP was flawless,” says Esocoff. “Everyone from [NEP interim CEO] Deb Honkus to [CTO] George Hoover down to the engineers in charge of the trucks are the gold standard at what they do. And the relationship between NBC and NEP is fair and supportive of each other. We couldn’t be happier with the kind of support we have.”