NFL on CBS Hits Ratings, Production High Note
Lockout? What lockout? Coming off last year’s record-breaking season of ratings, the NFL is already pulling in huge audiences, and it’s only the preseason. In 2010, CBS Sports reported the most viewers for the AFC package in 23 years and the highest-rated AFC postseason in 15 years, not to mention the fact that the AFC Championship was the most-watched in history.
As CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus puts it, “If you are in the NFL business, it’s a darn good time to be there.”
With this in mind, CBS Sports will introduce a variety of production elements for its NFL coverage this year, including an increased complement of high-speed cameras, live mics on the line of scrimmage, and a 360-degree NFL Today studio.
More Toys for the A Team
For the first time ever at CBS, the A game will have at least one high-speed camera every single week and often more than one. In the past, CBS periodically deployed a high-speed camera for the A game and almost never on lower-tier games.
This year, however, coordinating and lead producer Lance Barrow & company can count on ultra-slow-motion replays every single week, while B and C games will have high-speeds at their disposal ”more often than in the past,” says VP of Production/Executive Producer Harold Bryant.
Meanwhile, in the booth, lead analyst Phil Simms will access the Coach’s Clicker for the first time. Originally used by NFL on CBS legend John Madden, the Coach’s Clicker allows Simms to control playback functions while analyzing a play.
“On any play he thinks necessary, he can roll back the replay himself instead of him communicating to me and me communicating to the tape operator,” says Barrow. “That is not something that has really been done very often since Madden left.”
Sounds of the Game Make a Comeback
Perhaps the biggest change to NFL broadcasts this year will be on the audio side. the NFL and NFLPA have greenlighted CBS and other broadcasters to outfit the center with a live lavalier microphone.
Last season, the NFL moved the umpire from the defensive side of the ball just behind the inside linebackers to the offensive side adjacent to the referee and 15 yards off the line of scrimmage. This was in an effort to prevent injuries to both officials and players, but NFL audio mixes were then unable to capture the quarterback’s snap count and other integral audio at the line of scrimmage. The hope is that miking the center will resolve this issue.
“This year, through the new [labor agreement], the NFL has allowed us to mike the center.” says Barrow. “When they break the huddle and come to the line of scrimmage, right before the ball is snapped, we will be able to hear the sound on the line of scrimmage. I think we really missed that last year because it really brings people close to the action.”
According to Bryant, the starting center and possibly the backup center will be miked prior to every game. As he understands it, the NFLPA has signed off on miking players for every regular-season and playoff game, alleviating concerns that players might refuse to be miked on game day.
McManus adds, “We’ve been told that we will have the players miked this year and that it won’t be an issue like it was last year. I guess we’ll find out on the first week what happens, but we’ve been told that won’t be an issue this year.”
NFL Today Gets a 360
CBS Sports has also upgraded its NFL Today studio at the CBS Broadcast Center in New York, creating a 360-degree set that features a 103-in. HD monitor. The studio, originally constructed in 2005, now features a fully furnished sit-down area in addition to the classic news-desk set.
“We were locked into only a few areas in the old set, even though it was a huge area,” says NFL Today senior producer Eric Mann. “But now we have a full-360 set where we can maximize space and move things around.”