Live From NASCAR on NBC: NBC Sports, Game Creek Video Usher in New Era of Racing, Tech
This Fourth of July weekend signals two new eras for NBC as it will produce its first NASCAR race in nearly a decade as part of a new rights deal. It also marks the first time that it will work with Game Creek Video on a long-term contract, as the remote production provider built PeacockOne — featuring two 53-ft. double expando trailers — to be at the center of NBC’s NASCAR coverage for the next 20 weeks.
The last NASCAR race weekend NBC was involved with was in November 2006, and for some on the NBC team, this marks the first time they have had a chance to see up close what it takes to produce a NASCAR race.
“I’ve been blown away by what NASCAR does on a weekly basis,” says Craig Bernstein, director of technical remote operations, NBC Sports. “You hear how NASCAR is like a Super Bowl every week and, honestly, I never understood that until I got here. It truly is, from a levels perspective, like the biggest NFL playoff productions.”
That large level of production will require a team of 200 people to manage 69 cameras that will be used for race and studio coverage, 80 microphones, 15,000 feet of fiber to move video and audio signals back to the compound, 21 EVS XT3 replay servers, and two editing suites that will be connected to NBC’s Digital Center in Stamford, CT, via a 200-Mbps circuit.
In terms of new technologies, the use of Sony HDC4300 cameras — which can operate in regular HD mode, 4K mode, or four-, six-, or eight-times — tops the list.
“Four of the Sony cameras are licensed for high-frame rate, with two running at six-times speed and two running at the four-time rate,” says Bernstein. The EVS Channel Max, introduced at NAB, will be used for the first time by NBC, packing 12 channels into a single server, enough to handle the two six-times cameras in a two-in, two-out configuration.
Bernstein says the decision to tap Game Creek Video to build the production unit that the NBC NASCAR production team will call home for the next five months was a departure, and NBC historically has relied on NEP Broadcasting. Once NASCAR hits the road in earnest on a weekly basis (next week), the production will rely on PeacockOne and PeacockOneB as the core production units, Game Creek Video’s Robo1 to handle the robotic cameras and tape release, Game Creek Video Discovery for the pre- and post-race coverage, and Game Creek Video FXD for audio sub mix and editing.
“The opportunity presented itself and it has been amazing as they have been great with the amount of changes in the design we have done from where we started to where we are today,” he says. “They’ve been exceptional in accommodating us.”
For example, the original plan called for only one Evertz router, but when the decision was made to use Sony HDC4300 cameras — units that are capable of high-frame rate or 4K — all the outputs from the cameras’ CCU and BPU (baseband processing unit) required the additional router.
“We could do 4K tomorrow if we wanted to do it,” he adds.Game Creek Video VP of Engineering Paul Bonar says each of the routers have 576×1152 cross points and are tied together via tie lines. One of the Evertz VIP routers handles most of the equipment while the second handles all of the monitoring needs.
“The set up at our Encore unit used by Fox Sports for the U.S. Open was the largest networked single production but this is close behind it,” he says. And it could, conceivably, get bigger as PeacockOne can handle up to 24 EVS XT3 units. Also on board is the EVS Xstore SAN storage device, a first for a remote production unit in the U.S., and the entire facility will be under the control of a Grass Valley Kayenne production switcher.
PeacockOne includes two units — PeacockOne and PeacockOneB — with the former serving as the primary production, graphics, and equipment area and the latter handling replay and audio.
Plenty of Room
Like the Encore unit, which hit the road in in March, PeacockOne also features Bonar’s unique double expando treatment that provides more height in the two units. However, the expando is not quite as wide as Encore; one side in each expands out 60 inches, while the second side in Encore expands out 57 inches and the one in PeacockOne expands out 38 inches. But the shorter expansion also means shorter set up and tear down, something that is vitally important to a production unit that will be on the move constantly for the next 20 weeks.
“This unit can be set up and torn down in less time than it takes to set up the Encore B unit,” says Bonar.
Another touch is that the front bench in the main production area can be moved away or closer to the main video wall, depending on how close the team wants to sit to the wall and how much room is needed for those working on benches behind the first one. The distance is adjustable from 54 to 74 inches from the monitor wall.
“This is one of my favorite control rooms because of the high ceiling and it has lots of viewing angles,” explains Bonar. “At the low point the ceiling is higher than the original Fox trucks and there is also an air chamber in front of the monitor wall that puts cold air onto the monitor wall and then ducting behind the monitor wall to get the exhaust out of the truck.”
Other design features in the main unit include tilting monitors above the six camera shading positions, a move designed to make it easier for the operators to properly shade and reduce neck strain. And the audio room is actually larger than the one in Encore.
“It has enough room to crawl under the console and stand behind it,” says Bonar, adding that the space allows the console to slide forward while the unit is in transit. “We could have put the console further forward into the room but then it would have been like it was in a cave and that would cause problems with the sound in the room.”
The audio room also has video monitors that can tilt and the audio monitors are all at the same level and at the same distance from the Calrec Artemis console.
The PeacockOneB unit is comprised of two rooms and includes 11 positions for replay operators that are all modular so that operators can slide left or right by up to 18 inches.
“All the monitors are also hinged so that they can swing out and we can easily get to the back of the monitor,” says Bonar. “We’ve never done the monitors that way before but we had limited space.”Tom Ginocchi, lead replay operator for NBC Sports, says the replay area team will cover everything on the track when racing action begins on Friday.
“This show is much bigger than Football Night in America and we’ll be full-on with 10 replay operators handling the 51 cameras covering the track as well as the in-car cameras,” he says.
One tool that is making a difference for Ginocchi is the Evertz router, as he can build button presets via pages to more easily keep track of sources.
“This is the first time I have worked with it and I have already built up 15 pages [of sources] with all the main sources on the front page and then things like a source page with every camera, another page with all the in-car cameras,” he says. “I can lay it out in a logical way that makes it easier for operators and the EIC as we can route all our own monitors and put anything anywhere.”
Another change from the typical replay area is that high-resolution Boland monitors have been built into the monitor wall in front of each operator. The result is that the playlist monitor is off of the desk, freeing up more space and also keeping the operators’ attention focused on one visual area.
Discovery To Handle Pre-, Post-Race Coverage
Game Creek Video’s Discovery truck, which measures 44 feet, will also be used to handle pre- and post-race coverage.
“Only two of our units are built this way, as we wanted to re-box an older truck and couple the gear with an all new infrastructure,” says Bonar. “And while it only measures 44 feet, it is a double expando, so I like to call it the little truck that can do a whole lot.”
The FXD unit, meanwhile, is on hand as an “audio heaven” with two audio sub-mix areas as well as two editing rooms. The edit rooms will be used to produce features and short-turnaround clips. They will be tied into an EVS server in the replay area as well as edit facilities in Stamford. Material comes in from the EVS server in the replay area, is finished, and then is sent onward to Stamford via the 200-Mbps circuit.
A Unique (and Very Mobile) Studio Set
One unique feature to the production involves the studio set which is designed to be setup and taken down in a matter of minutes so that it can move around the rack track during the race. For example, it can start out on the infield at the beginning of the race and then move to victory lane for the end of the race.
“The set expands out and looks really nice on the infield and this weekend we will move it three times,” says Bernstein.
But instead of having cameras located on the set itself, they will be mounted on two movable carts. One cart measures 10-feet wide and has two robotic cameras mounted 10-feet above the ground. A second cart measures six feet from front to back and 44-inches wide and has the camera mounted at one end so there is room for an operator to sit behind it.
There is also a technical cart to pass signals back to Discovery in the compound and a cart for a researcher. Those carts then link to each other and to the studio set so that they can be moved around the track in a style reminiscent of the way a circus would once upon a time travel from one town to the next.
And that is, ultimately, only fitting. Because like that other world-famous circus, NASCAR coverage is arguably the greatest show on earth.
“We started small and the project just kept growing and growing,” says Bernstein.