NBC’s Sunday Night Football To See in Night Vision

This football season, NBC’s Sunday Night Football will treat fans to some special night vision. Using new technology from SportsMEDIA, NBC’s production team can turn the football field into a blackboard at the click of a button, enabling the players to remain in vibrant color over a black field and giving analysts a brand-new tool with which to explain the game.

“I think this will really help viewers understand X’s and O’s, as well as technique and nuance,” explains Fred Gaudelli, producer of Sunday Night Football. “We can take any camera that we have and, in replay, turn the field black but maintain the yard markers, hash marks, lines, and numbers. We dial down the white on those lines so it’s more of a grey color, and now the players really jump off the screen because you have all this color over black.”

Illuminating Players and Viewers
The feature, called Sunday Night Vision, will not only help illuminate the players but help fans focus on the points made by SNF’s announce team.

“If we’re talking about a specific player,” Gaudelli says, “and we can show him and the guys that are trying to block him in full color over a field that’s black and looks like a chalkboard, that helps you focus in a way you normally can’t when you’re watching a regular replay.”

Sunday Night Vision can be used on isolated replays to highlight featured players, but it also helps to demystify the coach’s cam shot, a wide-angled view that includes all 22 players on the field.

“That shot is very hard to follow because your eye is not trained for it and it’s a very wide shot, but this tool also makes that shot easier to comprehend,” Gaudelli says. “I think it’s going to be a very useful tool and is something that hasn’t been done before.”

Almost Instant Blackout
Sunday Night Vision is powered by SportsMEDIA Technology, the company that provides NBC’s first-and-10 line. Gaudelli traveled to SportsMEDIA’s headquarters in the spring and was immediately impressed by the graphic look of the new feature.

“They were 90% there when I saw it, but they cleaned it up a little bit once they saw how interested I was in it,” he says. “It’s hard to explain, but when you see it, your eye just locks in. You become very focused on the players and what they’re doing. I don’t know how much we’re going to use it. We’re going to stick our toe in the water and see what happens.”

As with other graphics SportsMEDIA provides, Sunday Night Vision can be created almost instantaneously, but NBC was not able to practice with it much during the preseason. The network’s first preseason game was in Canton, OH, on a high school field that had too many extraneous lines on it to provide a clear picture. The network’s second preseason broadcast was in San Francisco, and the entire game was played in daylight, so there was no opportunity to practice with the software on-air in the environment in which it will be used during the season.

“We didn’t put it on the air, but Cris [Collinsworth] and I and the rest of our production team worked through it a little bit, and we really liked it,” Gaudelli says. “We didn’t really have an opportunity to practice with it on the air, but we took out clips from our games last year and practiced with it that way.”

Something for Everyone
Although the Sunday Night Vision feature may provide opportunities to go deep into the mechanics of the game of football, Gaudelli’s philosophy is to serve all fans, not just the diehards.

“My philosophy’s pretty simple: it’s to do what the moment calls for,” he says. “We try to remember that it’s a broad audience out there. There are a lot of people that are really into the X’s and O’s of football, and we want to service them, and then, there are others who are into the personalities and the stories, and we want to service them as well.”

Play-by-play announcer Al Michaels adds that it is important to call a Sunday Night Football game differently from a regional game.

“We have a big, broad, diverse national audience,” he explains. “You have a ton of people around the country who follow their team and don’t really know that much about the teams that are on Sunday Night Football in primetime. What we try to do here is to make this accessible to everybody and not turn it into a coach’s clinic.”

NBC will certainly go inside the game, Michaels says, but the production team tries to stay away from jargon that might turn off those fans who were not players themselves.

“When you talk about gap discipline, you’re losing 95% of your audience,” he says. “You can walk down the street, and, if you find two people out of 20 that know what gap discipline is, believe me, you’ve hit the over.”

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