Super Bowl XLVII Becomes Super Week for CBS
It doesn’t take long while walking around the French Quarter here in New Orleans to see that, for CBS, the Super Bowl has become Super Week. CBS Sports, News, and Entertainment have called Jackson Square, the iconic and historic center of the French Quarter, home for the past week.
Two entertainment programs, The Talk and The Late, Late Show With Craig Ferguson, are on-site. CBS News has had a massive presence with CBS This Morning broadcasting live from the Square and CBS Evening News With Scott Pelley and Face the Nation ready to broadcast from the Square this weekend. Also, standup positions located across Decatur Street have given CBS affiliates from across the country a place to get viewers at home excited about Super Bowl XLVII. And then there is the presence of CBS Sports Network, which will have broadcast 50 hours of live content from Jackson Square, Radio Row at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, and elsewhere in the Big Easy by the time of kickoff on Sunday night.
“CBS Sports Network is the biggest player here, and they are doing the most programming,” says Ken Aagaard, EVP, operations, engineering, and production, CBS Sports. “This is the coming-out party for the CBS Sports Network.”
It was at the Super Bowl in Indianapolis last year, Aagaard says, that the idea for CBS to have a bigger presence this year was born. A walk down the streets of Indianapolis made it clear that both NBC, which broadcast the game, and ESPN, which always has a major presence at Super Bowls, were taking full advantage of the compact size of Indianapolis to build their brands with fans, residents, and viewers.
So, when CBS descended on New Orleans for the Final Four, the idea for a Super Week took root. New Orleans, like Indianapolis, has a compact footprint, with the stadium, hotels, and secondary stages and event areas all within a mile and a half.
“We’re doing all this while still planning the Super Bowl,” says Aagaard. “We haven’t forgotten about the game, but there have been about 25 people consumed by this 24/7 since September. It’s been a lot of work, but this is what we do.”
Branded CBS Super Bowl Park at Jackson Square, the presence includes four stages designed by local design firm Solomon Group, standup positions for CBS affiliates on top of Artillery Park across Decatur Street, and a massive compound with seven remote-production units, a two-story CBS News facility, and trailers for talent, guests, and staff. Lighting design, another massive undertaking because it requires lighting not only the set but also all of the Square and the broadcast compound across the street, was handled by Billy Brennan.
Solomon Group also designed what is one of the more interesting temporary structural additions to New Orleans: a cable bridge built to carry broadcast fiber cable from Jackson Square to the broadcast compound across Decatur Street. Designed in one day, the structure’s style fits in perfectly with Jackson Square and the French Quarter and provides not only a way to get cabling safely across the street but a branding opportunity for CBS.
The bridge also exemplifies the cooperation with the city, the Super Bowl organizing committee, and Jackson Square-related interest groups.
“Everyone, including the residents and businesses, could not have been more cooperative for getting permits for things like the cable bridge or the compound space,” says Aagaard. “We had to displace the horse-and-buggies for a couple of days, but even they were understanding.”
The sets within Jackson Square are complemented by two airplanes providing live aerial shots throughout the day, a Fletcher robotic camera on top of the Hyatt Hotel getting shots of the Superdome, and a BSI wireless camera getting shots across the French Quarter.
The Technical Side
Each of the four stages is connected to a dedicated production facility across Decatur Street via four 72-strand fiber cables laid down and maintained by Bexel. F&F’s GTX15 A unit handles stage one, Game Creek Video’s Victory A and B units handle stage two, Corplex Iridium and Zinc A and B units handle stage three, and a flypack is used for stage four. A small Hurst truck is also on hand as an ESU unit for signal control and transmission needs.
John McCrae, executive director, field operations, CBS Sports, says the biggest challenge for the production is that the production team had only a little more than one day to set up the compound and get it connected to the sets in Jackson Square. As a result, communications across the sports, news, and entertainment production groups operate independently.
“The F&F truck is married to the Superdome, and the CBS News flypack is married to New York so, if we married them together, that would have been a huge system,” he says. “The challenge is, how do you deal with shared facilities without sharing communications?”
Some unique solutions were required. For example, the jib camera overlooking Jackson Square has three base stations, each connected to a different production truck. The jib operator then plugs into one of the three base stations to pass signals to the truck that is currently on-air.
Similarly, the RF camera provided by BSI is shaded in the F&F truck, but its communications system is tied into all three trucks.
“The RF system is fairly robust,” says McCrae. “We have a receive site on Artillery Park that can take care of coverage down to the river, another on top of Jackson Square that can get signals back from St. Peter Street and Bourbon Street, and then a third on Capital One that allows the camera to walk the length of Bourbon Street and transmit back to the compound via microwave.”
The massive undertaking is a complex mix of inputs, outputs, and constantly changing needs on the stages, but the use of four 72-strand fibers and the Bexel fiber kits for connectivity definitely makes things easier. According to McCrae, CBS had determined that it needed at least three 12-strand fiber cables for each stage, but discussions with Justin Paulk, director of fiber services, Bexel, indicated that a single 72-strand fiber might be a better approach.
“The idea of using 72-strand fiber was to just offer a huge amount of capacity for each stage,” says Paulk. The single cable is also slightly thicker, making it a bit more resistant to the kinks or cuts that can sometimes interfere with operation of thinner fiber cables. And, yes, a complete backup spool of 72-strand fiber is on hand in case of emergency.
Fiber systems from each of the trucks are also in use. Game Creek’s Hydra is used for stage four, F&F’s fiber system connects is in use to connect the lighting director’s tent to all three trucks, and a Corplex fiber system is in place for a cooking segment on the third set on Super Bowl Sunday.
One new piece of technology on set three is Canon 27X6.5 lenses.
“They are much wider,” says McCrae. And the wider shots help because sometimes there are up to seven guests on the stage.
For power, three 500-kW units are on hand, along with two 350-kW twin-pack generators. Fifty-four 4-awg cables pass over the cable bridge to the Square, and Filmwerks lighting kits require an additional nine 400-amp power services.
“When the lights are turned on [at night],” says McCrae, “it basically looks like full moon plus and gives a nice [lighting] base to the trees.”
The entire production, says Aagaard, signals a new era in Super Bowl coverage. But it is also the result of an industry-wide movement in the past decade to bring fans closer not only to the action on the field but to the building excitement prior to the event.
“I give ESPN all the credit because they’re the ones that started [these sorts of productions] with College Gameday, one of the great shows in sports television,” says Aagaard. “We’re following in their footsteps, and things like crowd control are all new to us, but we’re learning as we go. We raised the bar, and I don’t see the Super Bowl broadcasters of record in the future doing much less than what we are doing.”