NBC Back in the Triple Crown Saddle for Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Derby ranks as one of the most-watched and beloved annual events on the American sports calendar, attracting both hardcore racing fans and casual viewers watching their sole race of the year. As a veteran of NBC Sports Group’s racing coverage since 2001, Coordinating Producer Rob Hyland has no problem catering to the hardcores. However, to appeal to the casual fan, he always falls back on a trusty compass: his mom.

DerbySlider“I always tell our announcers, Remember my mom, Ann Hyland, who watches a few horseraces a year: the Triple Crown. She is your audience on Derby Saturday,” says Hyland. “I’m always trying to push the envelope [to appeal to the common viewer] in terms of graphics presentation, presenting the odds, and the stories associated with the horses.”

NBCUniversal Synergy on Display
NEP’s ND3 (A, B, C, and D units) and SS24 (A, B, and C) have returned to the sprawling Churchill Downs truck compound for the second consecutive year to serve as NBC’s home base. In addition, two satellite-uplink trucks (from Remote Facilities and NBC Sports Group) and BSI and CP Communications RF facilities are also on hand in the compound.

With a total of 14½ hours of coverage on NBC and NBC Sports Network planned for Derby week, the septet of production trucks has been plenty busy already. In addition, NBCUniversal is once again implementing its “Big Event Strategy,” which deploys NBCU’s army of media properties to promote the Derby: the Today show, The Weather Channel, CNBC, E!, and Oxygen all have some form of on-site presence.

“This is basically my Super Bowl,” says John Roché, senior technical manager for NBC Sports, NEP. “I, of course, do the Super Bowl [every three years], but, in comparison to anything else we do, this is definitely the second biggest thing I’m involved with. It’s just huge, and it continues to change drastically every year with all the [new] entities that we are feeding every year: MSNBC, CNBC, and everyone.”

Pulling Out All the Stops, Camera-Wise
NBC has once again rolled out 48 cameras throughout the 150-acre Louisville track for Saturday’s race, including 19 Sony hard cameras (a mix of HDC-2500s and 1000s), 14 Sony handhelds (2500s and 1500s), and aerial coverage supplied by the Despicable Me 2 blimp (branded for Universal’s upcoming animated film in yet another example of NBCU Cinergy in action).

In addition, an NAC Hi-Motion II ultra-slow-motion camera has been positioned at the finish line, and a pair of Sony 3300 super-slo-mo units have been placed just past the finish line on field level and straight down the front stretch to capture the glory shot of the winning horse. Two HD POV cameras will also be used, including one in the stewards room.

Fletcher Chicago has supplied a pair of robotic cams positioned on the gate to capture the horses at the start and in the tunnel leading from the paddock out to the track (a new addition for NBC).

Six wireless RF cameras are also on hand, including a Sony P1 for NBC’s Steadicam. BSI is supplying RF cameras for horseback reporter Donna Brothers’ HelmetCam and another on the favorite’s gate to provide a front view as the horse leaps out of the gate.

“With the support of a lot of associate producers on this show, I’ve tried to push the envelope with some of the on-board material, GoPro material. We will give [GoPro cameras] to exercise riders or jocks during the morning workouts. Then, as we go to break, Tom [Hammond] will say, Let’s go on board with Golden Sense or It’s My Lucky Day, and it will give the viewer the chance to see what it’s like being on the back of a Kentucky Derby racehorse.”

With Stevens Back Up, NBC Gets First-hand Audio
After serving as a key member of NBC’s Triple Crown on-air talent lineup in recent years, legendary jockey Gary Stevens elected to return to the track atop long-shot Oxbow at this year’s Derby, posing a unique opportunity for NBC’s coverage.

“[Stevens] will be wearing a mic on Friday during Kentucky Oakes, as well as for his races on Saturday,” says Hyland. “If there is compelling audio associated with his various rides, we can listen in on that [and use it] in tape delay. He has agreed to do anything and everything we’ve asked of him during Derby week, which is a very hectic week for a jockey. But we are fully respecting the fact that he is trying to win the race and he’s not going to do anything that will affect his ability to do that.”

NBC has a total of five jockey mics available (although it’s doubtful that all will be used) and has deployed 60 effects mics and 11 wireless mics. CP Communications is supplying RF audio services for the wireless ones.

All About Graphics
NBC has put a major emphasis on graphics for its Triple Crown coverage in recent years, and this year’s Derby will be no different. NBC will deploy a variety of graphics elements (many provided by SMT), including live horse tracking, graphical pointers, a track map showing the horses’ positions, virtual distance-to-finish graphics laid over the track, and in-depth displays of real-time odds leading up to the race.

“We also have incorporated a new graphic that kind of gives a tour of Churchill Downs for the viewers to understand how the whole day works,” says Hyland. “You see all our reporters pop up in various places like the barn, the paddock, the jockey room, but where are all these places in relation to the finish line and the twin spires? So we think we can give our viewers a better sense of place this year.”

NBC Sports Live Extra
The majority of NBC’s top sports properties are now available to stream in some form via NBC Sports Live Extra platform, and the Derby is part of that club, with more streaming content than ever before. The vast majority of the content will be streamed live to authenticated users. Content airing on NBC, including the Kentucky Derby race, will be streamed to PCs, mobile devices, and tablets through NBC Sports Live Extra.

Additional features include four online-only camera angles showcasing the activity across Churchill Downs on Derby day, online-only analysis by NBC Sports commentators, and replays and footage from the key Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races.

“We are going to be aggressively giving viewers the content that we may not be giving to viewers live on [the linear telecast],” says Hyland. “A shot of the grandstands showing the beautiful people looking over the rail of the track, shot of the paddock, celebrities arriving on the red carpet. It’s not going to just be the [four] horse isos during the race this year. There is going to be a lot more content provided throughout the telecast.”

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