Premier Boxing Champions Offers Bevy of Tech Toys Across NBC, Spike TV, CBS

Boxing’s grand return to network television got off to riotous start last Saturday: the premiere of Premier Boxing Champions on NBC was the most-watched pro boxing broadcast in 17 years. Haymon Boxing’s PBC series continues tonight with its Spike TV debut from Ontario, CA, which will feature many of the same eye-popping production elements and next-gen technologies that drew headlines during the NBC telecast: a 360-degree overhead camera system, MattCam robotic X-Mo cameras, data-driven tracking and virtual technology, awe-inspiring audio and lighting systems, and, making its debut tonight, a wearable mini RefCam.

The 360-degree camera system (the circular structure at top) features 36 cameras and can deliver smooth Matrix-like images in real time.

The 360-degree camera system (the circular structure at top) features 36 cameras and can deliver smooth Matrix-like images in real time.

“PBC is trying to build the story of these fighters with deeper access, and we think we can accomplish that using a lot of this unique technology,” says Haymon Boxing Chief Technology Officer Anthony Bailey. “They are great athletes and have great stories, and we are trying to make people understand who they are and how they fight. So giving people that type of access to the ring was really important to us.”

On the Road: Rock ’n’ Roll Meets Boxing
Haymon Boxing has tapped Tupelo-Honey Raycom to oversee all aspects of its PBC productions. As it did last Saturday, NEP SS21 will serve as the home for all NBC primetime boxing shows, and NCPXI will work NBC and CBS Saturday-afternoon and Spike TV fights (although SS21 will be used tonight). NBC and Spike TV provide their own above-the-line production team in the truck, whereas Tupelo Honey has put together the CBS team. In addition, the live telecasts also serve as the in-venue videoboard show for all fights.

“We want people who come to fights to have everything that they would have at home. So, on the boards we have hanging over the ring and the big wall of thunder, which is three big boards where the fighters walk in, we are pumping in the telecast,” says Bailey. “That was really important to us:  to make the in-venue experience as good as at home or even better.”

The JitaCam (at right) creates compelling aerial shots for PBC telecasts.

The JitaCam (at right) creates compelling aerial shots for PBC telecasts.

In addition, Tupelo-Honey and Haymon Boxing have worked closely with NEP on a custom-integrated 53-ft. expando advanced-technology unit (ATU), which will travel to every show and houses operations for the 360-degree–camera system,

“We worked with NEP to custom-develop this unit,” says Jennifer Greechan, executive producer, live sports production and special programming. Tupelo-Honey Raycom. “It has been quite a bear of a project, but their engineers have been fantastic, and we are extremely happy with it. We are planning on using all the same advanced technology that people are seeing on the high-level shows on every single show, so ATU is extremely key to [the production].”

Tupelo-Honey is also producing a world feed from every fight to more than 450 million homes internationally out of a hybrid C-band uplink/production truck but will likely switch to a full production truck in the near future.

Making the PBC caravan even larger, nearly 20 semi trucks filled with gear to service the massive in-house lighting and sound-system operations travel with every show.

“What really makes this unique is that it is like a rock-concert-meets-a-sporting event,” says Greechan. “When you walk through our truck compound, you can see this is as big a sporting event as anything out there.”

360 Degrees of In-Ring Action
Chief among PBC’s innovations is an above-the-ring, 36-camera system to be featured on every show (NBC has branded it “Round-A-Bout”) and allows broadcasters to fluidly create 360-degree, Matrix-like shots of the action. The array rig, which was developed in-house in conjunction with Aqueti, hangs from the lighting truss above the ring with all 36 Sony 1080p HD-SDI mini cameras pointed at a central spot in the middle of the ring, allowing operators to seamlessly move around the rings and zoom in up to four times. Currently, the system is used solely for replays; however, by June, Bailey plans to increase it to 50 cameras and integrate it into the telecast as a live shot.

The lighting truss above the ring

The lighting truss above the ring

“Each week, you are going to see a lot more advances, and you’ll even see differences tonight compared to how NBC used it last week, because, each week, we are adding new bells and whistles,” says Bailey. “I see huge potential for this [in other sports], but I think boxing is the right spot to start it because we just have to worry about 400 sq. ft. As [we] prove it out for that space, we could start moving it farther and farther out to, say, a basketball court or for hockey and then, someday, maybe even football or soccer.”

The system has two operators in the ATU: one building and delivering replay packages to the EVS server for the linear telecast, the other dedicated to building short packages and pushing them to the NBC Sports Live Extra app and streaming service. In addition, online users can navigate the 360-degree system themselves, moving around the ring and zooming in on the action.

“It’s a pretty unique interactive experience,” says Bailey. “I don’t think we’ve [had] something like this before.”

RefCam, RF Mics To Deliver POV Inside the Ring
A wearable miniature RefCam developed by Bailey’s team and Aqueti will debut tonight during the Spike TV telecast, the California Boxing Commission having approved it (the unit was not approved for last week’s NBC fight in Las Vegas). Originally built into a pair of glasses, tonight’s unit will be housed in a headband at the request of the referee. The ultra-small 1080p HD-SDI camera is hooked up to a Teradek transmitter and sent under the ring to a receiver, then fibered back to the truck.

“We are very excited about this one because we think it will give the viewer a very unique view of the fighter looking into the ref’s eyes if he’s getting a standing eight count or a fighter was knocked down and is trying to get back up,” says Bailey. “The ref is staring right at him. The goal is to bring the fan right into the ring for the ref’s perspective.”

Al Michaels (left) and Sugar Ray Leonard will call all five PBC on NBC primetime fights.

Al Michaels (left) and Sugar Ray Leonard will call all five PBC on NBC primetime fights.

The production team is also hoping to persuade trainers to wear these systems in an effort to capture a similar effect with the fighters looking right into the camera from their corners.

All trainers are outfitted with live RF mics, and the ring is covered with an army of RF mics above it as part of PBC’s mission to bring the sounds of the ring to the viewer at home (a difficult task at times, given profanity concerns). In addition, the NBC primetime shows feature two corner reporters and a roving reporter equipped with RF mics.

“We have microphones in every single corner of the ring and the arena that you could possibly have,” says Greechan. “Obviously, audio is very important in every sport, but, in combat sports especially, you want to hear every punch and every drop of sweat — things that make combat sports unique. We have the best audio engineers in the ring working across all these shows: NBC, Spike, and CBS.”

Boxing Enters the Player-Tracking, Virtualization Ring
NBC is also implementing sensors on fighters’ gloves and shorts to create data points that can measure punch velocity and impact in near real time (similar to HBO Sports’ PunchForce feature). The data can displayed graphically within the telecast in the form of virtual elements to improve analysis of the fight and identification of trends within the bout.

MattCam and JitaCam Join the Party
Inertia Unlimited has also provided two MattCam robotic X-Mo systems mounted flush with the top of the canvas on opposite sides of the ring.

“They give a unique view of a punch landing,” says Bailey. “And, if a knockout or knockdown happens, you are going to see that really well from a [floor-level view].”

In terms of aerial shots, most PBC shows are deploying an 80-ft.-long JitaCam over the ring. Equipped with a 30-ft. retractable boom, it can be moved via remote control up and down the 80-ft. track. The camera creates a particularly gripping shot during the fighter walkouts, an aerial wide shot capturing the atmosphere in the entire arena.

Lighting It Up In-House and at Home
Tupelo-Honey is working with EVI (Executive Visions Inc.) and Bruce Rodgers’s Tribe design outfit (which created the Super Bowl halftime lighting scheme for several years, including XLIX) to create an epic lighting scheme. The lighting system adds to both the in-venue and televised experience in an effort to create the feel of a spotlight cast on the entire ring.

“We are presenting boxing on TV in a way that has never been seen before — at least nothing I have ever seen,” says Greechan. “That is pretty amazing, and it’s an inspiring thing to be a part of.”

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