Fox Sports’ Michael Davies and Brad Cheney Talk Fox Lab, Virtual Reality, Drones

Michael Davies, Fox Sports SVP of Field Operations, and Brad Cheney, Director of Technical Operations, talk about the fast-moving world of television production technology and the aggressive, calculated approach Fox Sports is taking through its Fox Lab initiative.

Fox-SportsFOX SPORTS: What is the overall strategy behind Fox Lab heading into 2016?

MICHAEL DAVIES: The overall strategy is more of the same — find the compelling concepts and technologies that are going to make a difference in the sports we cover.   We also want to take all of the work that we have done in 2015 and feel out how it can continue to grow.   Some of the technologies from baseball we are using in football.  Some of the things from golf may make sense for NASCAR.   We are also looking at technology in terms of trying to make production more efficient.   This will also be a hallmark of what we are working on in 2016.

FOX SPORTS: Where is the VR world in terms of overall evolution and how soon will we see it as a regular production asset in sports television coverage?  

DAVIES: VR is still in its adolescence — but the technology is moving very, very quickly. We currently use 4K technology in our broadcasts, but the combination of VR and linear TV is a bit incongruent, without the latter promoting the former. 

FOX SPORTS: Fox Sports tested VR at a NASCAR race at Fontana, CA, and at the U.S. Open in 2015 … what can viewers expect in 2016?

DAVIES: I think viewers can expect more experimentation.  We have some events in mind to cover in one way or another.   I think there is a schism between true VR and 360 video.   The latter is much more attainable — as you can consume it on a device, a tablet or a computer. This works well as shorter-form content and has been adopted in a big way by sites like Facebook and YouTube.   The former is “true VR” and requires full-on VR glasses or Google Cardboard, and sometimes requires a proprietary player.  This is often in 3D and described as higher end.  

FOX SPORTS: There has been a lot of action in the drone community over the last year. Where does Fox Sports/Fox Lab stand in the use of aerial drones as production assets?  

BRAD CHENEY: We are continuing the growth of live production capabilities as we work with the governing bodies to place these assets as close to the action as possible.  We are also testing new hardware which gives us better lenses, cameras and stability in the air.

FOX SPORTS: Where does aerial drone technology stand in its evolution process? What are the challenges to implementing them in weekly sports coverage?

CHENEY: The evolution is happening at a rapid pace with new technologies coming to market every three months or so. With that happening, we are evaluating tons of units for possible use and working with vendors in determining modifications of new systems applications.  As we try to make this work in weekly sports productions, we are in continuous dialog with the governing bodies, venue management teams and local officials to make progress as technologies change.  We are looking to figure out how these units can move from enhancements to mainstream coverage systems.

FOX SPORTS: Fox Sports tested drones with Monster Energy Supercross and at the U.S. Open and Women’s World Cup in 2015; what can viewers expect in 2016?  

CHENEY: You can expect to see it continue across our golf coverage in 2016 with more images from them.  You’ll also see additional coverage in our motor sports properties and many others.

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