CP Communications has acquired the assets of SportsCam, the innovator and creator of a wide range of wireless and robotic camera products for live sports production. The acquisition expands CP Communications’ range of wired, wireless and cellular content acquisition and streaming systems for its Red House Streaming brand, while also opening the door for new business opportunities in AV, security and public safety.

SportsCam changed the fan engagement game with wearable wireless cameras, among the first technologies to embed camera and transmission equipment into clothing. Their products emphasize wearable, cloud-connected cameras to capture close-up sports action from varied points of view. The SportsCam products have been used in hockey, boxing and college football broadcasts. They are also used by remote newsgathering teams, and serve many other content acquisition needs for broadcast and professional AV events.

CP Communication s CEO Kurt Heitmann is bullish about where SportsCam can take the company beyond sports production, most notably markets such as law enforcement, public safety, and oil and gas that rely on wearable and robotic cameras to document events. He sees strong synergies between SportsCam and products that CP Communications and Red House Streaming regularly leverage for sports and live events, including Mobile Viewpoint’s IP streaming and bonded cellular solutions.

“SportsCam has developed an impressive product family that allow our customers to capture and stream live events as they happen, and deliver secure, encrypted streams back to a studio or command and control center,” says Heitmann. “We have long used these products in sports production, and we can now apply the operational efficiencies and benefits to a broader range of acquisition and streaming applications under our Red House Streaming brand. We are excited to bring a proven broadcast-quality technology to markets that today often use consumer technology to record and backhaul live video to central locations.”

“Our 35 years of broadcast experience has gradually transitioned into a wider universe of streaming applications for virtual corporate events, houses of worship and live-streamed athletic events such as bike races, marathons and triathlons,” adds Heitmann. “Our Red House Streaming brand was established to bring the cost-effectiveness and operational efficiency of IP, cloud services and bonded networking to more customers and markets. The SportsCam acquisition amplifies this strategy.”

Heitmann says that SportsCam founder, Chris Stramacchia, will remain with CP Communications and work closely with the company’s engineering and R&D teams.

“I am very excited that SportsCam is now a part of CP Communications,” says Stramacchia. “The combination of our specialty camera expertise with CP’s strengths in wireless acquisition, along with streaming and bonded technologies, will allow the creation of exciting new imaging systems for a wide range of applications from sports to corporate and industrial. CP Communications’ longevity and reputation as an innovator in broadcast and media technology services provides a perfect platform for the growth of SportsCam products and services.”

Live event productions firm CP Communications has officially opened its professional studio and network operations center (NOC).

The adjacent 600-square-foot spaces will emphasize technology from Red House Streaming, a CP Communications brand that focuses exclusively on IP, cloud, and bonded cellular solutions.

Located at CP Communications’ headquarters in St. Petersburg, Fla., RHS Studios will serve multiple functions.

The studio itself will be the central production hub for clients in the broadcast and professional AV space, while the NOC, staffed with RHS technicians, provides the ability to remotely manage all production and content delivery tasks. Current TV and video production clients RHS streaming technologies and the NOC include The Switch and Venn, Verona Productions, CBS Sports Network, B-Live and Carr-Hughes Productions, among others.

“The Red House Streaming Studios concept is to establish an ecosystem that makes it convenient and quick for clients to launch new productions and immediately begin live streaming,” said Kurt Heitmann, CP Communications CEO. “We have established partnerships and can support at-home productions with professional quality on short notice. We will continue to expand these partnerships to new cities and locations, creating an ecosystem of Red House Streaming solutions in North America and internationally.”

Clients can also book RHS Studios to self-produce projects, and use 5,000 square feet of additional open space for larger shoots. CP Communications and RHS will also leverage the studio for two-way customer demos. This capability offers a way to demonstrate product innovations, including the RHS family of CamSTREAM content acquisition and streaming solutions.

“This is a full-service, turnkey streaming and recording studio,” said Heitmann. “In addition to Red House Streaming and other third-party products, our core broadcast solutions from CP Communications, including wireless cameras and microphones, are available for any production. We can support clients with bigger production needs, including creation of a virtual set with a green screen. Red House Streaming Studios will support everything from corporate training and education videos, to news and talking head segments, to full broadcast-quality TV productions.”

Heitmann adds that RHS will continue to evolve and expand in other production and business areas. “There is much more on our roadmap,” he said. “Right now, we are focused on helping production companies and content producers do their creative work and deliver their messages without having to travel, without production headaches, and at a cost-effective price point.”

Over the years the CrossFit Games has been a global phenomenon with the event literally spanning the globe. The COVID-19 pandemic has altered those plans somewhat but those involved in the production are committed to making sure the event goes off safely and also can serve as an inspiration.

CP Communications is at the center of the production of the 2020 CrossFit Games.

“CrossFit athletes are not the kind of people who quit because something is hard,” says Justin Bergh, CrossFit Games, general manager. “We finish something, get to the other side, and are better for it. We feel a real sense of duty to produce an event that is first class and can be a beacon of hope for our community while also being a celebration in the midst of a very difficult year.”

Bergh says the production has been right sized to make sure it is as safe as possible. There are no spectators and divisions like age groups and team competitions have been eliminated and there are only five men and five women competing versus 30.

“With only five men and five women competing we can be more robust in the storytelling,” says Bergh. “It’s the most credible and validating program we have ever done.”

The CrossFit Games has multiple stages and the first one, an open competition, was held in March.

“We began with an open level of competition months ago and then we had a level of competition where we had to send judges into homes, garages, and local gyms to score seven events,” he explains. “The top five men and women were then invited to Northern California for the Finals.”

More than 400 videos from athletes were submitted during the sanctionals that determined the final five men and women. Those videos were edited into two days of episodes that were released as if they were live competitions so that fans and competitors could follow a leaderboard.

The finals are taking place in multiple locations in California, including Morgan Hill, a nearby aquatics center, and the CrossFit Ranch in Aromas which is the birthplace of the CrossFit Games. The games are available live today, tomorrow and Sunday on Pluto TV, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitch and then CBS will air it on Saturday from 1 to 3 pm EST.

“We have more fields of play than ever to allow for more space to keep safe,” adds Bergh. “We want to minimize the amount of hands on every piece of equipment, so we have six different floors in use and also fewer cameras that are moving around. They follow a very detailed plan from venue to venue.”

CP Communications is on hand once again for the production (it was also at the center of the event last year when it was held in Madison, WI) with its primary production facility located at Morgan Hill.

“CP is using bonded cellular and then the dynamic camera plan gives us different looks,” says Bergh. “We have a lot of handheld cameras on the field of play and then other cameras elevated off the field that move around two or three times a day.”

Bergh says the event is not being held in a pure bubble and that a very good control system is in place with respect to testing. Prior to travelling everyone involved had to test negative for COVID-19 and then a PCR test was done once they arrived at the event. Once cleared they could step inside the campus and get to work.

“We are also doing rapid testing on a daily basis and then more screenings, washing hands, wearing masks, and social distancing,” adds Bergh.

Bergh says the event this weekend is more important than ever and is raising the bar for future productions.

“Everyone really respects the moment and is putting on a performance to rally the global community,” he says. “With storytelling we can link this back to the real world as all the athletes had to adjust the way they train. And to see the figure heads of CrossFit here serving as an example is really impressive.”

Broadcast engineering and management expert will oversee all functions within the company’s headquarters, and drive launch and growth initiatives for its new in-house studio operations

St. Petersburg, Florida, October 13, 2020 CP Communications, a leader in innovative solutions and services for live event productions, has appointed Lowell Beckner as General Manager, effective immediately. Reporting to CEO Kurt Heitmann, Beckner will focus on growing CP Communications’ in-house production business for broadcast and AV projects at its St. Petersburg, Florida headquarters, anchored by the new company’s soon-to-launch Red House Streaming Studios. He will oversee the final stages leading up to the studio’s launch in November, and create a cohesive operations entity to ensure continued business growth.

Beckner joins CP Communications with more than two decades of engineering, sales, and management in the broadcast industry. His experience in broadcast engineering and military communications provides him with extensive knowledge of RF and IP technologies and systems, the latter of which is a core part of the Red House Streaming Studios workflow and infrastructure. He will also oversee all general St. Petersburg functions, and serve as the primary interface for CP Communications’ executives across sales, engineering, IT and operations.

“CP Communications has been the leader in live content acquisition and event production for sports and live events for many years,” said Beckner. “The opportunity to lead the company’s new in-house production initiatives and general business operations is an exciting opportunity for an engineer that values technical innovation, and understands the importance of strategic direction to ensure growth and success. I’m looking forward to working with the entire CP Communications team up through the executive level, and establishing a roadmap for future expansion.”

Beckner’s broadcast career began in the military with tours at the Joint Special Operations Command and the White House Communications Agency while serving in the U.S. Air Force. He spent the next 20 years as a broadcast engineer with TV stations in the southeast and with broadcast media network groups, taking on roles of increasing responsibility with Media General, Cox Media Group and E.W. Scripps. He shifted his focus toward IP networking in 2017 as Product Manager, IP Systems for Integrated Microwave Technologies; and as Regional Sales Manager, Live Production for Vislink. His valuable hands-on experience across the entire broadcast ecosystem includes engineering creative solutions for newsroom, playout, transmission, and IP/bonded cellular systems.

“Lowell brings a uniquely diverse and rich background to CP Communications that will drive organization across all key business operations – an integral responsibility of the General Manager position,” said Heitmann. “Lowell will provide day-to-day guidance and decisions that harmonize our teams and initiatives as we work toward the launch and future success of Red House Streaming Studios, and grow our business into interesting new directions. We welcome Lowell to the CP Communications team.”

Turnkey live production and streaming platform now features three models with expanded AI capabilities to automatically produce and stream 180-degree sports action from any location

St. Petersburg, Florida, August 19, 2020 CP Communications, a leader in innovative solutions and services for live event productions, today announced the next generation of Mobile Viewpoint’s IQ-Sports Producer (IQ-SP) family of automated live sports production systems. Powered by AI and supporting a range of outdoor and indoor sports from football to hockey, the updated series brings several key technology enhancements and adds a new entry-level model – IQ-SP Lite – built for customers focused on single-sport productions with one output stream.

Designed to remove the need of an onsite camera crew, IQ-SP makes professional sports production affordable for minor leagues, training camps, universities – and now, with IQ-SP Lite – smaller colleges and high schools previously hindered by budget constraints. CP Communications is the exclusive North American distributor of Mobile Viewpoint solutions.

Mobile Viewpoint developed IQ-Sports Producer to easily capture, stream and re-publish sports events with ease, and also gives players and coaches an affordable solution for recording practices and create game footage. Mobile Viewpoint has strengthened the AI capabilities in the new generation of IQ-SP systems, which will prove especially invaluable as live sporting events gradually return during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Foremost amongst the new AI features is automated highlight creation. IQ-SP can automatically detect scoring plays, and create individual replay clips or post-game highlight packages for publishing to social media and other outlets with minimal manual intervention, saving producers significant turnaround time, effort, and staffing costs.

Mobile Viewpoint continues to innovate with the addition of new sports, including cycling and horse jumping, while supporting many traditional ball and puck sports. Mobile Viewpoint has also added a scheduler to LinkMatrix, its cloud-based management platform, that automates game scheduling in advance without an operator. IQ-SP can also now automatically monitor the onsite clock when games start and stop, and the scoreboard to provide an automated graphical overlay.

The IQ-SP Pro and IQ-SP Premium configurations also leverage Mobile Viewpoint’s innovative IQ-xCam 180-degree cameras to deliver superior quality for higher-end productions. Available with two or four 4K cameras in each housing, the recently released IQ-xCams capture panoramic images at a full 60 frames per second for demanding, broadcast-caliber requirements.

“IQ-SP seamlessly stitches together video from up to four 4K cameras to create the complete field of view required, which ensures that our customers can follow and capture live action of any sport with exceptional quality,” said Michel Bais. Managing Director at Mobile Viewpoint. “As well as AI following the action of the ball, sports producers have the option to seamlessly zoom into the play and maintain a very high quality of video definition, without even having to be on the field – a benefit both during and after the game.”

As well as the AI-powered, pan-and-scan main feed created by the virtual director functionality of the IQ-SP software, the Pro and Premium models support additional virtual streams that can be defined within the system to follow the action of choice. Users can drag and drop varied fields of view into the image, and add overlays including scoreboard content (clock and score), sideline and goal views, instant replay content, and automatic summaries and highlights. Operators can select and analyze other streams from the field of play during and after the event.

Other new upgrades include support for an additional microphone array to augment the cameras’ built-in microphones, enabling producers to complement their exceptional video coverage with higher-quality audio.

“IQ-Sports Producer fills an important need in the sports production world right now, particularly as community, high school and lower-level collegiate sports return to action,” said Kurt Heitmann, CEO, CP Communications. “Importantly, the expanded line makes it possible for users of any level to deliver professional-quality sports content back to a studio using a virtual production strategy with no on-location staff required. Mobile Viewpoint’s AI innovations make all three packages winning options for virtually any sports organization.”

North American customers can contact James Monroe at CP Communications at 801-698-1659 or via email at james.monroe@cpcomms.com for sales inquiries. International inquiries can be directed to Mobile Viewpoint at info@mobileviewpoint.com.

The CamSTREAM2B from CP Communications can be mounted on a tripod or table.

The all-in-one packages, which integrate a Sony SRG-360SHE PTZ camera with 12-20x optical zoom (other Sony PTZ cameras can also be used), a Mobile Viewpoint Agile Airlink encoder, a return video monitor and connections for audio, can attach to the top of a tripod or be set on a table top. The user then flips two switches to the on position to obtain power and begin shooting.

Jerry Gepner, CP Communications, COO, says that the goal is to give production teams an easy to deploy system that also has color coded cables and a single power button so that on-air talent doesn’t have to grapple with a difficult setup.

“The camera in a laptop running through the broadcast center won’t have an output that will look so good,” says Gepner. “We can bring broadcast quality at up to 16 Mbps which, with h.265, is broadcast quality.”

Available to rent or purchase, both systems support content acquisition, on-board recording and live streaming in fully integrated, turnkey packages, with CamSTREAM2 built for ProAV productions and CamSTREAM2B for professional broadcasts. Both systems are configurable to serve cloud streaming and user-hosted playout workflows.

“We built our second-generation STREAM systems to reflect customer feedback, including the demand for more streamlined workflows and a cost-efficient at-home production model,” says Kurt Heitmann, CEO, CP Communications. “These systems will allow content providers to shoot and stream broadcast-quality video direct to Facebook, YouTube, a CDN, and/or studio-based playout servers with virtually no advance labor or local production expenses.”

Ease of setup represents the main departure from first-generation CamSTREAM systems. The new systems simplify and accelerate configuration for content creators, and cede production and control operations to remote CP Communications technicians as the user calls an 800 number to finalize set up.

Gepner says the unit’s 10-inch HD monitor can be used as return, a way for the interviewer to see an interview subject, or even as a prompter. There is a mic input as well as IFB output.

“It can feed a return off of the bonded cellular transmitter and the talent can react in near realtime,” adds Gepner.

Once shooting commences the Agile Airlink device streamlines connectivity by bonding WiFi, Ethernet and mobile data paths into a single, robust H.264 or H.265 transmission stream. The CP Communications team picks up the production from their network operations centers (NOCs) in New York, Florida or Nova Scotia from there, with remote control and management supported through Mobile Viewpoint’s LinkMatrix system.

Both systems include the Sony camera and Mobile Viewpoint systems, along with wired or wireless microphones and IFB systems, as well as HDMI outputs for return video and autocue. A second video input provides capacity for a second camera or a gaming device. The CamSTREAM2B system strengthens technical capacities to support live sports and broadcast productions, adding full remote PTZ control (via a joystick controller), camera paint control, and remote audio functionality, including the ability to control gain structure.

“Anyone that can remove a TV from a box, set it on a tabletop stand, and plug in a power cord can operate either system,” said Heitmann. “We wanted to innovate solutions to accommodate everything from corporate events, city council meetings and worship services to remote news shoots, sports productions and live performances – all while eliminating the technical headaches and embracing the cost-efficiency of remote production from our NOCs.

“There is no need to manage travel expenses for on-site production crews with these systems,” concluded Heitmann. “There are truly nothing else like these systems on the market today.”

Adds Gepner: “Talent and commentators can operate remotely and be every bit as effective. And the technology allows us to do it with high enough quality and low enough latency.”

Cost-effective facility enables remote IP production and live OTT streaming of global triathlon and marathon events

St. Petersburg, Florida, May 4, 2020 CP Communications, a leader in innovative solutions and services for live event productions, has completed the systems integration of a custom-designed streaming media studio and control room that enables The IRONMAN®Group—a Tampa-based sports event management company—to deliver live coverage of its branded multisport and marathon events over-the-top (OTT) via its website and Facebook Watch.

Owned by the Chinese Wanda Sports Group, The IRONMAN® Group produces more than 235 race events across 55 countries worldwide. These include the iconic IRONMAN®  Triathlon, which combines swimming, biking, and running into a single long-distance contest; the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series, and more.

“With this new multipurpose facility, IRONMAN can now produce live video coverage of events remotely over IP, saving travel and crew costs for a faster ROI,” said Kurt Heitmann, CEO, CP Communications. “Bonded cellular—one of our specialties—facilitates video signal backhaul and distribution, bringing IRONMAN over the finish line as a provider of premium sports content.”

Besides bonded cellular for IP-based transmission, the design leverages Dante® to configure, manage, and route broadcast-quality audio over IP; and NDI®, an IP-based video networking platform that extends the HD-SDI workflow. These technologies form a powerful yet-cost-effective studio and control room to manage remote productions via IP, and simultaneously produce live studio segments for event commentary, news, and Skype call-ins. A digital media room supports production of live stream video podcasts and on-demand training videos for IRONMAN athletes.

Unique Technical Challenges

IRONMAN had already purchased some equipment before engaging CP Communications, including a 4-input NewTek TriCaster Mini video switcher and an analog Mackie audio board. They required a more sophisticated technical infrastructure to accomplish their production goals and CP expanded IRONMAN’s capabilities to maximize those capital investments. Within two months and on a tight budget, CP harnessed the combined experience and technical expertise of their designers, engineers and systems integrators, who built-out the studio and control room in two adjoining offices at IRONMAN’s Tampa headquarters.

The control room now includes the following gear to enhance the production workflow:

  • An external 20×20 expansion router to expand the switcher’s video inputs from 4 to 20
  • A Dante license was added to the TriCaster Mini to accommodate Dante-compliant audio
  • A Yamaha TF-1 digital audio mixer with Dante sound card
  • A Dante-enabled Unity intercom system, wireless mics, and in-ear monitors
  • A Wowza Clearcaster for streaming to online portals like Facebook
  • Mobile Viewpoint 2K4 playout servers and Terralink bonded cellular encoders

The 20-square foot studio design added the following capabilities:

  • A News Desk Production set
  • A greenscreen stage for immersive virtual sets and backdrops
  • A NewTek TalkShow for bringing Skype callers into the live program
  • Two Sony PXW-100 (1080i) cameras with added zoom and focus control, fluid head tripods, Dante communications, and NDI-based teleprompters
  • A DMX lighting control system to control color temperatures and lighting set-ups

“We designed this studio/control room to enable IRONMAN to record training videos with virtual sets and to acquire, produce and stream its own high-value sports content,” Heitmann said. “We also paid special attention to the quality and consistency of the lighting for virtual sets, and keeping video and audio in sync with NTP clocking. The complete solution now ensure a flawless, broadcast-quality presentation for every IRONMAN event.”


Download Case Study

Listening in on player-coach comms promises peek behind the scenes

By Ken Kerschbaumer, Editorial Director, SVG

While Fox Sports was putting plenty of focus the past month on its execution of a 1080p HDR-production plan for Super Bowl LIV, another part of the team was focused on development of a production plan for this weekend’s kickoff of the XFL on Fox. There will also be one unifying element: the graphics package that debuted last week will be at the center of the XFL broadcasts.

“I like it a lot,” says Judy Boyd, SVP, Fox Sports Production, Fox Sports, of the new look. “It pops a lot, and I liked the touchdown-hero element. And keeping the quarterback’s statistics up wasn’t intrusive.”

Fox Sports is clearly no stranger to producing everything from massive football games like Super Bowl LIV to smaller college football games. NFL productions are known for three levels: A level for the top games of the week, B level, and C. The XFL broadcasts will rival a B-level game, with about 12 cameras — six of which will be capable of high-speed capture — deployed along with a Skycam for the game.

Sports-TV historians may recall that the original XFL introduced the cablecam to football coverage, changing TV production forever. Can the XFL do the same? There will be some innovations on the audio side that could ultimately change the way things are done.

“From the get-go, [the XFL’s] mantra [has been] to be the league of yes, and they have lived up to that,” says Boyd. “We have really pushed them on the level of access we can have, whether it is cameras in the bench area, next to the coaches, and even talking to the head coaches in their headset during the game. And the XFL has been open to it.”

A test game in January proved out many of the concepts, and Boyd says that viewers will be able to get a peek behind the curtain to see what happens on the sidelines and hear the chatter that occurs in the headsets.

For example, four players per team will be miked up during the game (most likely the QB and a skill player and the defensive play callers), and Fox will have full access to coaching communications.

“The cool thing is that the XFL will not close down communication between the coach and the quarterback at the whistle,” says Boyd. “The coach will be able to talk to the quarterback during the play, and we will have full access to that and will be able to air it. But it will be a fine line of how much is too much, given all of the football jargon.”

Also expect greater access to the communications during replay reviews.

“We’re lucky that the head of officiating for the XFL is Dean Blandino [who works for us on NFL broadcasts],” says Boyd. “We’ll be able to listen in on the replay conversations and even the conversations between officials on the field. It’s not meant to embarrass the officials but rather to show what is going on and why things are decided a certain way.”

All that access has caught the attention of some of the coaches, but Boyd says the Fox production team will make sure not to reveal too much and possibly hurt the competition and integrity of the game. But the coaches will be interviewed during the game, with Fox analysts allowed to talk to them via the headset following a key play.

The audio access will be complemented by expanded handheld RF access: RF cameras will be allowed in the bench area and also next to the coaches.

“We tested out the on-the-field RF access to see what kind of things could allow us to be on the field more,” says Boyd. One rule difference compared with the NFL is that, on kickoffs, the players are not allowed to move until the ball is caught by the receiving team. That opens up the opportunity to have a handheld on the field when the ball is kicked and then have the cameraman leave the field while the ball is in the air.”

One of the most interesting aspects of the Fox Sports production will be the director/producer combination: Chuck McDonald, who produces Fox college football, will work with Rich Russo, who directed Super Bowl LIV.

“We’re really happy to get those two guys together,” says Boyd. “They don’t get to work together so it will be interesting to merge the two different types of football production.”

Technical-services providers include Game Creek Video, whose brand-new Gridiron truck will be at the center of Fox coverage and Bravo will handle the other game. CP Communications is providing RF audio, RF video and coordination and Fox RF audio, and Riedel will provide XFL coaching and player communications. Bexel is on hand to provide the signal distribution and fiber connectivity for the XFL and Fox, and 3G Wireless will handle additional RF video demands. CenturyLink will provide fiber transmission back to Fox headquarters in Los Angeles.

“We’ve gathered some of the best football people we have,” says Boyd, “and we’re excited to see the melding of the different NFL and college football crews.”

XFL on Fox coverage kicks off on Feb. 8 from Houston’s TDECU Stadium when the Los Angeles Wildcats play the Houston Roughnecks. The next day, the Tampa Bay Vipers play the New York Guardians at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ.

By Jason Dachman, Chief Editor, SVG

A new era of pro football kicks off this weekend when the XFL opens its inaugural season with a quartet of games on ABC, ESPN, and Fox. The XFL is looking to differentiate its on-air product from more-traditional NFL and college-football broadcasts in three ways: a faster pace, more big plays, and plenty of inside access for viewers. With that in mind, the league has granted ESPN, which will combine with ABC to carry a 22-game slate this season, unprecedented access both on the field and behind the scenes.

ESPN’s XFL productions will feature RF cameras on the field and more-liberal use of the Skycam during the huddle; access inside locker rooms during halftime; live audio from coaches, players, and officials during the game; in-game interviews with coaches and players on the sidelines; and more.

“I think what’s going to make this product unique is the audio access and the access that our cameras will have to make [viewers] feel like they are truly part of each play,” says ESPN Operations Manager Dick Mullen. “We’re not reinventing [football coverage], but we are excited about these little tweaks that are going to make the game more intimate, with more access to players and coaches, make it quicker with less dead time between plays, and give people an inside look that they’re just not going to see elsewhere.”

New Trucks for a New League: NEP’s Supershooter 9, MTVG’s 46FLEX
ESPN will have the luxury of working out of two brand-new mobile units for this XFL season: NEP’s Supershooter 9, which is making its maiden voyage this weekend (check sportsvideo.org for a full story on the new truck), and Mobile TV Group’s 46FLEX, which debuted for the NFL on Fox last season and is making its first appearance for ESPN. Both trucks are IP-based, with Supershooter 9 (working ESPN’s Saturday games) featuring a Lawo/Arista IP router and 46FLEX (working ESPN’s Sunday game) based on an Evertz EXE IP router.

“One of the main factors in deciding which trucks we were going to go with was the fact that both trucks are IP-based trucks,” says ESPN Remote Operations Specialist Brian Ristine. “That allows us to take a brand-new product in the XFL and bring it into the most current and cutting-edge technology. You have the opportunity for growth with IP, and you break the proverbial barrier that you had with traditional baseband infrastructures. It allows you to remain flexible, and it leaves a large potential for expansion in the future.”

All of ESPN productions (as well as Fox Sport) will be in 1080p, and both the Saturday and Sunday games will have nearly identical equipment levels.

“Internally at ESPN,” says Ristine, “we’ve been trying to migrate as many of our properties to 1080p as possible, and, since this is a fresh start for the XFL, we made the effort to bring it to 1080p right from the beginning. We also are treating both games with the same equipment and facilities levels, rather than as an A and B game. The only major difference between the two games is going to be the production teams.”

Camera Coverage: RF Handhelds, Skycam Go Inside the Game
In terms of the camera complement, ESPN will deploy traditional positions for game coverage, including three mid-level game cameras, a low- and high-end zone, a cat camera, a cabled handheld, and a Skycam wired aerial system. However, the coverage will stray from the traditional football-coverage philosophy with a pair of wireless RF cameras (provided by CP Communications) that will have unlimited access to the field of play, the sidelines, and the locker rooms.

“The RF cameras are going to be very heavily relied on,” says ESPN Associate Operations Manager Leigh Michaud. “We are going to be able to go right onto the field of play, into the coach’s box, into the locker rooms, and be able to do interviews with players and coaches during the game. I think that a lot of our most unique looks are going to come from those handheld cameras.”

ESPN will also have unmanned cameras in the coach’s booth and in the officials’ replay booth.

ESPN will deploy a Skycam just as it does for Monday Night Football and its top college football games. However, the XFL is expected to grant the camera much more freedom to traverse the field before and after the play compared with the NFL and college.

“In terms of the Skycam, some of the things that are verboten with almost any other football league will be welcomed in the XFL,” says Mullen. “Traditionally, on an NFL or college football game, the Skycam can’t get too close to a huddle or to a player. But, with the XFL, we expect to see the Skycam getting down low and hanging right over the top of that huddle to get a better look at what’s going on in there.”

ESPN’s creative-services team has also built a brand-new graphics package for the ABC/ESPN coverage, and longtime partner SMT will provide the 1st-and-Ten Line virtual-graphic system, which will be available on Cameras 1, 2, 3, and 4 (it will not be available on the Skycam).

Audio Coverage: Coach Comms, Player Mics, and Inside the Replay Booth
In addition to more freedom for the cameras, ESPN will have access to plenty of behind-the-scenes audio from coaches and players for its broadcasts.

“What’s really exciting about XFL is the access they’re allowing us to the players and coaches,” says Mullen. “We will be able to tap right into the coach comms system, and we will have mics on several players on the field. “

ESPN will have direct access to the XFL’s coaching comms system (provided by Riedel Communications) and has a four-wire intercom circuit so that announcers and the production truck can have two-way communication with coaches during the game.

In addition, four players on each team — two on offense, two on defense — will be outfitted with RF microphones (provided by CP) to capture in-game audio during plays.

“We’ll also have our own complement of wireless microphones on the side of the field,” says Ristine, “and we are planning on using a boom microphone to get more audio of the players coming on and off the field. We’re going to try to get more intimate and cover the audio on the field as closely as we can.”

ESPN will have a feed directly from the XFL’s Sony Hawkeye replay system so viewers will see exactly what officials see as they’re looking at replays and have direct communication with the replay official supervisor so they can describe what they’re looking at in real time and how they made their decisions.

Sideline Access: Up Close and Personal With Players and Coaches
In addition to the RF cameras covering the action on the sidelines, ESPN will deploy a far-side 50-yard-line camera that will shoot back at the near-side bench to better capture the activity of coaches and players during the game. XFL is also making each team’s PR director directly available on the field to help secure players and coaches for in-game interviews immediately after a big play on the field.

“We have eight fairly well-known coaches in this league,” Mullen notes, “and each one of them has been really receptive to the idea of having a camera in their face throughout the day. That’s not something that the average coach will deal with well, but we have some characters in this league who will be revealed during the season because they’re going to be on the air so much.”

ESPN, along with Fox Sports, completed a rehearsal during scrimmages at the University of Houston’s TDECU Stadium (home of the XFL’s Houston Roughnecks) last month, allowing production and operations team to get a feel this new all-access style of football coverage.

“One thing that I took away from the first game of the rehearsal was when a player was ejected from the game and we were able to interview him immediately after his ejection,” says Michaud. “The emotion pouring out of him was really interesting to see, and I think the production team is very excited to have the chance to interview a player right after he makes a big play and get firsthand comments.”

A New Style of Football Broadcast: Fast and Furious
In addition to big plays and inside access, the XFL is focused on speeding up the pace of play for its games. With that in mind, ESPN will be working with a three-hour TV window (vs. four hours for an NFL or college game), and it will not host a formal halftime show since XFL halftime periods will be just 10 minutes including commercials.

“The games are very compact because the XFL is looking to have less downtime in the game,” says Mullen. “Since the halftime will be so short, all of our programming will be done onsite from the booth. That said, we will have full access into the locker rooms at that time, so plan to be in the locker rooms to see the adjustments and discussions in there, which will be very exciting.”

More than two years after plans for the XFL were announced, the league will finally take the gridiron this weekend. Inside the truck, producer Josh Hoffman and director Anthony Demarco will handle the Saturday games; producer Mandy Cohen and director Bob Frattorali will man the Sunday games. ESPN Coordinating Producer II Bill Bonnell and Senior Production Manager Vic Morren are overseeing the productions. Although many viewers may not know what to expect, one thing is for sure: the XFL will be a whole new kind of football-viewing experience.

“The XFL has listened to what the fans want and has created a game that is made just for them,” says Michaud. “To able to deliver that vision on television is really exciting. We’ve got a lot of unique and interesting things planned, and I think people are going to want to keep watching after they see that first game.”

Majestic campus erected and designed by Filmwerks is pumping out hundreds of hours of content

By Brandon Costa, Director of Digital, SVG

What’s the point of producing a studio show on-site at a major event, if not to paint the picture of the host locale and to engross the viewer in all that makes it unique. That’s the belief of Fox Sports’ VP, Operations Rod Conti, whose team has outdone themselves with a set to behold on the sands of South Beach in Miami for coverage surrounding Super Bowl LIV.

Fox Sports’ massive studio set activation in South Beach for Super Bowl LIV spans nine acres of production and operations workspace.

Midweek FS1 studio shows (like Skip and Shannon: Undisputed, First Things First, The Herd, Speak For Yourself, and Lock It In) along with game day staples like Fox NFL Sunday will all churn out hundreds of hours of content from the nearly nine acres of production and operations support workspace that Fox has stretched across the southern reaches of Miami Beach. And its all offering a fresh, fun, and eclectic feel for what makes this region of the country so special.

“Sense of place is huge,” says Conti, who has overseen many achievements in set design for Fox, including memorable structures at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Moscow’s Red Square and the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Paris overlooking the Eiffel Tower. “What’s synonymous with that place? What’s the first thing that you think of? When we were designing this, I said, ‘this is what I want: Ocean Drive, art deco, palm trees, the sea. What do people think of first when they think of Miami. It’s this beach.

A 55-ft. Technocrane not only supplies sweeping aerial images of the sets, it also is capable of display augmented reality graphics.

Along with its structural and scenic set design partner Filmwerks, Fox Sports has built what is essentially a temporary Fox Corp. campus that is worthy of the Big Game in both scale and scope. For the sports side alone, the network has erected a pair of 50-ft. by 50-ft. production stages bridges by a small demo football field area coverage is large 1.6 mm LED screens that measure up in total to more than 50 square meters.

“How often do we get acres of beach front property to play with?” laughs Conti. “This is TV, we’re used to working in tiny spaces in New York City or a convention center. This is primo.”

Setting the scene of South Beach was far more challenging a task than simply plopping a set in the heart of the strip. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has worked in television production that placing massive structural weight and millions of dollars of gear and personnel onto beach sand isn’t without its obstacles.

Plus, since Fox’s set is set back a bit off of the street of Ocean Drive itself, Conti and his team are utilizing a pair of high-powered camera support systems to help set the scene. A camera on a Strada Crane extends as high as 80 ft. and if offering breathtaking sweeping aerial images of the sets while transitioning smoothly to views of the Atlantic Ocean. Meanwhile, back further inland, a two-point, wired FlyCam system stretches 600 feet along the street the gather in the colors and sounds of Ocean Drive.

The stages are loaded with gear, including a camera complement that featured a pair of RF Steadicams, a RF handheld, and a pair of Technocranes, one measuring 55-ft. high that’s outside on the central football field and a 22-ft. fixture that’s used on the southern-most of the two sets.

Each stage is supported by a control room towards the rear of the room. In fact, each portion of this full structure does an exemplary job of containing everything it needs within a organized footprint, while maintaining clean lines not only for the viewers at home but for those in fans being brought in for live audience of the many programs shooting live here.

There’s more than 10 miles of fiber and five zones of PA speaker systems and one would hardly notice them unless that were pointed out. Set designers took extra care into incorporating real Miami Beach sand for authenticity, while laying down similarly-colored carpet and boardwalk-like wooden boards in the areas where there would be significant crew and talent foot traffic. Blending in the audio wasn’t easy, but Conti found a solution he fell in love with, utilizing an Italian company called K-array, supplied by CP Communications, for thin speaker systems that were installed in the corner walls of the sets, and a special flexible, snake-like speaker strip called an Anakonda that provided inconspicuous in-house audio for the studio audience.

“We wanted to make it all work aesthetically but it’s also completely functional,” says Conti. “Everything is storage or a mini studio of its own. It’s clean. Plus, when you have those big high cameras that pull in cool shots, you can’t be looking down at a mess.”

More than 350+ production, technical and support staff are working here on this impressive campus that began going up way back on January 6. First arrivers raked and matted down the sand before it two approximately two weeks to build the structures themselves before set designers could even begin dressing them. Plus, weather that was unpredictable at time, caused Fox to have to be extra cautious with elements of the build out that could be more dangerous than others.

“It was an ambitious timeline, but not overly tight,” says Brad Cheney, VP, Field Operations & Engineering, Fox Sports. There were definitely spots where we had to play a little bit of catch up because of the wind.”

Fox’s campus at South Beach is supported by NEP Broadcasting’s ND1 series of mobile production trucks. The primary A unit houses a pair of control rooms, while the B unit contains all video and audio, the C unit is filled by transmission and some digital staffers, and the D unit is a hodgepodge of graphics, those overseeing the many big LED screens on the sets, CP Communications staffers managing RF video and audio, and Fletcher executive any robotic cameras.

The full structure also boasts more than 50 square meters worth of 1.6mm LED video wall, including a gigantic screen that bridges between the two main stages.

The campus, while impressive in its own right, is from from a standalone entity. There’s a wealth of connectivity between the various sets here, as well as with Hard Rock Stadium up in Miami Gardens, Radio Row in Miami Beach Convention Center, and Fox Sports’ other home facilities in New York City (they leverage Fox News headquarters), Charlotte, and Los Angeles.

At the South Beach compound, there are 56 transmit paths to five different locations, utilizing satellite, fiber, IP and even cellular. Thirty 30 receive paths from those five 5 locations are coming in over fiber and IP. There’s also 16Gbps of data interconnections on that network.

That level of connectivity has also helped Cheney’s ops team run many at-home production elements to support everything that’s going on at these sets. He says there are, generally, two models of production being done on any given show on the Fox Sports South Beach stages. A majority of programming is sub-switch and sub-mix, meaning a technical director and an A1 are mixing the show alongside a director here at South Beach while communicating with a team in either New York or Los Angeles to insert graphics, run playback, etc. Certain shows, however, like NASCAR Race Hub, which is hosting daily shows on these stages in Miami, are full at-home productions utilizing their home Charlotte facility. Even when game day rolls around on Sunday, major programming like FOX NFL Sunday and FOX NFL Kickoff will be at-home productions with South Beach, the stadium, and Los Angeles.

“We treated this place like we treat the Los Angeles facility in that any control room can be on any stage at any time,” says Cheney. “They can go back-to-back and hop each other and route around.”

Lastly, one of the biggest challenges faced by Fox in South Beach was managing wireless frequency. Cheney noted there wasn’t much frequency in the spectrum to begin with before Fox arrived, and they are utilizing upwards of 40 wireless microphones, 20 wireless IFBs, 24 wireless PLs, and 32 channels of wireless for utility purposes. Plus tie in the fact that ESPN, NFL Network, and a few other media entities are all putting on similar shows in the same area of Miami Beach, all within about a mile of each other.

It all became such a bare that all of the Super Bowl broadcasters actually banded together to hire CP Communications to help frequency manage the entirety of South Beach for everyone.