One of the things television sports producers have long been enamored with is the idea of producing a sports broadcast that looks like a video game. Thursday Night Football viewers will get a taste of such thinking with NBC’s coverage of the Titans-Steelers in Pittsburgh on Nov. 16. The network said its primary viewing angle (on first and second downs) will be via a dual-SkyCam system, with one camera about 15 or 17 feet above the field and only a few feet behind the deepest offensive player. (The dual-SkyCam coverage also has one system that covers the full field.)
The experiment was prompted by the network being forced on the fly to use the camera angle in Week 7 for its Sunday Night Football broadcast between the Falcons and Patriots on Oct. 22. After fog rolled into Gillette Stadium late in the first half of that game, Sunday Night Football producers used the SkyCam technology for a camera angle that offered a clearer view of the field.
“Obviously whoever said necessity was the mother of invention knew what they were talking about because this really came about over the events in Foxboro when the fog rolled in in the second half and made the field unseeable from most of our cameras up in the stands,” said Sunday Night Football producer Fred Gaudelli. “While I was in the middle of it in the fourth quarter I was thinking to myself, ‘People are going to ask why isn’t this camera used more on a live play-by-play basis?’ After that, our team got together and really started to put significant time into what we would have to add and do if we wanted to cover a game primarily from this camera. That’s what we’ve spent the last three weeks doing since that Falcons-Patriots game, and we feel like we have a pretty good plan.”
Gaudelli said that while SkyCam will be the predominant camera on Thursday night, NBC will use a conventional camera on third downs as well as when both teams are in in red zone. It is not an accident that NBC is attempting this experiment for this game. Gaudelli said the quality of both offensive lines as well as premier running backs on both sides make it a good fit.
“Then you have defenses that show so many looks at the line of scrimmage to confuse quarterbacks that you’re going to get some looks live that you don’t normally get,” Gaudelli said. “I think you may have a different appreciation for people and things that aren’t always illuminated inside of a telecast.”
“It’s a look that has become so popular in a replay scenario probably because it's the look that gets on the air more than any other,” said Drew Esocoff, the director of Sunday Night Football. “I think there’s an intimacy to it, there is a dynamic component to it and as long as we’re smart about showing people what they’re used to seeing prior to the snap of the ball, formations and so forth, I think it’s going to be a really fun change up.”
Gaudelli said the feedback to the New England coverage was overwhelmingly positive but as far as a permanent change, NBC is going to need a lot more data points from viewers to see how they react to such a dramatic change.
“Look, football essentially has been covered the same way from the first day it was covered,” Gaudelli said. “Yes, we’ve added cameras, technology. But the game itself has been covered a certain way, and I think this is a chance to kind of slightly break away from that and give people a different production to evaluate and see if they like it or not. One of the reasons why we wanted to pick this game was we felt like we had two teams where it would really be advantageous to see what’s happening at the line of scrimmage because of these offensive lines, because of the way these defenses like to blitz and all those things. If we were doing the Kurt Warner Rams of 1999, that not may not be the best way to see this because that was a wide-open team, the ball was going down the field, a lot of motion, a lot of shifting, all those things.”