To prepare for the Super Bowl 2019 broadcast, CBS enhanced its streaming platform and added new camera technology.
Welcome back to SCREENSHOTS, a weekly report from the intersection of sports, media, and the Internet.
ATLANTA—The way CBS Sports’ head of innovation Ken Aagaard describes it, production trucks sound like stock trading floors. Throughout Super Bowl LIII, over 100 picture operators will be regularly pitching their shots to producers, conscious to “sell judiciously,” as Aagaard says, or risk becoming the cameraman who cried wolf. Unlike Wall Street, though, there will only be one buyer Sunday—lead producer Jim Rikhoff—and over 100 million fans will see whatever he decides to show us. This year, there’s a new toy on the market.
When CBS last had the Super Bowl three years ago, Aagaard deployed a prototype Sony 4k camera along the sideline. It captured the game’s defining play, Cam Newton’s late-game fumble, letting fans see how Von Miller dislodged the ball and clearly showing Newton’s face as the play developed. The game wasn’t broadcasted in 4k, but the advanced camera allowed replay operators to zoom in on the action without losing quality, selling the perfect shot.
In that moment, Aagaard was convinced of the technology’s power, just as he was previously sold on High Definition once upon a time. While Super Bowl LIII is Tony Romo’s first in the booth and Rikhoff’s first in the lead producer chair, it’s Aagaard’s 19th—and last. The SVG Sports Broadcasting Hall of Famer has worked in the field for 50 years. “I’m done,” he said, “and I’m smiling.” But first, he’s got a few more tricks to show off.
Before the game starts, the telecast will feature an augmented reality display, sending a “shockwave” through the turf using an arranged combination of overhead and sideline cameras. During play, 38 cameras contribute to Intel’s True View 360-degree replays, this year featuring the ability to remove irrelevant players from the clip.
The tech Aagaard was excited to show off first, however, was less flashy. This year, CBS has added a trio of 8k cameras to its fleet of 115 total lenses. “This could give us that one little shot,” he said, “So of course it’s worth it.”
Two have been installed in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium rafters, placed on special mounts to get an unblocked view of each red zone. Aagaard and producers are still deciding where to put the third. In the truck, custom software on a touchscreen minimizes motion blur and allows an operator to zoom in up to 10x without sacrificing much resolution.
Say Julian Edelman catches a pass toward the goal line, tip-toeing before falling out of bounds. You can look for a new overhead view that could determine whether there was a speck of turf between his foot and the white. Then you can imagine Aagaard standing in the back of a dimly lit production truck, grinning.
If football truly is a game of inches, we might finally be seeing all of it.
'THE HARDEST THING TO DO ON THE INTERNET'
While Aagaard focuses on making the broadcast look as sharp as it can, Jeff Gerttula’s job is getting it to you, wherever you are. As CBS Sports Digital’s general manager, he’s spent over a year helping tweak the company’s streaming infrastructure for this moment. “It brings the streaming business forward because you’re really pushing the limit of your current infrastructure,” he said. “Really, we’re actually pushing the internet to its physical limit.”
Previous CBS games this year have been behind the company’s All-Access paywall on most platforms, but the Super Bowl stream will be available for free. There’s a good chance it will break NBC’s Super Bowl record 6.1 million streaming devices from last year. “This is going to be a huge opportunity for us,” Gerttula said. (The online version will show the same national ads as fans see on TV, if you were curious.)
CBS has reserved bandwidth across the internet to deliver the feed smoothly at scale. Gerttula’s team has also worked to shrink the physical distance the footage will cover as it’s converted to the correct formats. “My expectation is that it will be the lowest amount of latency we’ve ever had,” he said.
Gerttula said Sunday night will be a stressful one. “It’s not for the meek, for sure,” he said. “There’s nothing that can prepare you for it …. I think it’s the hardest thing to do on the internet and it requires a significant effort from everyone.”
In the meantime, Sunday’s game presentation isn’t all Gerttula has to worry about. Last year, he helped launch CBS Sports HQ, an ad-supported streaming channel. The offering will air 10 hours of pregame coverage Sunday, with a postgame show running until midnight and including coverage of select player and coach press conferences. “We think of it as … the first time a majority of people will have experienced the service,” Gerttula said. “So that team is going to go on that night like it’s the first time anyone has ever watched.”
Then, after the Super Bowl, Gerttula and CBS will turn around and prepare for the launch of the Alliance of American Football, March Madness, the Masters and the PGA Championship.
THE NEXT TONY ROMO?
We likely won’t see another broadcaster burst onto the scene like Romo has for quite some time. But on a conference call this week, CBS voices were asked which current player or coach might make a great analyst one day soon.
Nate Burleson said fellow wideout Larry Fitzgerald understands every aspect of the game well enough to succeed as an analyst, if he doesn’t become a coach instead. CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus, meanwhile, named four men.
“Both Drew Brees and Philip Rivers, if they wanted to be commentators, would be really good,” he said. “They both have a lot of the qualities you look for in terms of being articulate and enthusiastic.” He then added coach Mike Tomlin and tight end Benjamin Watson as names to watch.
• 68%. That’s how often Tony Romo’s predictions came true during this season, according to The Wall Street Journal, which did the math.
• Harry Lyles Jr. talked to Pam Oliver for SB Nation.
• My favorite part of The Wall Street Journal’s dive into the finances of Bill Simmons’s media empire is that they refer to him as “the sports entrepreneur.” Sports Guy no longer, I guess.
• Sadly, Jason Witten’s year did not end well.
• A source told Bloomberg that the NFL could create “a new billion-dollar package of games [that will] go to a digital distributor such as Amazon.”
• Winging It hosts Kent Bazemore and Vince Carter chatted with Forbes’ Shlomo Sprung.
• Bryan Curtis has a gleefully grumpy profile of Bay Area columnist Ray
• FS1 is bringing back its commercial-free, coaches-wearing-microphones telecast Saturday for Seton Hall at Butler.
• A new Conviva study highlights the growth of streaming among NFL fans after the league made games easier to access on mobile phone while the underlying technology continues to improve.
• New cameras in players’ areas at the Australian Open are giving fans access that the stars might prefer they not have.
THANK YOU, INTERNET…
...for all your ace sleuthing around Sean Payton Shirtgate.