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High-Tech Huddles

In an effort to give its NFL Network a programming advantage over the likes of ESPN, the National Football League has installed video teleconferencing systems in all its stadiums for conducting interviews with players and coaches. The league is using technology from Sony and GlowPoint to build a network more typical of a Fortune 500 company's boardroom than a broadcast facility, as it moves away from pricey satellite hookups.

“We pride ourselves on having access to the players and coaches in a way that no other entity can have,” says Peter Brickman, NFL Network senior VP of operations and engineering. “We're trying to get as much information out to our fans as possible.”

The Sony system, which includes the camera and related controls, lets personnel at the network's Culver City, Calif., facility control the action. Interview subjects simply put on a microphone and position themselves in front of the camera.

Partner GlowPoint, a Hillside, N.J.-based provider of teleconferencing services, uses Internet Protocol to deliver video over dedicated T1 phone lines capable of sending data at speeds up to 1.544 megabits per second. During the preseason, Glowpoint connected the NFL Network with every team's practice facility. As the regular season kicked off, the systems were moved into the stadiums, giving the network 24/7 access to players and coaches without having to book satellite time, which costs in the millions over the course of a season—as opposed to about $1,000 a month for a T1 line.

Lower cost isn't the only advantage, according to Glowpoint Chief Technology Officer Mike Brandofino. The system can switch from one team to the next in about 20 seconds and doesn't require a huddle of engineers, the way a satellite production does. Says Brandofino, “That gives the NFL Network a competitive advantage over the other sports networks.”