Super Bowl Gets Supersized Production

Super Bowl XL should be a technical production worthy of its lofty Roman initials. ABC will bring a large-scale HDTV production system to Detroit for the Feb. 5 contest between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Seattle Seahawks.

Although ABC has broadcast the Super Bowl in HD before, at 2003’s Super Bowl XXXVII in San Diego, that was a supplemental production to the standard-definition feed and used only eight cameras. This year, all 36 of ABC’s cameras will be high-definition. (For point of comparison, the network used 21 cameras on a typical Monday Night Football production.) ABC will produce the game completely in 720-line progressive-scan HD, use HD graphics, replay and editing systems, and derive a standard-definition feed to support the analog NTSC service.


Everything is being done on a grand scale, and ABC is using 400 people behind the scenes to make that happen. “For the Super Bowl, even the two radio-frequency cameras on the sideline will be high-def,” says Jay Gleeson, manager of remote operations, ABC Sports. “[Director Drew Esocoff] wants them to be wireless, so we can jump in there if something happens behind the bench. Wireless is important, because the congestion on a Super Bowl sideline is incredible.”

Getting wireless transmission systems for handheld HD cameras has been a challenge because the high-def video requires considerable bandwidth. But the RF signal still needs to be robust enough to be reliably received in an interference-prone venue like a football stadium. ABC thinks it has found a solution with an RF system from Burbank, Calif.-based Aerial Video Systems (AVS), a company that specializes in helicopter cameras.

There are so many wireless users at the Super Bowl, it can make the signals go haywire. “Typically on a Monday-night game, we will use six RF parabolic microphones, says Gleeson. “We’ll have zero at Ford Field, because we’re afraid they will get [interfered with]. Instead, we’ll have 12 cabled parabolic microphones, but with the congestion on the sideline, we can’t get around as well.”

ABC will use 20 “hard” cameras for the Super Bowl, including six super-slo-mo units, and seven hand-held cameras, including two super-slo-mos as sideline cameras, the two RF HD cameras and one Steadicam. It will also use six robotic cameras: two fixed on the goal lines, two remote-controlled pan-and-tilt cameras on the goalposts, one Skycam suspended on cables above the field, and one unmanned fixed camera.

Those cameras are all supplied by Thomson and use Canon HD lenses. The one exception is a prototype Sony 3x super-slo-mo system that ABC hopes to use (it was due to be delivered last week). The main point-of-view cameras will be mounted on Fletcher 900 robotic units on the goal line. There will be two manned units on the sidelines.

ABC will be using disk-based replay systems from Belgium’s EVS. Graphics will be handled by Chyron Duet and Discreet Inferno visual- effects systems. Five Avid Symphony nonlinear systems will be used for the pregame show.

For the game, ABC will use both the Avid systems and an Apple Final Cut Pro systems.

On the audio side, ABC will producing the game in Dolby Digital 5.1-channel sound and uses Calrec and Sennheiser microphones to capture the sounds of bodies colliding.

ABC is using 29 vehicles for production, technical, administrative and support crews. That includes 10 onsite production trucks, with NEP’s Supershooter 26 as the main game truck. The network will have HD and SD transmission paths over both Vyvx fiber and C-band satellite from Detroit back to its New York broadcast center.

Ford Field opened just four seasons ago, but Gleeson says, surprisingly, it wasn’t built “very Super Bowl-friendly.” The actual compound for all mobile trucks is outside, and in early February, that could be a problem if weather turns bad. There is also only a single major access point to the field, through one tunnel, so ABC is cabling through a window in the side of the building (it will use 90 miles of cable in all).

“It’s like trying to do the Olympics at Madison Square Garden,” says Gleeson.


ABC’s 3½-hour Super Bowl pregame show will also air in HD. It will use two sets, the main one measuring 30 by 30 feet. A smaller, 16- by 20-foot set will be located on the field in the end zone and will be dismantled before the game begins.

The main set is “40 feet off the playing surface of the field,” says Coordinating Director Patrick McManus. “It’s a great location.”

The pregame show will be covered mainly by three hard cameras, a small (9-foot) jib, and a Panavision SuperTechno 50 crane, which can telescope from 12 feet to 50 feet. McManus says the pregame show will use 18 cameras including handhelds and point-of-view cameras.

The technical showpiece of the main pregame set is a circular video floor composed of 17-inch Barco LED (light-emitting diode) screens linked together to form a seamless display measuring 8 feet in diameter. The video floor is enclosed in a raised platform. ABC has built a custom truss above the set to hold the set lights in a U-shape, so the LED floor can be seen from above.

“It can show anything that we can roll on tape, as well as full graphics elements.” says McManus.

The Panavision crane will sit above the stage and can capture live video or graphics played on the screen, as well as sweeping shots of the set and the stadium.

“It’s beautiful,” says McManus of the Pana­vision crane. “This thing can telescope right between the announcers and out into the stands, right past them into the LED floor, then back up to 50 feet in the air.”