CBS Sports this week completed two successful tests that had the SkyCam operator controlling pan, tilt, and zoom functions from a location thousands of miles away. “What we did Sunday and last night is historic,” says Ken Aagaard, EVP, innovation and new technology, CBS Sports.
The CBS Sports production team — working with SkyCam, SMT, and The Switch — tested control of the SkyCam and virtual lines for last night’s game in Green Bay from Sneaky Big Studios in Phoenix.
The first test was on Sunday for the NFL game at Wembley Stadium in London. The pilot and a camera operator were onsite in London, but a second camera operator was located with the SkyCam team that was in Green Bay, WI, where the Packers were playing the Cincinnati Bengals in the CBS A game.
“The operator in Green Bay controlled the camera for the whole first half, and it was pretty cool,” says Aagaard. A Vyvx circuit was used to transport JPEG2000 signals that cut latency to milliseconds and ensured that there was little if any communications delay.
“The Switch is leading this as it relates to all of the JPEG2000 technology,” Aagaard adds. “That allows the operators and, more important, the director to give instructions with almost zero latency.”
But, last night, for the Thursday Night Football game between the Packers and the Chicago Bears, Aagaard says the team took things up a notch as the camera operator was in Phoenix, AZ at Sneaky Big Studios along with a graphics operator from SMT who could insert the virtual scrimmage line and first and ten line remotely.
“We also tested insertion of augmented reality graphics and it looked really good,” says Aagaard. “We had the SkyCam controlled remotely during the second and third quarters and [Director] Mike Arnold said after the game that he had no idea we had made the switch.”
The efforts point to a future where not only the camera operator but also the pilot will not have to travel to the stadium and instead could be located at a facility near their home. Or there could be a hub located that could be a beehive of activity on game day with operators working multiple games on a day or backing each other up.
“From a vendor point of view the way this is going is you could have the camera operator in New Jersey, the pilot in Dallas at SkyCam’s headquarters, and the SMT operator at SMT’s headquarters in Raleigh, NC.”
Aagaard says the next step is to figure out how to use a similar workflow for NFL games later this season or, at the least, consider it when planning for next year begins.
“The good news is we know we can do it so it will start to happen more and more,” he says. “It was a great collaborative effort between everyone: CBS, SkyCam, The Switch, SMT, Vyvx, and Sneaky Big.”