Tuesday, November 14, 2017
MODERATOR: Thank you, and good afternoon everybody. Welcome to our Thursday Night Football conference call. Joining us today are our Executive Producer, Fred Gaudelli and our Director, Drew Esocoff, who will discuss the presentation of this Thursday night’s game, between the Steelers and Titans which will feature live coverage from SkyCam. Each will begin with a quick opening mark, and we will take your questions and we will have a transcript later today on nbcsportsgrouppressbox.com.
With that I will turn it over to Fred Gaudelli.
FRED GAUDELLI: Thanks, Dan, and thanks for joining everyone. I will make it quick. Obviously whoever said necessity was the mother of invention knew what they were talking about, because this really came about over the events in Foxborough when the fog rolled in in the second half and made the field unseeable from most of our cameras up in the stands, and I think everybody saw what we did that night.
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 for tomorrow night, or Thursday night, I should say. Drew?
DREW ESOCOFF: I’m not ready for tomorrow night. I am ready for Thursday! I agree. It’s a look that has become so popular in a replay scenario probably because the look that gets on the air more than any other, and I’m excited about it. I think there’s an intimacy to it, there is a dynamic component to it and I think 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. And I hope people enjoy it.
Q. Hey, guys, can you go deeper into what the challenges of trying to make this work are, this camera angle? Are we going to see conventional camera angles prior to the plays and then go to the All 22? What’s the plan?
FRED GAUDELLI: No one has ever really done this in the past because when you think about football, football is a game of territorial advancement, right? You’re trying to move forward, and this camera trails the play. But the one thing that Drew and I talked about is you can’t have it all the time. Will it be the predominant camera? Absolutely. But I think we’ve already decided third downs we’re going to show it from the conventional camera because that’s the most important down in football. I think once we are inside the 15-yard line, the team is in the red zone, moving inside the 15, we’re going to show it from the conventional camera.
And you have a guy like Antonio Brown tomorrow night, you may not always see where he is lined up on SkyCam so Drew is going to have to work pre-snap so people get to see where he might be lined up. So all those things factor in, but we really want to try to be smart about it, and not just say ‘Here is SkyCam, come hell or high water.’
Q. And then the motivation for doing this? What kind of feedback exactly did you get from that game you did, the New England game?
FRED GAUDELLI: Well, the New England game was overwhelmingly positive. Even on my own personal Twitter account, I was getting a lot of action on it. It was all pretty much positive. I do know last week when we announced it during the Thursday night game, I would say the reaction was 50/50. I can understand some people who want to watch from the traditional angle, and I think we’re going to be able to satisfy those people as well, but I think we have two teams here that are perfectly suited for this.
You’ve got two of the best offensive lines in football. You have three premier running backs, and 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 tomorrow night live that you don’t normally get. I think you may have a different appreciation for people and things that aren’t always illuminated inside of a telecast.
Q. I was wondering if you could take us through what the roles are of the two cameras and how that is different from the old days when you just had the one camera. Would you be able to do this if you just had the one SkyCam as opposed to two?
DREW ESOCOFF: Well, I think adding the High Sky camera is — well, let’s go back. When this all started in New England and we started using SkyCam for our play-by-play look, the other up-cameras, the normal traditional game play-by-play cameras couldn’t see the field anyway, so we were sort of locked into that.
But with High Sky, it can give you — in a live look it can give you an overall feel of a lineman. What this comes down to is geometry. If you’re going to have a camera that is going to be closer to the action, it only goes to show you that it can’t be as wide. That’s why our fans are used to our normal play-by-play cameras, and for the same reason why coaches are used to the 22 camera. So it’s just a matter of optics and geometry, and I think having High Sky as a pre-snap look and maybe a new look at kickoff coverage and stuff like that will then make it a little bit easier for the fan to follow from SkyCam because they will know where players are coming from that end up in your frame at the end of the play that you didn’t see at the beginning of the play.
I just think we’re really going to have to be smart about that. And a lot of times if you’re coming out tight from a replay, that’s the way it is. But when we’re in our normal course of coverage and we have time, I really think it’s going to be important to show where players are lined up and so on and so forth. Basically SkyCam, because it’s only 15 or 17 feet above the field and only a few feet behind the deepest offensive player, simply can’t get wide enough because the lens doesn’t service that.
So I think having High Sky gives you another look of where players are lined up and makes it easier to follow the game once you cover the play live from the traditional SkyCam.
FRED GAUDELLI: I would just add to watch line play, offense or defensive line play, and to watch how a team might scheme up a blitz talking about in replay that is a really, really effective camera.
Q. Wondering on a different note, we all know that the story within the narrative with NFL ratings this year. Do you think this would have come up independently of that, or are those two things related, the idea of trying to come up with a different approach here and the NFL TV ratings?
FRED GAUDELLI: To me ratings are cyclical. Nothing ever goes straight up, right? There is nothing that goes straight up that doesn’t fluctuate or at least come back down. The ratings really didn’t motivate this. It was motivated by what happened in Foxborough that night. I think I read your article; I know you really liked it.
That was kind of the reaction we received, so we said, ‘Hey look, we should try to do this.’ Thursday Night Football has kind of always been the NFL’s laboratory for innovation, experimentation, whatever you want to call it. We just felt like this is going to be a worthy test to see if we added a couple of things — we’re going to have virtual down and distance for the SkyCam shot, we’re going to off the score bar just because it’s a little bit harder to tell what somebody gains or losses when you’re trailing the play. It’s going to pop up what the gain is, what the gain was on that particular play.
So we just felt like, given what the reaction was this is a worthy experiment and really the ratings never factored into my mind. We picked a really good game. We have two teams coming in on a four-game winning streak. We thought we should really try this and see if we can improve the coverage.
Q. Hi guys, did you discuss the XFL at all in your preparations for this? They use the camera angle from behind the quarterback as their standard. They, of course, had a camera man actually on the field in pads. I don’t think you’re planning that, but did you discuss that at all and how it worked for them?
FRED GAUDELLI: No.
Q. The second question I had is, do you think there’s going to be a time when viewers at home have more control for themselves over which camera angle they will watch? If they’re watching online, there is no reason there can’t be multiple feeds showing multiple angles.
FRED GAUDELLI: We used to have, at NBC, enhanced digital rights on our Sunday Night game where we used to stream a product called ‘Sunday Night Football Extra,’ where you were able to pick from four different angles, SkyCam being one, an isolation of the star on each side of the ball, and a couple others. So it’s really going to be what the leagues want to have distributed. I think the broadcast partners and the digital partners, I think they’re ready to go right now but I think it’s incumbent upon the leagues to service those viewers, if they want to service those viewers or what they want to service those viewers.
I mean, we’ve done it. We did it years ago. We would be happy to do it again, but it’s the leagues that control those rights, and I guess in a long-winded answer to your question, yeah, I think that will happen again.
Q. Guys, when we talked to you after the game in Foxborough you mentioned, and you alluded to it here that one of the limitations for SkyCam was for a live angle. You felt it wasn’t great for explosive plays and that you got lucky and there wasn’t too many big plays like that in that particular game that night with the Falcons and the Patriots. What’s the plan going into a game like this? Do you feel more comfortable about that? Will you pull out of it? When you have an explosive play what do you anticipate your response will be?
DREW ESOCOFF: I will say this: I think we have an extremely talented group that runs that. From a technological standpoint it’s a hand-held camera on a flying system so it doesn’t have the lens power of a traditional hard camera, but these guys are really good at what they do. If they can just track it and stay in focus, I don’t think we’re going to have any major issues.
This is not a camera that people haven’t seen before. People — we have followed chunk plays from a replay standpoint before. Is there a chance that there is a bobble here and there? Of course there is, but there is a chance on any camera that there is a bobble.
I feel confident — and I know this, I know they feel confident that they have the ability to track any play. It’s really a long pass play where the challenge really arises. A long run play, they can keep up with any running back in the league.
So I just think it’s going to be fun. I think it’s going to be fun for people to look at, and we’ll see what the reaction is. But going into it, I know I have confidence in our group to do it and I know they have confidence. I just think it’s going to be really fun.
FRED GAUDELLI: We should mention their names, Ed Martino is the camera person. He’s been doing it for us — the first time we used it was in Super Bowl XXXVII in San Diego and Ed was the operator.
DREW ESOCOFF: Cody Taylor is our pilot. He and I have been working together for years. I’ve been working with Eddie since 1990 in some form or capacity or another, and they’re excited about it. Usually in these situations people embrace the challenge and I know they will be up to it.
Q. In regards to maybe — not to get too techie here obviously, but Sony camera, Fuji lenses, your work with the SkyCam team, any talk or conversations with any of those individual entities when you knew that you wanted to try to use this solution in a bit of a different way from what it was originally intended?
DREW ESOCOFF: I don’t think so. The equipment — there is only a certain amount of weight you can put on that system so you’re not changing equipment, and normally one of the things I try to avoid is having people run new types of equipment when the eyeballs are on them. I would rather them be in a safe zone there. The problem is even if you could put longer lenses on these cameras, the longer the lens, the less wide it can get. So where you gain on one end, you lose on the other end.
So I just think it is what it is, and it’s been a great look both live and in replay, and these guys will be up for the challenge, and we’ll see how it goes.
Q. Fred, you mentioned earlier about ratings and you believed that they were cyclical and I think most intelligent people subscribe to that. Is there anything specific to this year’s slate of games that you have done that would prompt you to give a reason as to why NBC’s ratings are down this year?
FRED GAUDELLI: Well, I think probably the first six games were really not competitive. The opening night game we were tied in the fourth quarter to start the quarter and then the Chiefs blew it open. The Giants were never in the game in Dallas so we didn’t really have competitive games. We didn’t have Beckham in week one, we didn’t have Beckham in Denver, and I think that makes a difference.
Look, we’ve been really fortunate on this package from day one and this is a blip going the other way, but I still think it’s early. (John) Madden used to always say the season really begins after Thanksgiving or on Thanksgiving and that’s when all the jockeying takes place. Hopefully our games are going to get a lot tighter and hopefully most of the stars will be there for them.
Q. Fred, how are you going to ultimately judge whether or not this is successful Thursday night? Is it going to be a social media rating? What’s going to be the judge?
FRED GAUDELLI: Again, I don’t know that the ratings are going to be — we will have a few people more maybe — it’s a good game. It’s not like we have two losing teams here! We have two division leaders, each on four-game winning streaks, each with marquee players. Pittsburgh to me is right there with Dallas and Green Bay in terms of national appeal, so I don’t know how much this is going to impact that. I just think when we go back and watch it and see was the viewing experience enhanced or did the opposite occur? I think that’s how we will ultimately judge it. I will definitely check in social media and see what was being said, but I don’t expect it to be really heavy one way or the other.
I think what I saw after we announced it where some people were over the moon ecstatic and other people were like, why are we doing this? That’s probably how it will be on social media, but to me it’s going to be when we go back and watch it and we see what people say about it — did we make it more fun? Did we give you an experience that you haven’t had before without detracting from the experience you’re used to when you watch the NFL on NBC?
I think those are all the things we will go back and look at and see whether or not this was a success, but I think it’s a worthy attempt. Look, football essentially has been covered the same way from the first day it was covered. Yes, we’ve added cameras, technology, all those things, right? 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.
Q. I know this is getting way ahead of the game here but could you — if this thing is a success, could you envision doing some of this — obviously not the whole game but during a big game, like a playoff game or a Super Bowl where you are using angles more than just a few times, if at all during a game?
FRED GAUDELLI: Yeah, I think we would have to see. I think one thing about sports and one thing about live (TV), you just never know what you’re going to get, right? 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.
So I think there are a lot of factors that play into when you do it, and I know we did it last week when we promoted it, and we specifically waited for Arizona to have the ball because you knew it was going to Adrian Peterson, and you knew Seattle was going to put eight or nine defenders up at the line of scrimmage and it worked because of that. To me a lot of it is situational, but I’m hoping that we’re going to learn some things tomorrow night that we could use on Sunday Night or any other broadcast in the right situations.
MODERATOR: Thanks, everybody. Thanks for joining us. Thanks to Fred and Drew, and we will see you for the game on Thursday night.