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At Dawn of AAF Era, Technological Innovation Drives Live Productions


At Dawn of AAF Era, Technological Innovation Drives Live Productions Dual Skycam, at-home production, and a virtual studio will play major roles By Jason Dachman, Chief Editor

Friday, February 8, 2019 - 2:11 pm

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The inaugural season of Alliance of American Football (AAF) kicks off this weekend, and all four game productions are expected to feature next-gen production tools aimed at delivering a football-viewing experience unlike anything viewers have seen before. Highlighting the tech expected to be deployed this season are dual Skycam systems on every game, a state-of-the-art virtual studio for pre/postgame and halftime shows, an RFID-chip-based player-tracking system, and live mics on coaches and quarterbacks.

The inaugural AAF season kicks off on Saturday night in primetime on CBS.

There are a number of technological advances that we're going to have, said Alliance of American Football Co-Head of Production Mark Teitelman during an SVG event at Sneaky Big Studios last month. Being able to build something from the ground up is something we're all proud of. I think the quality of football is going to be really, really strong; we certainly have a lot of impressive NFL people working on it. So I feel good about what we're going to put on TV. And it's our job as storytellers, as producers and directors to make it look as good as possible.

The upstart league is attempting to balance high-end production elements with cost-efficient workflows. During the season, two of each weekend's four games will be produced remotely from a control room at Sneaky Big in Scottsdale, AZ (where the virtual studio also is located).

The Viewing Experience: Streamlining How Fans Watch Football

The league has inked deals with CBS Sports, NFL Network, and Turner Sports. The action kicks off tomorrow with a pair of primetime games on CBS, which will also carry the Championship Game in April. On Sunday, CBS Sports Network kicks off its 11-week AAF Game of the Week at 4 p.m. ET, and NFL Network's 19-game AAF slate at 8 p.m. (the network will carry two primetime games per week for the remainder of the regular season).

The AAF production team will have more freedom to deploy Skycam in a variety of locations compared with NFL coverage.

TNT will televise one AAF regular-season game (Feb. 16 leading into NBA All-Star Saturday Night) and one playoff game. Additional regular-season games will be available weekly via B/R Live. Fans will be able to stream AAF games for free through the league's soon-to-launch app.

In addition to the technology, viewers can expect a more streamlined football-viewing experience. According to Teitelman, AAF games will have no TV timeouts and less than half the commercials of an NFL game, as well as no kickoffs and extra points. With a simplified structure and the league's full ownership of all eight teams, Teitelman believes, production teams will have an unparalleled level of freedom for storytelling.

When Charlie [Ebersol, AAF co-founder/CEO] pitched me to come on board, he basically said, You have a blank slate, says Teitelman, a veteran NFL Network/Fox Sports NFL-game producer. We own the league, and we own the teams, so we don't have to go get 32 owners' permission or go through a competition committee to [deploy new production elements]. We're certainly not a gimmick league, though; it's real football. But there are certainly some freedoms that we have that the NFL doesn't [provide]. That opens up a few more channels for us and gives us a chance to paint with a little wider brush.

Game Coverage: Coverage Will Be Based on Skycams

According to Teitelman, each game production will feature six or seven cameras - whether onsite or at-home production - including two Skycam systems. For the two at-home productions each week, the Skycam pilots will be onsite, but the operators will be located at Sneaky Big.

AAF's Mark Teitelman (right) previewed the league's production plans during a Q&A with Sneaky Big's Ben Grafchick at a SVG Regional Platinum Series event in January.

Although most football productions deploy three up-high cameras to cover the field, AAF games will typically have one. However, Teitelman says, production teams will compensate with a more liberal use of the two Skycam systems at their disposal.

Rather than simply locating the Skycam behind the offense or above the line of scrimmage, the production team will have the freedom to maneuver the systems almost anywhere on the field. Viewers can expect to see Skycam views never seen in NFL action, including from the defense perspective and off-axis sideline angles. In the red zone, the Skycam will often be located along the sideline, operating like a traditional camera cart but with the capability of flying down the sideline or toward the action.

Our goal is to figure out if there's a way we can show [the game] differently from what everybody else has been [showing it], says Teitelman. We'd like to see the Skycams on the sideline in a very intimate play-by-play [integration]. It's very complicated, and we have to play with it and really work at it. But there are a lot of things those cameras can do that producers have been a little reluctant to get super adventurous with.

On the audio side, head coaches and quarterbacks will be miked (including play-calling comms) when available. And, with more freedom to deploy live mics on the field, the production team will look to capture more NFL Films-style inside-the-game audio.

One thing that has always bothered me is, we do an NFL game on Sunday and, that Tuesday, you see the NFL Films version on Inside the NFL. And it's a totally different game because you hear everybody talking; you see what they're saying. I would love to be able to give view
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