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Volume 27 No. 6
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Fox Sports Digital Innovates With Remote Production During Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic forced many broadcasters to change how they would deliver their shows. For FS1, it was not what they had planned, but more than a year’s worth of remote productions prepared it for what became its way of life for three months. Fox Sports Exec VP & Head of Digital David Katz said producing watch parties around big events such as the Super Bowl and specials like the Univ. of Miami-themed “The ReUnion” proved to be a “blessing in disguise.” Katz: “By producing hundreds of live shows under very difficult technical conditions, our digital team developed a unique expertise that enabled us to light up content immediately from talent’s homes across the country. ” FS1’s studio shows -- “The Herd -- With Colin Cowherd,” “Undisputed,” “Speak For Yourself” and “First Things First” had their last day on the Fox lot March 14. Working in lockstep with Fox Sports Head of Production Brad Zager and FS1 Exec VP/Content Charlie Dixon, Katz and his team offered technical solutions to help keep FS1 shows and talent on air.

GARAGE BAND: Some of the solutions were obvious, such as finding ways for on-air talent to transmit themselves via their cell phone or if a camera needed to be sent to their home. Others required ingenuity. Cowherd filmed his show at a radio station where he was alone in the studio with a camera. A Fox Sports technical director set up a production facility in his Santa Monica garage. Another set up one in her apartment. From those two facilities, Fox Sports’ digital team helped produce more than 250 hours of original live TV. Katz said, “There's a lot of handoffs and handshakes happening here. But the backbone of what was done in a control room at (Fox’ studios) before is now being done remotely and our producers are handling our talent remotely, and then it's incumbent on us as a digital team to provide all the tips and tricks that we've learned about.” These tips and tricks range from ideation on backdrops, individualized lighting, the talent’s distance from the camera and making sure everyone looks the same size on screen.

GROWTH CHART: Even without utilizing their primary facility, Fox Sports created several new programs for FS1 that are produced remotely. Katz and Zager’s teams collaborated on “Fox Football Now,” “MLB Safe At Home,” “Indoor Soccer” and “Fox Sports The Home Game” in addition to making "WWE Backstage" remotely produced. Katz said, “This is certainly the most extreme use case, but there's nothing that we are doing on a daily basis now that we haven't done at least in part over the last year. I believe that disruption creates opportunity and we've kind of been disrupting ourselves as a group over the last year to see where the opportunity lies for us.”

GETTING BACK TO NORMAL: The digital team has not been involved with producing live events such as NASCAR races that have since returned during the pandemic. Their role in those is as it was prior to the world coming to halt. But things are beginning to reflect a measure of normalcy. Cowherd’s show has been back in the studio a little more than a month, “Undisputed” has been back for more than two weeks and “Speak For Yourself” will soon join them. Katz: “We feel like our digital group is really hitting on all cylinders serving fans at the highest levels. I'm just proud of the innovation that we bring to the table. And I look forward to pushing the envelope further for us in the fall and doing more of this.”