Super Bowl Merges Sport and Spectacle

The Super Bowl is the most-watched TV event of the year — and has been, almost without exception, for ages, with recent airings drawing an audience of more than 100 million people in the United States alone. But, many of those people don’t tune in for the game. They watch for the halftime show, the commercials, the spectacle. And, this year, the Super Bowl production value soared to new heights.


Footballs weren’t the only thing flying in Houston on Sunday. Lady Gaga’s Super Bowl halftime show featured 300 lit-up Intel drones.  It was the first time the Super Bowl halftime show has incorporated drones. They flew in a synchronized pattern to show the American flag and, later, the Pepsi logo.

How did it work? Intel used a technology called Shooting Star, which lets programmers design airborne light shows with swarms of drones. The same tech was recently used at Disney World.

Each drone is about a foot long square, weighs just over eight ounces, and sports a plastic and foam body to soften inadvertent impacts. They aren’t as flashy as consumer quadcopters, which is just as well, because you’re not supposed to notice them. Instead, you’re supposed to notice the four billion color combinations created by the onboard LEDs, and the aerial acrobatics choreographed with meticulous coding.

Each drone communicates wirelessly with a central computer to execute its dance routine, oblivious to what the hundreds of machines around it are doing. The system can adapt, too. Just before showtime, the computer checks the battery level and GPS signal strength of each drone, and assigns roles accordingly. Should a drone falter during the show, a reserve unit takes over within seconds.

The VR Treatment

Although it wasn’t a live viewing experience, Super Bowl LI got the VR treatment. Fox Sports is offering a virtual reality highlight package of the game, and this is currently available through the company’s Fox Sports VR app which is powered by LiveLike. Viewers can watch highlights from six camera angles, creating a 360-degree experience with interactive elements.

The crew used compact, Blackmagic Ursa Mini 6K cameras. The six cameras were located on each goalpost, on the carts located on each sideline, high at the 50-yard line, and in one of the corners of the field. An Avid HDVG4 graphics system was used to add in scores, time, and other elements.

Live on Social 

Fox put a lot of effort into live social-media productions ahead of the big game. Digital talent Kristen Baloni went live all week from Radio Row.

Fox also partnered with Sports Illustrated to produce a three-day Facebook Live series called Live at Radio Row. To make this happen, Fox had a sizable set with a four-camera shoot on Radio Row. The Digital team deployed solutions from Telestream and Telescope to dial directly into Facebook Live’s API and integrate graphics and B-roll into the shows.

Digital talent Rachel Bonnetta also hosted a 45-minute Facebook Live show shot around a media event that the network held to showcase its on-air talent last week. Bonnetta and a single camera operator (using a rig and an iPhone) ran a full 45-minute-long show that never stopped for a break. The show garnered more than 100,000 views.

A Player’s POV 


Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett, whose brother Marcellus play for the Patriots, create content for social platforms before and during the game with the help of PROcast- a POV, selfie-style approach to making content. Bennett used a camera phone with the PROcast to shoot videos of himself around the stadium and talk with other players and celebrities in attendance. All of his footage synched to the backend of Fox Sports’ video infrastructure.

The Pre-Game Show

From celebrity interviews to the Red Carpet Show, interviews, analysis, and much more, the 4.5 hour Super Bowl Pre-Game Show is a spectacle of its own.

The set for the pre-game show was built on a 30- x 30-ft. platform installed in the corner of the stadium behind one of the end zones. The custom build by Filmwerks featured hydraulics enabling it be raised and lowered. The desk was designed and built by New Jersey-based Black Walnut and included a custom-built LED screen from AV Design Services. VER provided LED panels on the back of the set that folded in half when the stage is folded up. A new element this year- Cuescript prompters. Plus, they had four cameras on the set, a jib and a Steadicam that works the field for interviews and more. And, there were also 25 shared cameras from the game that available as-needed.

Experts say it was the biggest compound they’ve ever seen for a Super Bowl.

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