February 22, 2024

Welcome to the ‘Doink Cam’: How CBS’ Super Bowl TV innovation came to life

Harrison Butker has earned his reputation as one of the NFL’s greatest kickers. The two-time Super Bowl champion has scored all 14 goals in the Kansas City Chiefs’ postseason victories this season and has become as reliable in his art as Stephen Curry is in his.

But ironically, it was a missed field goal by Butker during last year’s Super Bowl that prompted a revelation from Jason Cohen, vice president of remote technical operations at CBS Sports.

With 2:24 left in the first quarter of Super Bowl LVII between the Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles, Butker’s 42-yard field goal attempt hit the top of the left upright at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. (Said Fox broadcaster Kevin Burkhardt in describing the play: “So a good drive ends with the ‘doink!'”)

It just so happened that Cohen and Mike Francis, vice president of engineering and technology at CBS Sports, were in the end zone where the kick was missed. As the sound of the miss echoed in their section, Cohen and Francis looked at each other excitedly.

“The ball bounced off the post and made a very loud sound – a ‘doink,’” Cohen recalled this week. “We looked at each other and I said, ‘We need a camera in the uprights.’”

Immediately after Butker’s miss, Cohen texted Blake Jones, the NFL’s senior executive, who was working. He excitedly told Jones he wanted to put a camera in the uprights during this year’s Super Bowl when CBS broadcast the game. An amused Jones immediately texted Cohen back and said they should talk after the Super Bowl.

Months of planning and testing have resulted in a set of ‘doink’ cameras for Sunday’s game. The CBS broadcast will include six 4K cameras placed in the Allegiant Stadium uprights of both end zones. Two of the cameras on each stand are positioned to face the field at a 45-degree angle. Another looks straight in to get a side profile shot of the ball as it flies through. They have high-resolution zoom capabilities and super slow-motion replay capabilities. CBS will be able to get great replays of any field goal or extra point, but the dream will be if someone hits the post for the doink.

“The camera isn’t just broken when it’s upright,” said Harold Bryant, executive producer and executive vice president of production at CBS Sports. “If there’s a field goal that’s tight, we have three different angles on each upright so we can see it in three different positions.”

Immediately after texting Jones, Cohen began searching the Internet and found a company, Sportsfield Specialties, that designs and manufactures sports construction equipment, including football goal posts. He sent a LinkedIn request to the company’s sales director during the game. Cohen and his team ultimately spent months creating technical drawings and schematics to ensure that the integrity of the uprights would not be compromised. Sportsfield helped CBS with the engineering of the post and cutting holes. Cohen said Fletcher Sports, a specialty camera recording company that often works with CBS Sports, designed the inserts for the uprights and figured out how the cameras fit.

The proof of concept initially came during a game between the New York Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers on August 19 at MetLife Stadium. Cohen and his group consulted with kick analyst Jay Feely to get his take on what he thought would be a good spot for the cameras.

“We presented our ideas early enough and had a plan for the preseason,” Cohen said. “The NFL had time to evaluate the plan and came back to us with their feedback after the preseason testing.”

The next live test took place at Allegiant Stadium in October for a Week 6 matchup between the New England Patriots and Las Vegas Raiders. There had been a lot of trial and error to get to this point, but the doink cameras made their television debut to a successful buzz.

Ryan Galvin, the lead producer of this year’s Super Bowl, explained how the process of broadcasting a sink-camera replay would work in practical terms. At the Super Bowl, production specialist Amanda Smerage will operate the machine that controls the six cameras from the uprights. In the production truck they call it “DOINK”. Steve McKee, who normally produces the team of Andrew Catalon, Matt Ryan and Tiki Barber but is working as a replay producer for this year’s Super Bowl, will keep an eye on those cameras. He will alert Galvin if DOINK produces anything memorable.

Doink Cam fits into the uprights to provide a unique view of field goals and extra-point attempts. CBS will have three in each goal post. (Courtesy of Jason Cohen)

Galvin, who has 60 replay feeds at his disposal, must ultimately decide which replays to use in real time during the game, including the doink cameras. Galvin loves the technology, but is quick to point out that ultimately you have to produce the game in front of your eyes and rely on the people around you.

“A brand new look for the viewer can be difficult,” said Galvin, who will be working in his seventh Super Bowl. “Will it be a little confusing? Can people ‘get it’ in six seconds? I’m not smart enough to answer that. I know Jason Cohen and our entire operations team are working incredibly hard to fill a toolbox of cameras and replay machines for our crew. My job is to get the best replay on the air when it’s needed.”

Jones said the NFL is always trying to identify the next broadcast innovation. For example, Pylon cam is now standard for major NFL games across all broadcast partners. The Super Bowl often presents an opportunity to do something unique, and sometimes what debuts during a Super Bowl can become a standard in-game production.

Ultimately, such broadcast innovations are dictated by the networks, as they are the ones who have to invest the budget, research and development. If the viewing public immediately falls in love with a particular camera, the NFL’s other media partners would certainly take notice.

“It used to be that the skycam was something you only saw during the big primetime games,” Jones said. “That now concerns the more regular matches on Sunday afternoon. We will learn a lot after this week. Ultimately, these are network decisions that we support and facilitate, rather than necessarily saying you have to have cameras X, Y and Z. This is a pretty unique use case and you need a certain part of the game to happen in a certain way to get that ‘wow’ factor. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.”

“There is no history to rely on as to what the perfect camera is to capture the perfect doink,” Cohen said. “Some of this will be luck. Where will a ball possibly end up? What I will tell you is that we put cameras in different positions for the preseason game in August and the game in October, looking from every possible angle and trying to see what the pros and cons were. … What we have come up with is what we think is the right height, angle and wide angle lens.”

Doink Cam

A Doink Cam is in place and ready to be placed in a goal post, with plexiglass cover. (Courtesy of Jason Cohen)

Cohen said tests showed that it wasn’t just about the image of the football coming towards viewers, but that viewers also had to look at the other goal post as a frame of reference to see if the ball went through or not. Sportsfield Specialties was able to get the cameras where CBS wanted them through customization. There is a camera cylinder tube with a piece of unbreakable plexiglass that slides into the pole through an opening at the back of the upright. “Think of it as if there’s a little door or a chamber at the back of the upright, and this little camera lock is kind of pushed inward,” Cohen said. “Then a piece of plexiglass is bent and pushed forward so that it is completely flush with the rest of the upright.”

The sink cameras and proper wiring were installed in the uprights at Allegiant Stadium on Wednesday. Testing was scheduled for Thursday evening, when the final field installation takes place. There will also be a walk-through on Friday. Cohen said he will be in one of the CBS production trucks with other CBS brass on Super Bowl Sunday. He admits he’s looking for a doink.

“Look, you never support anyone else’s misery, and I don’t want to put bad karma on the world and hope that field goal kickers don’t do their job,” Cohen said. “But this is the kind of innovation where if someone hits the post and our cameras look good, we’ll feel really happy about all the work and effort we put into coming up with this angle. So when they line up for the kick-off on Sunday, I will definitely be holding my breath a little bit.”

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(Top photo of a monitor showing the view from “Doink Cam” during a test during a preseason game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Jets: Courtesy of Jason Cohen)

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