Fox Sports anchors Lauren Sanchez and John Walls are running through the Major League baseball scores in a cavernous sound stage inside the Fox Network Center on the Twentieth Century Fox lot in Century City.
Behind them, a giant electronic headline machine generates the words “Attitude,” “Post Game Interviews,” and “Fox Sports News.”
It’s 3 p.m. in Los Angeles, 6 p.m. in New York the beginning of the day for the national sports newscast. Writers punch away at upcoming stories. Producers hurriedly screen videotapes; satellite feeds from around the country and the competition ESPN and CNN/Sports Illustrated.
A mere five months old, the facility is totally digital and at the cutting edge in just about every area. “It’s impressive,” conceded one rival broadcaster. “It’s probably the best facility in town.”
But perhaps the most impressive thing is that it’s in Los Angeles, not New York.
It is New York, after all, where the networks have their sales, marketing and advertising divisions. CBS, ABC, NBC are all there. Close by in Bristol, Conn. is ESPN. CNN is in Atlanta. But no one, except for Fox, is in L.A.
“Why a sports network in Los Angeles?” asks David Hill, the president of Fox Sports. “It was as if this was unthinkable when Fox got the NFL in 1994. It was a big question mark: Would we set the production center in New York, which was traditional, or Los Angeles?”
Hill said the decision wasn’t all that difficult to reach, and stemmed largely from logistics.
“Sixty percent of our decision was sheer practicality,” Hill said. “The network was based here and the network transmission system was here.”
But there were other factors that led to Fox’s break with tradition including the desire to have a fresh look, and, as they say in the ads, attitude. Hollywood could make a fledgling sports operation sizzle.
“There was another 40 percent that came into play,” Hill said. “When you put sports on television, you are not just presenting an event, but you are putting on a television product. That means creativity. What we felt we would find in Los Angeles are the crafts guys cameras, audio. They are used to entertainment. I think one of the reasons why the NFL on Fox has such a unique look and won so much praise is because our production center is based in Los Angeles. We do have a genuine crossover of entertainment and sports.”
Perhaps more striking about the Los Angeles base is that Rupert Murdoch, chairman of Fox’s parent company News Corp., has been perceived in the past as having a New York bias.
“He has been considered a New York guy and (he views) the city the center of the universe in this country, which is why Fox News is in New York,” said one former Fox executive.
But such attitudes seem to be changing. Murdoch now makes L.A. his primary residence, and the Fox network and Fox Sports are based here too.
One rival network official conceded that network sports no longer needs to be centered on the East Coast. Technology has outdated tradition.
“You really can operate anywhere in the age of satellites and fiber optics,” said the competitor.
That’s what Fox has done at its Network Center, which is the home of “Fox Sports News” and “Fox NFL Sunday.” It is also the hub of 22 regional sports channels.
The Fox network also beams its programming, such as “The Simpsons” and “The X-Files,” out of this five-story, 230,000-square-foot building, which houses 1,000 employees and opened last December.
The facility, which has two studios, two control rooms and 60 editing bays, is totally digital and operates around the clock.
The use of digital technology saves time, which ultimately means money. Digital systems reduce visual and audio data to numbers that can be scrambled, rearranged and edited within seconds, compared to the older linear formats that used clunky videotape cassettes. In fact, an entire year of programming can be stacked on a bookshelf in digital format. A decade ago, a small warehouse would have been needed.
“This is probably the most modern digital facility in the country, if not the world,” said Richard M. Friedel, Fox Digital senior vice president of engineering and operations. “Fox supported pushing the technology.”
To deal with the possibility of earthquakes and other disruptions, the network center has backup batteries and generators that can run for two weeks without interruption.
“This is, after all, Southern California,” Friedel said.