ESPN Front Row

ESPN’s MNF Production Team Introduces Innovative Line-to-Gain Virtual Plane At Key Moment In Bills-Titans Thriller

Josh Allen's high-flying third-down scramble provided perfect circumstances: “We had a clear view, the first-down spot was critical, and the technology was going to provide clarity to the fan at home.”

The drama on the field and within the stands of Nissan Stadium was peaking, but inside ESPN’s Monday Night Football production trucks, an opportunity arose.

The drama on the field and within the stands of Nissan Stadium was peaking, but inside ESPN’s Monday Night Football production trucks, an opportunity arose.

With under a minute to go in the fourth quarter and trailing by three points, Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen, on 3rd and six from the Titans eight yard line, had been upended in his rushing attempt to gain a first down. The spot of the ball was of the utmost importance to how the remainder of the game would play out.

As fans and players inside the stadium waited with bated breath for the final determination, the Monday Night Football audience was introduced to a new technology.

“We added Virtual Plane to our Line to Gain Pylon Cameras with situations exactly like this in mind,” explained senior coordinating producer Ed Placey, who runs point on ESPN’s advancement in innovation and technology.”

Immediately, the viewers noticed.  

“Decisions on how to present the replay enhancement have been well-rehearsed, but require the immediate reaction by the production team in the truck to execute the moment it is needed,” explained Placey. “If anyone  hesitates, the moment can be lost; however from [MNF replay producer] Kyle Brown calling for the virtual plane to be added, to [MNF producer] Phil Dean including it into his replay sequences, and [MNF director] Jimmy Platt directing [replay system operator] Luke Boden to frame the replay video and roll, the team was more than ready for the moment.”

Brown, who is at the forefront of all MNF replays, knew as soon as Allen went airborne and was close to the first down, this would be a significant opportunity for our production team.

“When the play ended, knowing the stakes and situation, instantly Boden asked ‘Do we want to use the virtual plane?’ as I was preparing to cycle through the assortment of replays,” recalled Brown approximately 12 hours after the dramatic play unfolded. “This was exactly the situation we had in mind when we brought the technology onboard and instantaneously, I felt it would be right.  I gave approval and then we were on the same page, knowing we had just a few moments to bring the technology to life.”

The process may take only 20-40 seconds to get from conception to the screen, but it’s layered and detailed. First Boden works his wizardry, adding the virtual first down marker as well as the virtual plane to the replay and then the replay is reviewed by Brown.

“My first thought when I saw that, or any replay, is does this add to the telecast? Do the fans benefit?  You never want to use technology just to use it. In this instance, when I saw what Luke sent over, I was convinced, but Dean makes the final call. All the credit to him who entrusts us and also has great instincts to put it on the air.”

“We have been leaders in the pylon technology for a long time, starting with the goal line pylon cams and then evolving from there,” continued Placey. “Over the years, the Line-to-Gain Pylon has become commonplace among networks and this virtual line is the next step. We will continue to evolve the technology and utilize it where it benefits our viewers.”

For the entire production and operations team, the key moment on MNF is a source of pride, as the innovation and technology played a key role in our storytelling and production of the game.