created an immersive viewing experience for the “kid-friendly” simulcast of CBS Sports’ Christmas Day 2022 game on the Nickelodeon network. The New York-based real-time animation and virtual production studio augmented the action on the field with mixed-reality effects and holiday-themed characters, including Santa Claus, a crew of mischievous snowballs, a giant Yeti who constantly wreaked havoc during the game, and, of course, the famous Nickelodeon slime.
The Christmas Day 2022 game was the network’s third and largest simulcast designed to bring generations of football fans together. This most recent “kid-friendly” experience, created by Silver Spoon, moved the chains even further, delivering a series of technological “firsts” combining artificial intelligence (AI), live AR graphics, and mixed reality never before used in a live broadcast, all with the goal of entertaining and delighting the next generation of fans.
The simulcast’s viewership resulted in double-digit increases for all key audience demographics over last year’s game. With adults 18 to 49, the game was the highest-rated Christmas Day telecast on Nickelodeon since 2011.
“This broadcast clearly demonstrated producers are not constricted to a floating graphic on the screen,” said Dan Pack, Managing Director at Silver Spoon. “You can do anything anywhere to add several layers of entertainment to an existing broadcast. There are so many ways to use AR to complement and enhance what's happening in the game, and with the degree of graphics control we can give operators, the viewer has no idea what's coming next.”
The overall creative theme was, “Santa's work is done, now he’s going to the football game to kick back and relax.” Silver Spoon’s goal was to build a cohesive narrative throughout the game, with each moment telling a compelling story, versus each asset simply being a one-off graphic triggered at various parts of the game.
The Silver Spoon team noted one key production aspect that made this project unique and successful:
"The show directors and the creative team from Nickelodeon were all involved with us from the beginning," said Laura Herzing, Executive Producer at Silver Spoon. "All the creative was developed in a way that the directors knew what was being included and were able to give input on how it would fit into a broadcast. This end-to-end collaborative process helped us achieve our goals of creating narrative storytelling, adding unexpected delights for the viewer, and pushing technological boundaries like never before."
Silver Spoon’s virtual production platform for the game utilized Unreal Engine and Pixotope for seamless real-time rendering and compositing.
“It’s truly amazing to see the incredible results that Silver Spoon consistently achieves for their clients with the entire Pixotope platform,” said Pixotope CEO Marcus Brodersen. “Their work with CBS Sports on Nickelodeon simulcast is just the latest in a long line of creative successes. We’re very proud to be one of their technology partners; they exemplify the kind of boundary-pushing immersive storytelling that is at the core of all our products.”
A Broadcast for the Record Books
The Christmas Day game’s simulcast was notable for an array of graphics and mixed-reality milestones:
The first-ever game-controlled characters in a live broadcast including Santa, the Yeti, and the iconic Nickelodeon blimp. The novel use of this technology allowed an AR operator to use a standard game controller to control characters’ movements, live in the broadcast, for an unprecedented level of flexibility and creativity.
A first-of-its kind live interview with an animated character and the first use of real-time motion capture for an animated character on live TV. Nickelodeon’s popular Patrick Star interacted with commentators live, powered by real-time facial capture technology.
One of the first applications of Unreal Engine 5.0 – widely used to drive gaming and XR experiences – for broadcast-level, live AR.
Silver Spoon’s Pack concluded, “This incredibly successful collaborative effort resulted in the seamless integration of live graphics and effects, demonstrating the limitless potential for using mixed reality production to create content that stands apart from the crowd, exceeds viewers’ expectations and adds entertainment value without detracting from the game experience.”