ESPN continues to refine X Games production model in Barcelona

ESPN’s global X Games push made its way to Barcelona last week for the first of two key European stops on its 2013 tour, to be followed by Munich at the end of June. As ESPN continues its effort to spread the X Games brand beyond its established US borders, the network is also pushing the envelope from the technical side by utilising a modular production model at all six X Games events in 2013.

The unique new production model utilises a dedicated redundant 1-Gbps-fiber pipe to share media back and forth with ESPN’s headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut in the U.S. These file-based workflows significantly reduce on-site staff and gear, and allow ESPN’s Bristol broadcast centre to essentially be used as an IBC (International Broadcast Center) for features and highlights editing, as well as for a variety of other applications (graphics insertion, live-feed integration, global distribution, and more) that would traditionally be performed onsite.

“We are able to push files right from site to our edit stations and systems at our main facility in CT as they happen,” says X Games Barcelona operations manager James Munn. “So they can turn them around almost instantly and air promotions, commercials, and all the different uses. They can build packages for SportsCenter or quickly cut together short segments. All that is coming across the redundant fiber paths we have on site.”

The scene in Barcelona

ESPN erected two separate venues in Barcelona at the Palau Sant Jordi sports complex and the nearby Olympic Stadium. NEP Visions’ HD2 OB unit service the primary venue at Palau Sant Jordi (hosting Skateboard, BMX, and Moto X Big Air and Step Up competitions in the arena and Skateboard and BMX Street, Park, and Vert competitions outside), while HD1 served as the home to Olympic Stadium (Rally and Moto Dirt Track competitions).

On top of the file-transfer needs, ESPN’s 1-gig fiber path was responsible for transmitting 12 outbound video paths: clean, dirty, and sponsor-free feeds from both venues; an ad hoc line for various uses; three host cameras (the entire on-site studio show is switched from the Bristol control room), a beauty shot for the international carriers to take during U.S. commercial breaks; and an EVS IPDirector line.

The network also brought in five inbound paths: an iso feed from the primary Bristol control room, a switched network return, the sponsored and sponsor-free world feeds, and an emergency baseband playout line in case there were issues with the file-transfer system.

Bristol then distributed the domestic US ESPN feed, English world feed, non-English world feed, and non-sponsored world feed, as well as customised feeds for the other X Games host nations that featured corresponding sponsor elements and graphics.

No more melts

ESPN has continued to evolve this production model since it debuted back in January in Aspen, CO, but one significant new development in Barcelona centres on ESPN’s decision to stop transmitting post-show melts back to Bristol. Rather than sending back a traditional melt reel at the end of the day – as is the case at nearly all live-sport remote productions – ESPN now relies entirely on the live file-transfer system.

“We keep refining the workflow,” says Steve Raymond, associate director, event operations, ESPN. “When we first started this venture we figured that priority items would go across and then we would send a conventional melt down at the end of the day. But we found that most of that [file-transfer] ended up happening post-show anyway so the melt became superfluous. Also – sending everything down as files with metadata assigned made them much more searchable than a flat melt. So we realised there wasn’t much sense in doing the melts anymore.”

Next stop Munich

With Aspen; Tignes, France; Foz du Iguacu, Brazil; and Barcelona now in the rearview mirror, ESPN has all eyes on Munich, which kicks off on June 27. Munich differs slightly from Barcelona in that it will have three venues rather than two (as was the case in Brazil). NEP Visions HD1 and HD2 will once again be on hand to serve as ESPN’s production hub as the network continues to evolve this unique new endeavor.

“We are always refining the way we do business,” says Raymond. “We’ve worked on the load balancing in our file-transfer systems – spreading the record loads and the browse and selects across multiple EVSs where we had a single one in the past to improve the traffic – things like that. We continue to tweak the model and get better results at each outing. When we first started, we were up late into the night waiting for files to push across to Bristol and now within a couple hours after the event everything is done.”

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