Live from London: ESPN International Networks Share and Share Alike

ESPN Argentina, ESPN Brazil, and ESPN Star Sports (ESS) in Singapore are keeping the “worldwide leader in sports” plenty busy during the Olympic Games. All three are rightsholders, and ESPN has constructed an overarching workflow here in London that allows all three networks to work in tandem so they can share content, resources, facilities, and costs.

“This is much bigger than Beijing for us,” says Claude Phipps, director of special projects, ESPN. “The big difference here is that all the ESPN entities are working in unison, whereas, in Beijing, everyone was basically working on their own. Here, we have more people on-site and have combined our transmission facilities to service Argentina, Brazil, ESS, and all the news operations. We have some great synergy going on because of that.”

The bulk of ESPN Argentina’s operations are based in the International Broadcast Centre (IBC), including a live studio setup and all production and transmission facilities. Meanwhile, ESPN Brazil and ESS ops are located at the Marshgate Lane Broadcast Centre near Olympic Stadium. ESPN also constructed a two-story facility that houses two three-camera studios (for ESPN Brazil and ESPN International’s coverage to Mexico) and a small third studio for standups and news coverage (used by ESS, ABC News, ESPN Domestic, and others) on the top floor. The first floor houses all of ESPN’s technical, production, transmission, PCR, and voice-over areas.

The key to this operation — as is the case in so many Olympic operations — is cooperation. For example, ESPN booked a single lighting vendor for all on-site studios and has used Bexel as its equipment-rental provider across all on-site entities, creating an “extremely efficient and cost-friendly” model, according to Phipps.

“At the end of the day, it’s just an event, and everyone wants the same thing: to get content back to their home country,” he says. “We are all one ESPN organization, and everyone has been very cooperative.”

In all, the two facilities at IBC and Marshgate are deploying 10 EVS servers, Sony vision mixers, and 10 studio cameras, not to mention nearly 250 staffers. In addition, 12 ENG crews equipped with a combination of Panasonic P2 cameras (ESPN International) and Panasonic cameras with SD cards (Brazil) are roaming the grounds for content.

Two Transmission Peas in an ESPN Pod
ESPN has deployed two transmission kits in London — one at the IBC and one at Marshgate — to deliver all this content to the rightsholders. The IBC kit delivers all of OBS’s event-coverage feeds as well as all content from the three rightsholders back to the home nations. The Marshgate kit has 12 lines to access all VANDA (Video-and-Audio) feeds from the IBC and also has a direct line back to ESPN Brazil in São Paulo.

“The crown jewel of this type of facility is its flexibility from a transmission point of view,” says Phipps. “Because of that flexibility, we are able to provide a hub of information for all ESPN platforms. I don’t think we’ve done this level of [information] at an Olympics ever.”

The Marshgate transmission kit represents what could likely become the future of international-event transmission for ESPN. First deployed at the NFL Draft and then on a more comprehensive basis at Euro 2012 in Warsaw, this kit allows ESPN outlets to conduct the bulk of their production operations from home and minimize costly on-site gear and personnel. The kit includes primarily Ericsson encoders and decoders and Snell conversion gear and, according to Phelps, will most likely be used at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

“I think a lot of this equipment and these workflows used here will be used at World Cup, and it doesn’t hurt to be working with the Brazilians here,” he says. “But [the transmission kit] has been progression. At the Draft, they put the kit out for the first time. At Euro, we used it for transmission [solely] back to Bristol, [CT]. In this case, we actually have two kits, the one that is here and the one at the IBC, so it is a bit different. But it has been almost flawless.”

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