ESPN Pulls Back Curtain on Largest Studio to Date, Gears Up for NFL Season

Before rolling out a wealth of production enhancements for Monday Night Football, ESPN will debut the largest studio in its 35-year history. The 9,000-sq.-ft. studio — located steps from the new SportsCenter studio — will house NFL studio programming, including Sunday NFL Countdown, NFL Insiders, NFL Live, and NFL PrimeTime.

“It won’t have quite the bandwidth of SportsCenter — with 16 hours a day — but still quite a bit [will be coming] out of there, so we’re getting ready for that,” says Kevin Stolworthy, SVP, content and info technology, ESPN. “It’s vast, but it has unique areas for each of those shows. … They’ve each got their own area, which helps them present in a different way.”

NFL Studio - August 26, 2014ESPN’s previous NFL studio used one set and ran different graphics on the front of the desk to distinguish the various programs. The new studio features a number of portable pieces — including desks, monitors, and movable walls — that give the space added flexibility.

ESPN will be able to set up one show as it broadcasts another. “With the moving walls, you can also create some different looks,” explains John Gluszak, principal systems analyst, engineering, ESPN, who has had a hand in every new ESPN studio since 1990. “We have a drop-down LED banner that was designed so that, say for Countdown, if we want to drop it and try to block the back of that set when Insiders is shooting in the middle, there is a possibility of trying to create a little different look through the use of moving monitors and moving desks.”

That LED banner, comprising one camera-facing LED display and five talent-facing TVs, is just one of many LED displays that the various programs will have available.

In order to program multiple LED displays that vary in resolution, aspect ratio, and size, ESPN converted a small 10-  x 12-ft. edit space into a control room and installed four eight-channel Octoviz graphics-creation devices, which were developed in conjunction with Vizrt. Video will be fed to the displays in JPEG2000 via Evertz routing.

NFL Studio - August 27, 2014ESPN’s NFL analysts will also have a number of interactive elements at their fingertips, including two traditional touchscreens, a tabletop touchscreen installed in a desk, and a second tabletop touchscreen deploying EA Sports’ GameView virtual technology.

One noticeable difference from ESPN’s previous NFL studio is that the playing field will not return.

“From the production side, we did that starting 10 years ago with the actual analysts out there — if you remember our EA Sports Virtual Playbook. From there, we went to players or people actually going into the game,” says Stolworthy. “And so the thought [was] that we’ve been there, we’ve done that, we’re moving on to the next [thing]. We still want the depth, … but there wasn’t the need to have a middle area that was basically the playing surface. We are flexible in there, and we can do a lot of different things and make a lot of different looks with lighting and with the different set elements.”

ESPN plans to deploy 14 cameras to cover the studio, including an assortment of manned jibs, hard cameras, and Steadicams, along with robotic PTZ cameras hidden throughout the space.

NFL Studio - August 26, 2014In addition to the various set options, the studio features a film room with touchscreen system and a working research room.

“We have our standard prompter and research areas that live in the studio; talent likes to have line of site with both of those individuals,” says Gluszak. “We’re expanding our talent research [area] so our NFL researchers like [Chris Mortensen] and Adam Shefter have their own work area and [can] present late-breaking news and anything they can find out.”

In keeping with ESPN’s commitment to environmentally friendly technologies and design, nearly 1,000 LED fixtures will be used to light the studio.

Over the next few days, the project will receive its final finishing touches, thanks to the combined efforts — and long hours — of ESPN, AV Design Services, and Jack Morton Exhibits. The studio debuts on Sunday at 10 a.m. ET.

“For the first time, every NFL show on ESPN will have its own signature look and feel, which is so important with the variety of NFL programming available today,” says Seth Markman, senior coordinating producer, NFL studio shows, ESPN. “The set is stunning, and, in terms of functionality, it will enhance our presentation by allowing us to do so much more. We think fans are really going to like it.”

All photos courtesy of ESPN Images.

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