ESPN To Stay Live Overnight in Covering Australian Open
By Carolyn Braff
ESPN will televise all four legs of the tennis Grand Slam this year, and this weekend offers the first taste, live from the Australian Open. To offset the 16-hour time difference between Bristol, CT, and Melbourne, the 24-hour sports network is taking advantage of every one of those 24 hours as it offers 100 hours of live coverage on ESPN2 — much of which will take place after midnight.
ESPN2’s programming consists of three shows each day: live evening coverage beginning at 7 p.m. ET, live matches at 3:30 a.m., and same-day action each afternoon at 3 p.m., all presented in 16:9 SD.
“It’s one of these transitional things that we are working with,” explains Jed Drake, ESPN SVP of event production. “At the other majors as well, we’re working on it. When we get to the U.S. Open, we will be in HD, but at the Australian, not yet.”
To augment the world feed, ESPN will have additional cameras at the two primary courts and new animation, music, scoreboards, and graphics to brand the feed as an ESPN production.
“The graphic look that we debuted on
Monday Night Football, which has the lower bar that provides all of the statistical information, is something that we’re now adopting for tennis, albeit, in this mode, it will be in the top of the frame,” Drake explains. “We think we have a look that really complements the sport itself, and I think will be very easy for viewers to be able to understand and use.”
New this year is an interactive element to the Australian Open coverage, as ESPN Interactive TV will present eight hours of nightly coverage on DirecTV. A six-screen video mosaic will be available for the first eight days of the tournament, from which viewers can choose to watch the ESPN2 feed or one of five outer-court feeds, all complete with commentary.
“Our philosophy in programming this is to come up with relevant content, other activities around the event that provide an enhanced experience for the viewer,” explains Don Colantonio, ESPN senior director of original entertainment-media packaging. “Viewers are looking for any experience that’s going to provide more insight into the event. Tennis is particularly good because we’ve got all this outer-court activity.”
Colantonio’s team will take native 16:9 SD feeds from Australia into DirecTV’s parking lot in Los Angeles, where nine announcers will be standing by to add their commentary. The feed will then be handed off to DirecTV for distribution and upconversion for their HD tiers. An enhanced-TV option will offer viewers interactive data, match schedules, and trivia, among other features.
The scoring graphics on the outer-court feeds will come directly from the host broadcaster, but additional elements will be added to incorporate in ESPN2’s look. The mosaic framing the six windows will have ESPN branding, as well.
The DirecTV service will be live on-air from 7 p.m. ET until 3 a.m. ET for the first eight days of the tournament.
“After day eight, there’s not a lot of significant outer-court activity,” Colantonio explains.
Colantonio’s team has provided a similar service for Wimbledon, U.S. Open golf, and the X Games, and plans are in place to do five or six such applications annually, but nothing he has done so far has approximated the challenge of a 16-hour time differential.
“Our success is contingent on the reliability and the quality of the signals that we’re getting from Australia,” Colantonio says. Genesis Networks will transport the signals so that 18 million homes can engage in ESPN’s Interactive TV experience.
On other platforms, ESPN360.com will offer an additional 430 hours of live action from Melbourne online, where six courts will be available, including simulcasts of ESPN2’s coverage. At the close of competition, each coverage window will be available for on-demand replay. ESPN Mobile TV will provide another 80 hours of live coverage to its wireless channel, available through MobiTV and on MediaFLO USA’s mobile-entertainment service.
ESPN2 is also producing coverage for Tennis Channel, which will bring in its own commentators for the broadcast.
Coverage begins Sunday Jan. 18 at 7 p.m. ET.