X Games Live Notebook: ‘DiPietro-thon’ Makes Up for Pastrana’s Absence; Elephants in the Staples Center; X Goes Everywhere; X Center Right at Home

The leading man in ESPN’s planned “Pastrana-thon” cross-country weekend was forced to the sidelines following a nasty accident Thursday night in the Moto X Best Trick at X Games. However, ESPN’s Paul DiPietro was able to make the whirlwind L.A.-to-Indy roundtrip — thankfully, without broken bones.

ESPN had planned to follow X Games Renaissance man Travis Pastrana, an action-sports headliner who started as a Motocross rider and has veered into Rally Car racing, as he flew from L.A. to Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Saturday and then back to Los Angeles for Sunday’s Rally Cross event in downtown L.A.

Pastrana was unable to make the scheduled Phil Collins/Live-Aid–style trip to Indianapolis for his NASCAR Nationwide Series after breaking his foot and ankle at Summer X on Thursday night. But DiPietro, coordinating director for both X Games and NASCAR, did make the trip from L.A. to Indy for Saturday’s Brickyard 400, the first stop on ESPN’s NASCAR slate this season. He returned to L.A. in time for a big meeting regarding ESPN’s Global X initiative on Monday.

“Indy is our first race this season, and Dennis Cleary is my new [operations] manager for NASCAR, so I wanted to show my support for him in this a huge event,” DiPietro said before the trip. “But I’m not worried about [leaving X Games] because I know all these [X Games] guys have it under control].

Circus, Circus at Staples Center
The setup for a sprawling sports production can often resemble a circus, but, in the case of X Games 17 last week, that was actually the case.

ESPN was not granted access to the Staples Center — the largest of its four X Games venues at L.A. Live this week — until the morning of Monday July 25 because of the five-night run of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus. As a result, ESPN was forced to jam its already short setup schedule at Staples into just three days.

“We got access Monday, but the [Moto X] course didn’t start to get built until Tuesday,” says ESPN Operations Manager Severn Sandt. “So we had to wait quite a while for camera positions to become available to us. From a timing perspective, it has been extremely challenging.”

Henry Rousseau, senior technical producer for ESPN Event Operations, added: “The second the elephants walked out, the bulldozers drove in with the dirt, but that still made for a major time crunch.”

Further complicating matters was the fact that all events at the Staples Center were being produced out of NEP SS32 using ESPN’s 5D production model: a unilateral 2D/3D production using a single truck for both shows (the 2D telecast uses the left-eye feed from the 3D show).

“Staples is a big part of what 3D is covering,” says Sandt. “So, obviously, it created an even bigger challenge for us, but everything worked out well.”

X Games Goes Anywhere and Everywhere
This year, ESPN has been pushing multiplatform distribution harder than ever (i.e. ESPN Everywhere) with a constantly growing set of mobile/tablet apps, simulcasts, and over-the-top device availability. That effort continued at X Games on Saturday with “X Games Everywhere”.

During a two-hour window (4-6 p.m. ET) Saturday afternoon, a variety of live X Games 17 action was delivered simultaneously to ESPN, ABC, ESPN 3D, ESPN3.com, ESPN Mobile TV, and the Watch ESPN mobile app. In addition, X Cast, a live companion Webcast from L.A. Live, was available on Facebook Live and YouTube Live.

“At all three venues, we will be doing a full two-hour broadcast from a dedicated truck,” X Games and ESPN 3D Coordinating Producer Phil Orlins said last week. “They are not integrated; each is doing their own show.

“From 4 to 6 ET, we are essentially producing five unique broadcasts of some kind, whether it be on television or online,” he continued. “Literally every facility we have will be producing their own show for those two hours. So there will not be a lot of board people working on the production staff at that point.”

X Center Feels Right at Home
X Center, ESPN’s X-Styled Sports Center segments live from L.A. Live, required only a set, talent, and three cameras. No mobile unit was required thanks to ESPN’s IP infrastructure with LAPC (Los Angeles Production Center) and Bristol. All three feeds were sent back to Bristol where the show was produced and directed. The team in Bristol switched cameras live and communicated with the talent via ESPN’s EVS IPDirector system.

“Just a few years ago this would have been impossible,” says DiPietro. “Our whole X Center gang in Bristol viewing every single channel via our IPDirector; if we were in the tape world that doesn’t exist. [Communications between Bristol and L.A.) are almost transparent. Suddenly, 3000 miles seems like 30 feet with the new infrastructure.”

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