ESPN’s X Games Continues Global Push With Winter X in France

ESPN took the next step forward in its Global X Games effort last week in Tignes, France, for the second of six X Games events scheduled this year. During the four-day event in the French Alps, ESPN continued to cultivate its new production model, whose file-based workflows allow a large chunk of the production to be handled at Bristol, CT, headquarters rather than on-site.

“Even though this is our fourth year in Tignes, it is very different this year because it is now part of our global concept,” Paul DiPietro, coordinating director, event operations, ESPN, said last week in Tignes. “It’s basically no different than our [previously established X events] in Aspen or L.A. in terms of our workflow and infrastructure.”

The Global X Production Model
The Winter X event in Tignes followed January’s Winter X Games in Aspen, CO, and will be followed by Summer X events in Foz du Iguaçu, Brazil (April); Munich (May); Barcelona (June); and Los Angeles (July). Going from two annual events to six in six months is no small undertaking, and ESPN has drastically revamped how it produces and distributes the X Games across the globe.

The network has developed a modular production model that will be duplicated — with a handful of adjustments for each event — at all six X Games this year. The new workflow reduces on-site staff and gear, while essentially using ESPN’s Bristol broadcast center as an IBC (International Broadcast Center).

Bristol now handles graphics insertion, features/highlights editing, live-feed integration, and global distribution, among other tasks. The Bristol IBC exchanged video files and live feeds with Tignes over 1-Gbps fiber, which ESPN worked with Riedel Communications to establish (the last hitch located in nearby Annecy) over the past year.

Three primary live feeds were delivered to Bristol: a clean feed, a dirty feed without sponsorship elements, and a dirty feed with all sponsorship elements included. In addition, the Tignes team sent two camera feeds from its X Games studio set (which are cut together in Bristol to create the on-site studio show).

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

Where Tignes Differs From the Rest
In terms of on-site presence, Tignes differs slightly from its sister events in that it has a single venue, featuring just two courses: Superpipe and SlopeStyle. All other Global X Games have two venues — with the exception of Foz du Iguaçu, which has three — and therefore require a larger on-site presence.

ESPN tapped AMP Visual TV’s OB Van 11 as its primary home in Tignes, with AMP’s City 1 (a compact Mercedes Sprinter unit) producing the two-camera studio setup after the main OB truck shut down for the evening.

“We have essentially taken one truck and a competition venue out of the mix here,” said Steve Raymond, associate director, event operations, ESPN. “But, in terms of the infrastructure that we support at the other [X Games] sites, the tapeless workflows, the host-set integration back in Bristol, and so on are all the same. For Tignes, [the on-site presence] has actually grown from what it’s been in the past.”

Tignes is also the only X Games for which ESPN is not sole owner. ESPN’s 50-50 partnership with Canal+ on X Games Tignes (a partnership born well before the X Games global initiative came to life) resulted in ESPN’s producing the show in France’s native 1080i50 format and converting the content to 720p60 in Bristol. It is the only X event not produced entirely in 720p60 from capture to distribution.

“Since we have a partner here, we need to be cognizant of their needs, so they are right in the truck with us,” said DiPietro. “It’s our producers and their director in the OB truck doing the world-feed line cut, which they augment with their own EVS [servers], switcher, and audio in the back. They have their own announce booth and host set as well. They also piggyback onto the [IP] network that has been built for ESPN and plug their EVSs into it. We have to make sure that their needs are satisfied just as much as ours.”

EVS IP Web-Browser On Deck
ESPN is also experimenting with EVS’s IP Web-Browser interface, which uses proxy files to allow the production team to remotely view and select video content via the Web. The technology, which was used throughout last year’s London Olympic Games by host-feed provider Olympic Broadcast Services, would allow ESPN editors easier remote access to X Games content — whether from Bristol or Boise, ID.

“We have it up and running, and, from my home in Boise, I’m looking at content that’s on-site in Tignes,” Raymond said. “It’s still in the testing phase, and we’re evaluating it. We are testing it for its bandwidth use and potential latency from across the ocean. There are always bugs to work out, but it looks to be a pretty good experience thus far.”

The Most Xtreme Challenge: Foz du Iguaçu
Next month’s Foz du Iguaçu event presents the most significant challenge of all six sites, so the production model used will differ somewhat from the module approach to the other five events. In addition to having three venues, Foz lacks the level of infrastructure and connectivity of the other sites, and the timing of the event — between Tignes and Barcelona — has forced ESPN to deploy a large amount of one-off equipment rather than its standard complement.

“The word that first comes to mind with Foz is nervous, just because it represents a departure from what we’ve been doing internally on so many layers,” said Raymond. “In addition, a lot of our kit that travels from event to event can’t make it to Foz, so we are doing a lot more some-assembly-required at Foz. It’s definitely going to be difficult.”

DiPietro added, “[Foz du Iguaçu] is definitely a challenge, but that is why we enjoy X so much. We all sit and lick our wounds sometimes because it’s so difficult, but we all go back to it because the head-scratching is the fun part of it.”

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