ESPN X Games Foz do Iguaçu Production Exceeds Expectations
The X Games made their South American debut last week, and the breathtaking waterfalls of Brazil’s Foz do Iguaçu became the latest backdrop for ESPN’s global push for its action-sports property.
Widely considered the most difficult of the six X Games locations on the 2013 calendar (along with Aspen; Tignes, France; Barcelona; Munich; and Los Angeles), Foz do Iguaçu offered an intriguing preview of some of the challenges major broadcasters will face in the coming years as ultra-high-profile events — the 2013 Confederations Cup, 2014 FIFA World Cup, 2016 Summer Olympics — hit South America’s largest nation.
“It’s been really good, actually, and has exceeded our expectations in pretty much every way,” says Steve Raymond, associate director, event operations, ESPN. “It’s quite an ambitious undertaking for sure. But, so far, we’ve been pleasantly surprised by how successful it’s been.”
Same Workflow, Less Bandwidth
In Foz, ESPN continued to cultivate its new X Games modular production model, which uses extensive file-based workflows to share media back and forth with its headquarters in Bristol, CT. This workflow reduces on-site staff and gear, while essentially using ESPN’s Bristol broadcast center as an IBC (International Broadcast Center).
However, file-based workflows like these require extensive bandwidth, which was hard to come by in the Foz do Iguaçu area. The nearest fiber infrastructure was in São Paolo, a two-hour flight from Foz. As a result, ESPN worked with Brazilian vendors to build a significant fiber infrastructure that provided the network with a 600-MBps pipe back to Bristol.
“We are working with roughly 50% of the bandwidth connectivity that we are used to going back to Bristol [from other X Games events],” says Raymond. “So we have had to do some things to improve the speed of the file-transfer process. We are hoping that the net effect to us is zero.”
Nearly all graphics insertion, features/highlights editing, live-feed integration, and global distribution were located in Bristol.
In all, ESPN sent 16 transmission paths back to Bristol, including three primary live feeds: a clean feed, a dirty feed without sponsorship elements, and a dirty feed with all sponsorship elements included. In addition, ESPN sent camera feeds from its two X Games studio sets in Foz (one near the falls and one at Venue B), cutting them 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, with corresponding sponsor elements and graphics.
Two Trucks and a Flypack
Foz differs from its fellow events in that it boasts three venues rather than the usual two (Tignes has just one). These venues consist of Venue A (Moto X, BMX, and Skate Street events) and Venue B (Big Air and RallyCar) near the convention center and Venue C (Vert events) adjacent to the scenic 200-ft. waterfalls.
“We had three locations originally in our early plans a year ago, but that moved to two locations with three venues — three trucks, three crews, and so on,” says Paul DiPietro, coordinating director, event operations, ESPN, who was located in Bristol for the event. “The [production] model is almost identical [to the first two X Games events this year in Aspen and Tignes], with the exception of having three venues instead of two. I’ve been extremely happy that the plan we laid out way back when has progressed forward with every event. We have been extremely fortunate that it has worked out so well.
In terms of the production facilities for each venue, ESPN rolled out NEP’s new Brazil-based trucks, BR1 and BR2, for Venues B and C, respectively. BR1 is a 12-meter, single-expando trailer built from scratch last year; R2 is a 14-meter vehicle that was previously a Bow Tie Television truck (NEP acquired Bowtie in last May) and has been rebuilt for HD.
For Venue A, the largest of the three, ESPN erected an NEP-supplied flypack inside the convention center and fibered it across the street to Venue A.
“Building a flypack is always more difficult than working out of a full-featured mobile unit,” notes Raymond. “And a lot of our conventional equipment did not come to Brazil because of the quick turnaround, so the flypack has an extra-large router. We are using that to fill in some of the TOC [Technical Operations Center] glue that holds the facility together. We interface that directly with our encoder transmission racks.”
Much of ESPN’s usual Bexel-supplied X Games equipment complement was not available in Foz given the short time between Tignes in March and Barcelona in May. As a result, much of the core infrastructure that goes into the networks’ file-based approach — including an army of EVS servers and other equipment — had to be assembled from scratch on-site.
“When we got down here, [the equipment] basically all arrived in cardboard boxes, and we had to put it all together from scratch,” says Raymond. “But we have been successful with both that and the flypack, so there’s a happy ending to the story.”
Despite much apprehension leading up to ESPN’s most challenging X Games venue, the four-day event went off without a hitch. ESPN is likely to only grow more comfortable with the picturesque setting now that the necessary infrastructure — most important, the fiber path back to Bristol — is now in place.
“I think we absolutely feel more comfortable [going into next year],” says Raymond. “There was a little bit of concern leading up to it because it took a while to get [the fiber infrastructure] done. The permitting process can be difficult, and it was completely clear when it would be done, but it was finished on time and installed and tested before we got here. It’s performed spotlessly since we’ve got here.”
DiPietro adds, “There was plenty of root work done here that will be in place in the future. A lot of the infrastructure — like the MUSCO lights, for example — is now installed, so now we can basically just hang them and turn them on. We’re looking forward to next year.”