Under Construction: ESPN Provides Peek at New Digital Facility

Next year will mark the 10th anniversary of the opening of ESPN’s Digital Center, the massive 135,000-sq.-ft. building that has dominated the ESPN campus in Bristol, CT. So what is ESPN doing to celebrate the anniversary? Expanding, courtesy of a new 198,000 sq.-ft. facility that will open in the early part of 2014 and will be the new home for SportsCenter.

A dramatic new studio space featuring a hub-and-spoke design with four studios and six control rooms will give the SportsCenter anchoring team and producers the opportunity to offer a wide variety of show and segment looks as well as to do something unheard of in a set active from 9 a.m. to 1 a.m. every day: rehearse.

“We’ve never done anything like this building,” says Mark Gross, SVP/executive producer, ESPN. “This takes us into the future and gives SportsCenter the treatment it certainly deserves. There will be a lot more interaction with the on-air folks.”

According to CTO/EVP, Technology, Chuck Pagano, there has not been a major technology refresh on campus since the first digital center opened in June 2004.

“You can’t take the digital center offline to retool,” he points out.

The new facility will have an IP-based routing and signal-transport architecture, a move that makes it ready for a future that could include anything from 1080p to 4K to even 8K broadcasts.

“This facility will be ready for those formats and can adapt very easily,” says Pagano.

Large, 30-Gbps data pipes will connect DC2 to DC1 (and to the ESPN Production Center in Los Angeles), creating a virtual facility that allows files and content to be dynamically and quickly pushed and pulled between facilities. And the use of large touchscreen-monitor walls will enable anchors to stand in front of a screen with graphics and highlights displayed on it. “Now, when there is a graphic or highlight, it is full screen. With the new studio, we won’t have to go full screen, and we can incorporate the anchors into the show a bit more,” says Gross. “Viewers [will] see the great highlights and graphics, [and] our anchors will be able to point out things that might have gotten lost without the anchor physically pointing them out.”

Viewers can also expect SportsCenter to have different looks throughout the day. Seven cameras will be located in the main studio space and six in an annex studio, giving the producers maximum flexibility in creating a look and feel for each show.

Michael Shiffman, senior coordinating producer, SportsCenter, says that the editorial goal is to always make it easier for the on-air talent to enhance the storytelling. The touchscreens will allow the anchors to stop and play highlights or graphics, and the ability to rehearse or tape elements will give a cleaner and more polished look to each day’s proceedings.

Long-time SportsCenter anchor Steve Levy, for example, says that the handoff from one pair of anchors to the next is all of 2.5 minutes. The new space will make that nearly always intense transition a bit easier and smoother.

“The top of the show is as clean as it has ever been,” he adds, “but now we will be able to be standing a few feet away.”

Shiffman says the goal is simple: “We want to make every night feel like Election Night.”

Viewers can also expect the SportsCenter in Los Angeles to have a different look.

“We’re not hiding the fact that there is a SportsCenter done in Los Angeles,” says Gross, “but this will give us a chance to further distinguish it.”

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