ESPN’s Digital Center 2 Gives SportsCenter the High-Tech Home It Deserves

SportsCenter is one of the most successful programs in television history, but, on ESPN’s Bristol, CT, campus, it’s no longer a show; it’s a franchise.

Gone are the days of the 6 p.m., 11 p.m., and 1 a.m. SportsCenters and the distinct identities that came with them. Today, SportsCenter is broadcast live 18 hours a day, and it was time for the network’s “franchise” to get a new home to meet its growing needs.

Say hello to Digital Center 2, a 194,000-sq.-ft. techie’s dream come true, a facility that offers ESPN a massive new palette from which to paint content for SportsCenter and NFL programming.

The crown jewel of DC-2 is the nearly 10,000-sq. foot SportsCenter studio, which is twice the size of the show's current home.

The crown jewel of DC-2 is the nearly 10,000-sq. foot SportsCenter studio, which is twice the size of the show’s current home.

“This is the core of the culture of the company,” said ESPN President John Skipper during the facility’s official media unveiling on Thursday. “You’re going to find Digital Center 2 to be spectacular. There’s nothing better than this. It’s overwhelming. I think it’s a big statement to where we are as a company and where we think we are in the sports world.”

The nearly 10,000-sq.-ft. SportsCenter studio is twice the size of the current studio and contains 100 more monitors than the original Digital Center studio, which debuted in June 2004. The full facility is designed to support 24/7 programming and allows distinct differentiation of each show, a feature that could help bring some unique personalities back to each edition of SportsCenter.

“We were on-air 18 hours a day live but still continuing to work out of a studio that was built for a program that was on three times a day,” said Craig Bengtson, VP, director of news, ESPN. “We have a facility now that can support a 24/7 show [and] allows us to differentiate the different dayparts of SportsCenter. And we have a studio in Los Angeles to match it. We can now have one show on live and another show rehearsing or preproducing material at the same time. It’s logistically a challenge. For example, over the next month, we have 54 individual show rehearsals scheduled.”

SportsCenter’s New Look

The East Wall contains six separate panel monitors, one big monitor, or any combination in between.

The East Wall contains six separate panel monitors, one big monitor, or any combination in between.

A full graphics overhaul, designed in coordination with Vizrt, fills the 10,000-sq.-ft. SportsCenter set’s 114 video and graphic display monitors. The multifaceted studio environment features a video floor, two touchscreens, a wall with 56 LED multidimensional monitors, and the ability to do live and preproduced segments simultaneously.

With all these big, sharp screens, ESPN’s designers have decided to focus on more-colorful imagery and forgo overwhelming amounts of data on screen.

“Graphics are simpler, bolder, bigger, and there is less information on them,” said Bengtson. “We know a lot, and sometimes I think we tend to give it all to the audience and they are not sure what they need to be consuming. Our graphics will have fewer numbers, but we can focus on the things we want to focus on.”

Along with the new set and graphics come updated animations and a fresh take on SportsCenter’s music.

“Essentially, everyone who works on SportsCenter, their job is changing significantly,” said Bengtson. “They will now have an opportunity to create content that they’ve never been able to create before, but the challenge of launching this new facility is enormous.”

The East Wall features a unique, multidimensional display wall comprised of 56 monitors powered by ESPN-built software.

The East Wall features a unique, multidimensional display wall comprising 56 monitors powered by ESPN-built software.

An enormous glass wall also separates the main SportsCenter set from a second studio space, which offers the opportunity to preproduce content in new ways. The second space also includes a glass cube with workstations for graphics designers and editorial producers.

“We are able to process more video faster and information quicker,” said Rob King, SVP, SportsCenter and news. “So the newsroom can be more dynamic, and our ability to cut highlights will be faster and more immediate on all platforms.

“We have the opportunity to create a more virtuous cycle of consumption,” he continued. “We create all this great content, but we are on 18 hours a day so sometimes it gets lost. The new studio enables us to be mindful of the power of alerts and how we create trailers to seed that content out days in advance of its actually appearing on SportsCenter.”

Visit sportsvideo.org next week for continuing coverage of ESPN’s Digital Center 2, including an inside look at the facility’s impressive routing core.

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