NEP, ESPN Collaborate To Pack Punch Into EN2 Unit for ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball
NEP’s newest production unit, EN2, makes its major-event debut this weekend for the 2015 premiere of ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball regular-season coverage. It’s the first time in a decade that the program has new facilities to call home, and it is the result of a lot of collaborative work between NEP and ESPN.
“It’s a massive leap forward in terms of technology, and it has all the latest tools, like a Grass Valley Kayenne Elite production switcher,” says Chris Calcinari, VP, remote operations, ESPN. “It’s really a pretty substantial leap.”
According to Terry Brady, director of remote operations, ESPN, it can handle up to 20 cameras, has eight eight-channel EVS XT3 replay servers, and a 10-Gbps backbone, making it ready for 1080p.
“The collaborative effort allowed us to pack three trucks’ worth of fire power into only two trucks,” he says.
According to NEP Co-President Mike Werteen, the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball truck was arguably one of the toughest to design: the nature of MLB scheduling pretty much guarantees that, on the day before Sunday Night Baseball, a Saturday game is broadcast by at least one regional network and, possibly, Fox Sports.
“Given the nature of the sport, we are in the compound with other trucks that are doing the regional broadcast on our set day,” says Werteen. “So we need to stay in a smaller footprint.”
That small footprint doesn’t mean tight quarters. Brady says the audio room in the A unit has plenty of space for a large Calrec Apollo audio console. And the main production area is laid out sideways, providing plenty of bench space. The front wall features 32-in. monitors as well as eight 20-in. monitors, giving the team the ability to pipe nearly 180 images into the main wall. And the video area, which features room for four operators, is also spacious.
Werteen says EN2 builds off lessons from previous NEP trucks, most notably EN1 and ND1, to make sure the production team is as comfortable as possible. It also has small creature comforts, such as USB ports for charging phones and tablets.
The B unit features a large replay area that has an open floor with operators sitting back to back, a design that Werteen says improves communication because operators can easily turn around and speak with each other. The B unit also has an edit room as well as an audio submix room.
“All the workstations are also customizable for the individual needs of the production,” adds Werteen.
There is perhaps no better sign of just how well EN2 has been designed than that the ESPN Deportes production team will actually be able to operate out of the B unit, thanks to a small Grass Valley 110 production switcher.
“They will take a clean line cut and also have access to a couple more resources,” Calcinari notes.
The truck will also do more than just baseball for ESPN. It is in the plans for NBA coverage and possibly the X Games, depending on how the baseball schedule shakes out.
Werteen is bullish on EN2’s prospects beyond baseball, adding that everyone who has visited the truck so far has given a lot of positive feedback. And the truck serves as a bit of a historical marker for him: he began working with ESPN Sunday Night Baseball nearly 20 years ago.
“It’s something I started on when I was with NCP,” he says. “For our very small company, this was one of our first marquee events. So it is great to see how it has grown to this point and to see the relationship continue.”
The EN2 mobile production facility is also the latest to leave NEP’s Pittsburgh-based integration facility, which has been the place to find NEP’s engineering and integration team since 2004. So far, fifteen mobile units have rolled out its door, along with another 20-plus smaller projects and upgrades to existing vehicles.
“When we first moved to UPark [in Pittsburgh], we did what we normally did prior to that, but, as time went on, the staff grew, and the complexity of projects grew,” says NEP Co-President Glen Levine. “So we started adding more design people to keep up with the volume as well as mechanical, audio, and video engineers.”
The team, overseen by VP of Integration Joe Signorino, includes seven design engineers, as well as three junior designers who are designing and being trained at the same time. That gives the team a natural succession plan as well as plenty of depth and knowledge.
“They meet with the project coordinator on a regular basis,” says Levine. “There are also two wiring and mechanical supervisors who use a database that helps track how long wires need to be, how many, and the cost.”
The move to paperless databases and wiring information has the teams armed with iPads so that they can take calls from clients, make changes to the unit, and then instantly see those changes reflected in the database.
“It offers real-time interaction,” adds Levine.
All projects begin with getting the empty shell of a trailer from the manufacturer into the staging area. Double expandos and stairs are added and welded in the complete mechanical shop.
“While the mechanical team is doing the elements, the carpentry team will be working on the consoles,” says Levine. “And we also have our own electricians who build our power systems, from the transformer through to the circuit breakers and lighting.”
“There is also a lot of thought put into sound-deadening material to isolate the audio and control rooms.”
The EN2 unit, like many of the recent projects, reflects a transitional point in remote production: software-based equipment and fiber connections are playing a much larger role than even just a few years ago. Coaxial cable still has a presence, but the amount of fiber and KVM (keyboard, video, mouse) routing has increased significantly and allows operators to move to different positions in the unit and work from nearly anywhere.
“It’s a custom space for the operators that also has the creature comforts and a comfortable feel,” Levine points out. “No two units are the same, and it is great to have each mobile unit uniquely tailored to a client. There is a lot of interaction [with] the customer; we take ideas and talk about them.”
That high level of interaction combined with the integration facility gives NEP and the customer the best of all worlds. And, once the unit is on the road, that interaction continues via nsite, the remote-monitoring system that was launched in 2010 and allows the NEP support team to monitor the fleet from anywhere around the globe.
“The beauty of having our own facility is, we can make changes as we need to throughout the project,” says Levine. “It gives us the ability to be innovative.”