ESPN’s Operations Efforts for Season-Opening ‘Mini’ MegaCast Are Anything but Mini
Four mobile units, Bristol-based control rooms support seven viewing options for Ohio State-Indiana
ESPN has placed its stamp on its coverage of the College Football Playoff over the past few years —and brought a new word into the sports-television lexicon — by offering fans the “MegaCast,” one of the most robust live video-production offerings in the industry.
In January, ESPN offered 14 ways to watch the CFP National Championship Game between Clemson and Alabama. Tonight, as part of its coverage of a college-football–season opener between Ohio State and Indiana, ESPN is dusting off the MegaCast for its regular-season debut, offering seven of the most popular MegaCast options. Internally, they’re calling it a “mini MegaCast,” but don’t be fooled, this production and operations effort is anything but mini.
ESPN offered the MegaCast on College Football Playoff games last winter, bringing fans 14 ways to watch. For the season opener between Ohio State and Indiana, fans will have seven broadcasts at their fingertips.
“The MegaCast has become the ultimate example of how our company can take all of our different groups and work together to create this really cool product for fans,” says Jarrett Baker, an associate manager for ESPN. “No matter how you choose to watch a football game, when it comes to the MegaCast, we hit all of the options that you would like.”
Mini but Mighty
Compared with the compound outside the CFP National Championship Game, sure, the space is smaller. However, ESPN has rolled up four mobile units outside Indiana’s Memorial Stadium, including F&F Productions’ GTX-18 (which will anchor the main game coverage on ESPN) and Lyon Video 3 (which is onsite to support ESPN’s College GameDay) to support the efforts.
Also, since the truck-dock area is smaller than a CFP National Championship Game venue might offer, ESPN is using plenty of at-home, or REMI, production elements to help add to the collection of viewing options. The network is using a combination of fiber and satellite transmission, with a 12-path fiber mux out (PSSI Global Services is handling the encoding) from Indiana to Bristol, CT; a two-service satellite mux outbound that backs up the game and College Gameday; and four fiber paths coming back to site from Bristol.
BSI is on hand to support the production with five Blue Steel microphones, two RF handheld links, a pair of RF talent monitors, and wireless comms. An Illumination Dynamics generator is also positioned to add extra power for the expanded compound.
Seven Unique Broadcasts
The seven viewing options available to fans are the traditional telecast on ESPN, Coaches Film Room on ESPNNEWS, the Homers Telecast on ESPNU, and the All-22, Command Center, Data Center, and SkyCam feeds streaming on ESPN3.
“The importance of the game, combined with its being on a Thursday, provides us with ideal conditions to utilize the MegaCast production for college-football fans,” says Ed Placey, who is serving as coordinating producer on the entire MegaCast effort.
Coaches Film Room proved to be one of the more popular viewing options during College Football Playoff games. The show places current and former head coaches in one of ESPN’s Bristol studios and allows them to break down the game in real time. An ESPN release even notes that, several times throughout the telecast, the show will remain live even when other networks showing the game go to commercial break. This will allow the coaches to continue to break down critical action that just took place.
In the workflow for the All-22 offering on ESPN3, the clean feed of the wide-sitting–camera angle will be fibered directly to Bristol, where the yellow First & Ten line will be inserted in a control room before the final production is sent off for streaming.
As for the traditional television production on ESPN, the network has deployed 14 game cameras, eight hard and six handheld. Two of the handhelds are RF and will be used heavily to offer unique camera angles for the Homers Telecast. There will also be one Sony HDC-4300 shooting in super-slo-mo. The game will be produced by Scott Matthews and directed by Jeff Evers.