College Football Kickoff: ESPN’s Improved Line To Gain Pylon Cam, Marker Cam Systems Ready For Primetime (In the NFL, Too!)

v2.0 features improved camera optics from C360 and RF support from 3G Wireless

The dawn of a new football season brings with it another wave of innovation from the team at ESPN. The big addition to this year’s technology lineup will be the introduction of new and improved versions of the network’s Line To Gain Pylon Cams and Marker Cam (which is a camera embedded inside the top of a first down stick).

Version 2.0 of ESPN’s Marker Cam features improved camera optics from speciality camera developer C360. The unique angle offers a closer look at the action with a shot right down the line to gain for a first down. It will be utilized on the featured primetime college football game on ABC, in addition to NFL games on Monday Night Football.

Seen on some previous College Football Playoff Semifinals and last season’s National Championship Game, both the Line To Gain Pylon and Marker Cams have gotten major facelifts this offseason elevating them from their role as purely a unique camera angle to a more effective and usable tool at the production team’s disposal.

Version 2.0 of both of these systems – which will appear each week on the featured Saturday Night college football game on ABC – contains completely new camera interiors and operating optics from specialty camera developer C360, in addition to bolstered RF capabilities from 3G Wireless (making them free of cabling and easy to move around). Both provide clear and unique views directly down either the line of scrimmage, the first down yard to gain, or even the goal line (depending on where it’s set up) and offer far more flexibility on the replay front.

“These cameras are improved in really dramatic ways,” says ESPN senior coordinating producer Ed Placey, who also assumed the role of Content Innovation Lead earlier this year. “We have full pan, zoom, tilt optics from the pylons that, to this point, had been unheard of. It took managing the size and other moving parts but this allows you to follow the action, do isos on receivers, and, also, its an internal replay system, which they had [available in the past] but it was really a last resort as a backup. Now its front and center with an immediate rewind and reframe to the action that plays right to air while you are managing the optics live. It’s a bit unprecedented, honestly.”

WATCH: Click here to see sample footage from the Line To Gain Pylon Cam and Marker Cam.

When this system is in use, ESPN will also continue to deploy its goal-line pylon cams meaning that there could be anywhere from 6-10 pylon camera units on a marquee game (Placey gets a good laugh out of this fact). Plus, ESPN is keeping a couple of original versions of this system in rotation, using v1.0s on the featured Saturday primetime games that air on both ESPN and the SEC Network.

In a separate major development, ESPN also gained full approval from the NFL earlier this week to use the new versions of both the Line To Gain Pylon Cams and Marker Cam every week on Monday Night Football. ESPN has been hoping to prove out the value and effectiveness of these systems to the NFL over the past couple of years and those efforts have finally born fruit. A couple of test deployments on a pair of preseason games this month helped seal the deal.

Back to college football, this weekend’s coverage of Week 1 is fully loaded. In fact, when combining with last weekend’s Week 0 (which garnered more attention this year thanks to a College GameDay production at Walt Disney World and a marquee opening matchup between Miami and Florida in Orlando), ESPN will be producing 35 combined collegiate (and high school) telecasts over seven platforms. It will total up to about 200 hours of football programming across the ESPN linear family by the time Monday night is all said and done. With that, ESPN crews will have deployed 27 different mobile production units from seven different truck vendors to 27 college/high school fields and eight NFL stadiums.

The Yard To Gain Pylon Cams are wireless and can be easily moved around the field thanks to RF support from 3G Wireless.

“The sheer volume that we are offering fans this first weekend is extraordinary,” says John LaChance, Director, Remote Production Operations for ESPN. “To see and hear all those collective numbers to kick-off the college football season is both impressive and a bit humbling.  It’s certainly a large group effort touching every aspect and group within our department and it’s a partnership with our production colleagues. For one, I’m very proud of our college football team and the combined effort of all involved.”

On an infrastructure note, proprietary and third party fiber infrastructure will be used to support nearly half of those games while the remaining shows will be supported by delivery over IP and traditional satellite uplink trucks.

All in all, more than 1,000 remote technicians, vendors, and utilities, along with more than 60 remote-operations–management personnel, will be involved in what promises to be a frenetic opening week across college football.