X Games Aspen 2020: ESPN Targets Next-Gen Fans with ‘Jam Session’ Format, New TikTok Channel

Streamlined live scoring helps reduce on-air downtime between runs

Now in its 24th incarnation, ESPN’s Winter X Games event continues to evolve in an effort to better serve viewers regardless of the platform they may be viewing on. With that in mind, ESPN increased the number of “jam-session” events this year in Aspen, allowing more live competition with less downtime between runs. In addition, ESPN production efforts have gone well beyond linear coverage, distributing content across a bevy of digital and social platforms as well as officially launching the X Games TikTok channel earlier this week.

“Our [digital] efforts here are massive because, in the world we’re living in, all of the younger audience is now consuming on a variety of platforms,” says Tim Reed, VP, X Games. “We’re [distributing] our world feeds across all our social platforms. Clearly, that’s where a majority of our audience is living, and it will be a major priority for us moving forward.”

All About Social: ESPN’s X Games Coverage Goes Well Beyond Linear
Although ESPN, ABC, and ESPN2 will carry more than 15 hours of live coverage over the four-day event, the broadcaster continues to emphasize multi-platform distribution for X Games content.

This week, 10+ hours of coverage will be streamed exclusively on @XGames social-media handles YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Highlights of performances by Rae Sremmurd, ILLENIUM, Alesso, and Bazzi will also air on @XGames social channels. Over the four days, the ESPN App will stream live content from ESPN and ESPN Deportes to computers, smartphones, tablets, and connected devices.

In addition to live competition, each night following the conclusion of ESPN’s linear coverage, Jack Mitrani will host X Games EXTRA live on the X Games YouTube channel, featuring the day’s medalists and special guests in exclusive interviews.

ESPN’s production team is also delivering in-depth athlete profiles on XGames.com and @XGames social media (which will be packaged into a one-hour World of X Games show on ABC and made available on YouTube).

“YouTube, Instagram, and now TikTok are really the priority platforms for us,” says Reed. “We’re going to be delivering a lot of content to [those outlets] all week. We’re very excited to have launched our TikTok channel; it just means one more platform for us to reach fans.”

As ‘Jam Session’ Format Takes Over, ESPN Launches Live Scoring
One of the challenges Reed’s team has been trying to combat over the past year has been the broadcast time spent waiting for judges’ scores to be delivered. With that in mind, X Games has been adding more “jam-session” formats in an effort to show more live competition with less downtime.

Danny Davis competes in Monster Energy Men’s Snowboard SuperPipe, which is covered in a jam-session format. Photo: Eric Lars Bakke/ESPN Images

In the jam-session format, multiple riders compete for a clocked amount of time, and judges officially score each competitor based on overall impression. All three new disciplines introduced this year in Aspen — Snowboard SuperPipe Best Trick, Snowboard Rail Jam, and Ski Knuckle Huck — use this jam-session format.

“We’re clearly jumping all-in on the jam format after our success last year in Minneapolis,” says Reed. “I think those events have run really well, and we have been able to deliver a ton of action. In our first event [Wednesday night], we did 40-plus runs in around an hour, which is amazing.”

ESPN worked with Rawmotion, which provides scoring/timing/live graphic inserts, to simplify the scoring system for judges so that rankings could be updated live via on-air graphics as the jam session progresses.

“I think to be able to deliver the live rankings from the judges has been huge,” adds Reed. “Judges can now basically drag-and-drop rankings on iPads as part of the judging workflow. That has really streamlined the workflow from judges’ rankings to live on-air graphics. So not only are we able to deliver more action, but we can also couple that with detailed real-time information that the audience needs to understand what’s going on.”