College Football Playoff: ESPN Engineers, Techs Quickly Implement Workflow To Allow Analyst Kirk Herbstreit To Call Sugar Bowl From Home

After testing positive for COVID-19, Herbstreit was unable to travel to New Orleans for the second semifinal game of the CFP on New Year's Day

ESPN has overcome numerous obstacles this college football postseason.

One of the more notable ones came on December 29 when lead college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit announced he had tested positive for COVID-19. That meant Herbstreit would have to remain in quarantine at home and wouldn’t be able to travel to New Orleans to call the second semifinal matchup of the College Football Playoff doubleheader on New Year’s Day: the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

Fortunately, ESPN engineers and technicians were able to quickly develop a solution that allowed Herbstreit to call the game from home alongside play-by-play man Chris Fowler – who was on-site at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

ESPN Remote Ops Specialist Brian Ristine expounded upon the details of the set up in an email to SVG on Saturday evening:

“We used [our] “Live From Home” workflow for the primary audio and video delivery. That workflow uses Unity for audio and Zoom for video. Both provide very low latency which is incredibly important in a live environment. That low latency makes it possible to have a near real-time conversation. So no special sync workflows were needed.

The “Live From Home” workflow was first used for live game coverage on Korean Baseball Organization. It’s become a very critical component in our effort to provide sports coverage with the current pandemic challenges and restrictions.

Kirk also uses a closed circuit replay device during the game. We were able to deliver video to that device via satellite uplink/downlink. The satellite latency was not critical since those signals were being used solely for replay.

All of the components were engineered and configured to make the setup as simple and easy as possible. It also allowed for remote configuration and operation once the basic set up is complete.”

According to senior coordinating producer for college football Ed Placey, the set up included five different Zoom feeds, two satellite feeds downlinked, and a TVU feed (for his on-camera). Associate director Carl Heinemann is the operations specialist that regular assists with Herbstreit when he broadcasts from his home in Nashville.

In a tweet, Herbstreit offered a special thanks to Ristine, Placey,Heinemann, operations specialist Kevin Cleary, senior operations coordinator Katy Abbott, and associate director, remote traffic operations Adam Whitlock for making the entire workflow possible.

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