Encompass, Adtec Offer ESPN’s ‘College GameDay’ Stability Among Chaos
Although the site changes from week to week, the crew of ESPN’s College GameDay crew can rely on a few constants: raucous fans with homemade signs, spirited cheerleaders, Lee Corso sporting a mascot’s head, and, for the past eight years, Encompass Digital Media on the transmission side.
“We’re very excited to be a part of GameDay again,” says Greg Jennings, VP of transportables and production services for Encompass Digital Media. “I think our track record speaks for itself with ESPN. They continually come back to us every season to do [College GameDay].”
Since 2003, ESPN has contracted out Encompass satellite uplink trucks (based in Atlanta) to deliver GameDay back to the network’s home base in Bristol, CT. About 90% of Encompass’s 16 trucks feature Adtec encoders, including TES-8, the truck being used each week this year for GameDay transmission.
The TES-8 is outfitted with MediaHub-HD 422 encoders, which support both MPEG-2 and MPEG-4. Each week, Encompass delivers GameDay to Bristol in MPEG-2 using C-band transmission. This is the only GameDay feed sent back to Bristol, because ESPN does not send a fiber or satellite backup transmission for the show.
“We went with Adtec for a few reasons,” says Jennings. “One was the cost and versatility. Second, was the fact that ESPN has signed off on Adtec. Third, we also have a handful of clients that do MPEG-4, and the other [vendors] out there besides Adtec do not offer an all-inclusive MPEG-2/MPEG-4 box, so you have to run two boxes. The flexibility of the [422 encoders] just makes it a lot easier.”
Beginning with the 2010-11 college football and Monday Night Football seasons and going into the basketball season, ESPN has moved away from Dolby E audio in favor of AES3 audio, allowing the network to transmit discrete 5.1 surround audio from the on-site uplink to Bristol and from there to viewers’ homes. Adtec’s 422 encoders make this possible, Jennings says: “ESPN is one of our largest clients, and they’re moving from Dolby E to doing all-AES audio, which makes Adtec a much better solution for us than [other encoders on the market].”
Says Brian Adair, Eastern regional sales manager for Adtec Digital, “Our  encoders give the opportunity to input discrete audio. We have four AES inputs so [ESPN] can send back eight channels [of audio to Bristol]. It allows [ESPN] to send this discretely back to Bristol and eliminates some pieces of hardware both on the front and backend.”
Encompass is often contracted by ESPN to handle transmission for college-football-game feeds, but this is under a separate contract from GameDay. These marching orders vary from week to week and can come out of either Bristol or the ESPN regional arm in Charlotte, NC.
“We occasionally handle transmission for the actual game feed,” says Jennings. “Not only do we use Adtec gear for the satellite end of things, but, a lot of times, ESPN will bring us out to do fiber transmission as well, so we’ll send an ASI stream through an Adtec encoder. The versatility and the ability to use one box just make it easier with its auto-detection with HD and SDI. It is an integral part of our operation and will continue to be, heading into the future.”
This weekend, GameDay and Encompass will return to the University of South Carolina for the first time since 2006, as the Gamecocks look to take down No. 1-ranked Alabama.