ESPN California Dreaming Becomes Reality As Long-Awaited Facility Opens Monday

By Ken Kerschbaumer

ESPN ’s new 78,000-sq.-ft. facility in Los Angeles opens next Monday and it will not only give the network a solid presence on the West Coast (ending a lot of late nights for ESPN staffers in Bristol, CT) but will also expand the size of the ESPN Digital Center campus by more than 3,000 miles. “This is not too far removed from being the 14th building on our campus,” says Jonathan Pannaman, senior director, technology, ESPN Los Angeles Production Center.

“We’re planning on a tremendous amount of connectivity between the two facilities so we can move files and media at enormous speeds,” he adds. “We will leverage the workflow everybody uses in Bristol, and eventually, the media that is captured in Bristol will be put into the hands of our editors so they can browse and edit via the Quantel systems.” The new facility will feature a wealth of Quantel gear, much like the Digital Center in Bristol. Its goal is to give ESPN programming a West Coast feel and, more important, have late-night SportsCenter programs produced by a staff that isn’t working late into the night.

“We’ll be able to reduce some of the early-morning work shifts of the Bristol employees and add to the ESPN newsgathering operation and production as ESPN continues to grow,” said Judi Cordray, general manager, ESPN Los Angeles Production Center, during the recent SVG SportsTechLA event on the UCLA campus.

Pannaman, who previously worked at and was intimately involved with construction of the Digital Center in Bristol, says he was able to apply lessons from that experience to the new facility. “We dumbed down a few of things that were more complicated and enhanced some of the areas that needed to be made stronger.

For example, we’ll have two routers that will have duplicate inputs so we can always have half the facility running.” Technically, the new facility will be closely tied into the Digital Center by two 10-GB pipes allowing content and assets to move between the facilities. Initially, L.A. will be able to record 24 incoming sports events (eventually, that number will double), and, while not nearly as many as the 120 simultaneous HD feeds the Bristol facility can ingest, it will give production staffers ample content to slice and dice for SportsCenter.

“Personnel will be able to view the content and add effects and do a cuts edit,” says Pannaman. “Then, the pieces will be put together and cleaned up in an editing room before final output to the playout servers.” The control room, he adds, will have maximum flexibility in terms of grabbing content and playing out to viewers in the order desired.

One major difference between the two facilities will be a 3-Gbps routing infrastructure in Los Angeles, giving the facility a chance to be a possible test bed for next-generation technologies like 1080p or even 3D.

“From a technology standpoint, we’ll be able to try out new things,” says Pannaman. “The new Los Angeles facility is future-proof and has a lot of legs for the future.” Says Gary Reynolds, senior director, production operations, Los Angeles Production Center, “We definitely want people to know that we are on the West Coast. We’re also hoping to tie the Summer X Games into this facility.” The Summer X Games take place in Los Angeles at the Staples Center, near the Production Center. The ESPY Awards also will be produced out of the facility.

According to ESPN CTO Chuck Pagano, the facility will serve primarily as a production facility. “It’s on the same grid as our Bristol campus,” he says, “so that means the communications systems, content network, metadata, and infrastructures will be tied together.” Approximately 80 staffers will be working in the facility when it opens its doors in early April.

“The way I see it, SportsCenter is just the beginning, and there will be more content coming out of Los Angeles,” says Cordray. “We don’t know what that content will look like yet, but stay tuned.”

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