ESPN Brings a Bit of Bristol to South Africa With Expanded World Cup Ops

ESPN continues to show its commitment to the World Cup rights with a wealth of programming on ESPN networks, whether the 2D, 3D, mobile video, or Web sites. And making that commitment possible are high-quality master control, production, studio, and transmission facilities within the International Broadcast Center in Johannesburg. More than 400 staffers within South Africa, including 16 ENG crews following teams and building feature stories around the event don’t hurt either.

During the 2006 World Cup in Germany, ESPN had no presentation studio and the main master control was run out of ESPN’s Digital Center in Bristol, CT. But the 2010 set-up is much different, featuring three fully configured master control facilities, fiber pipes back to Bristol, and a server and editing infrastructure built around EVS and Avid systems.

“We brought Bristol here,” says Claude Phipps, ESPN, director of special projects, who has spent much of the past two years overseeing the project’s technical aspects. “It gives us much more immediacy but we also have a complete studio here.”

Claude Phipps, ESPN director of special projects, has helped make the World Cup a top-notch endeavor for ESPN.

The control rooms (A, B, and C) are all based around a Grass Valley Kalypso production switcher and Lawo audio consoles. One big change, courtesy of the Lawo boards, is the ability to work off of the router mainframe. “That gives us the flexibility to mix and match audio sources,” says Phipps. “All of the master control rooms are very flexible and comfortable.”

ESPN Master Control room A at the World Cup IBC rivals some of the rooms back home in Bristol in terms of space and equipment.

With master control facilities on site, producers and directors combine the pre-game, half-time, and post-match coverage from the studio overlooking Soccer City Stadium with the unilateral feed provided by HBS (Host Broadcast Services). Ericsson CE-xH42 MPEG4 encoders then deliver the feed back to Bristol where commercial insertion takes place. DTS Neural 5.1 audio encoders also play a key role in transmission back to Bristol.

The ESPN IBC ingest/editing area is where much of the magic happens as ESPN producers, production assistants, and editors build everything from short intros and outtros to longer form feature stories and player profiles.

Three EVS IP Edit stations are on hand along with four EVS browser stations. “They are the busiest during the post-game period when producers and editors are putting together clips for Sports Center,” says Jay Deutsch, EVS Broadcast, technical support engineer. “The producers will select clips and send them to a bin for editing on Avid or cut them together quickly using IP Edit.”

The biggest challenge, says Deutsch, has been the mix of media formats that may come through the door and need to be loaded onto the server. Crews in the field are also uploading DVCPRO Quicktime files from the field using Smart Jog transfer technology.

“The ESPN plans call for us to work in DVCPRO 100 at 1080i/50fps but if someone brings in a card that isn’t that format we needed to create a backdoor way to get content onto the server in a couple of minutes,” says Deutsch.

One unique aspect of the EVS system is that a large number of material from past World Cups, ranging back to 1976, has proxy copies on the server. Producers can look at the proxies, note the timecode, and easily find the material on the original tape media which is on hand in Johannesburg.

The server also takes advantage of metadata and networking capabilities, as ESPN has set up keywords that, when entered, will automatically steer content to servers operated by ESPN Brazil, which is located next door to ESPN in the IBC.

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