SVG Summit: ESPN’s Chuck Pagano Offers Up Behind-the-Scenes Look at Digital Center 2
On the day of his induction into the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame, ESPN CTO and EVP of Technology Chuck Pagano took some time on stage at the SVG Summit on Tuesday in New York to provide a behind-the-scenes look at the network’s much-anticipated new state-of-the-art production facility – Digital Center 2 (DC2). As has been the case in the construction and integration of all the facilities erected during his era, Pagano and his team built the massive new DC2 with the needs of both today and tomorrow in mind.
“I live by the philosophy of ‘cover-thy-butt just in case’ and it’s worked out pretty well so far,” joked Pagano. “It’s not overkill, it’s preparation. A lot of people might say it’s overkill. I tend to be pretty anal, especially when it comes to power, because time is money and I take that philosophy when we build all of our facilities.”
Slated to open in May of 2014, the 195,000-square-foot DC2 facility will be the 19th and largest building on ESPN’s Bristol Campus and will serve as the home for SportsCenter moving forward. In addition, ESPN will move its NFL programming into DC2 in August just before the 2014 season kicks off.
The facility features a unique new SportsCenter studio space featuring a hub-and-spoke design with four studios and six control rooms. The main and annex studios will feature a total of 150 monitors between the two of them for visual effects purposes. ESPN will also have a dedicated social media desk on hand, reflecting the company’s rapidly increasing push on the social side of things.
“Social has become incredibly important as to how we deliver our content in general,” he said, “so we are adding resources in the facility to push that forward.”
DC2 will utilize 1080p as its native format, but Pagano says it remains a format-agnostic facility with an eye on the potential rise of 4K and 8K over the coming years. With a fully IP-based-routing and signal-transport architecture, DC2 will be able to easily adopt next-generation formats when they become a reality.
“We are always [striving] to be a format-agnostic facility because I don’t have a crystal ball in front of me. 4K will be here I’m sure, and I’m sure 8K will be here before I depart the earth,” said Pagano. “We’ve created plumbing system – or cardiopulmonary, as I like to call it – that will handle any of the formats so that they don’t have to rebuild any of the infrastructure, but rather just tack on facilities where needed. If we need a 4K switcher, you can just tack it on and it will be rout-able throughout the infrastructure of DC2.”
Of course, while 4K and 8K may be coming down the line, DC2 is already among the most technologically powerful production facilities ever built. For example, ESPN has installed a 92 terabyte-per-second switch in Bristol to handle the new facility and expects ESPN to be in the exabyte-per-second range within five years. This entire infrastructure not only put ESPN at the forefront of today’s media technology landscape, but also provides a head start on the challenges of tomorrow – whatever they end up being.
“What I’m wowed by on DC2 is the ability to be format agnostic that I requested – I didn’t think it was going to happen,” he said. “These are more confusing times than ever. What is going to be the next challenge and where we are going as a business? Is 4K or 8K going to real – no one knows? But at least we have a little cushion to get us ready.”
DC2 represents yet another chapter in Pagano’s legacy of leading the charge for state-of-the ESPN facilities, following on the heels of Digital Center 1 in Bristol (opened in 2004 with four HDTV studios that serve as the hub for ESPN’s studio programming) and the network’s Los Angeles Production Center (a 77,000-square foot facility that opened in 2009 and features three production control rooms, two master control rooms, and two studios). DC2 will be connected to both facilities via a 30-Gbps data pipes in order to create a virtual facility that allows files and content to be dynamically and quickly pushed and pulled between facilities.
“We will always use our facilities no matter what. We are still using the same building we launched from in 1979 with some of the equipment I installed when I was an engineer,” said Pagano. “When we make decisions [in building] these facilities, we try to take a Swiss army knife approach so we are ready to deliver whatever we might need in the future.”