The ‘Megacast’: ESPN Gives BCS Era a Grand Send-Off With Massive Championship-Game Production
On a warm, sun-splashed Sunday afternoon in Pasadena, CA, more than 200 ESPN employees scurry around the grounds of the legendary Rose Bowl. It’s 24 hours before the media giant’s largest college-football production ever.
The numbers speak for themselves: six media platforms, 63 cameras (yes, 63), and 72 microphones. They’re calling it the “Megacast.” Eight different ways for the viewer at home to watch the crowning of college football’s national champ. It includes everything from the main game production to digital-exclusive platforms that feature isolated camera angles, the feed of each team’s home radio announcers, or — if one feels so inclined — no announcers at all.
To feed all of these platforms, ESPN has erected a production compound that would make the biggest sports events blush. Eight production trucks (many provided by Game Creek Video) and eight office trailers fill a tight perimeter outside Gate F of the Rose Bowl, spilling into a neighboring golf course.
It’s enough to make your head spin, but, for Senior Coordinating Producer, College Football, Ed Placey, the focus remains in one place.
“This is no doubt the most complex production I’ve ever worked on,” he says, “but the main ESPN telecast is still the priority for us and will still be the standard by which our coverage is judged.”
The 63 cameras is a staggering number on its own but is even more so when one considers that there is no 3D production at this year’s game.
The vast majority of the primary game cameras are Sony HDC1500s run via SMPTE fiber to the main game truck: Game Creek Video’s Victory. There, the production is switched on a Grass Valley Kayenne switcher and uses EVS video-replay systems as well as a Calrec Apollo audio console.
Many of the cameras positioned throughout the stadium have multiple jobs and, in some cases, a camera operator could be “hot” on as many as three ESPN networks or platforms at once.
For example, the Megacast lineup includes the BCS Command Center airing on ESPN Goal Line, a multiscreen layout that displays the live game feed, two isolated shots of the teams’ head coaches, and a window dedicated to the constant running of replays. A producer, director, five camera operators, and parts of multiple trucks are dedicated solely to programming the BCS Command Center all with the understanding that they can be called upon by main game director Derek Mobley at any given time.
“When a camera operator is shooting a game — let’s say you’re the high-50 camera — there’s going to be times when you’re not going to have a tally light and then you can zoom in, relax your shoulders,” says Pat Lowry, director of the BCS Command Center production. “Here, these camera operators are hot all the time. It’s intense to stay in that position knowing that tally light is not going off.”
“Shared resources” is the name of the game. Nearly all the cameras — which include big-game staples jib, blimp, ultra-slo-mos, and collection of robotics — are wired to be available to all productions and platforms.
SpiderCam, which is regularly featured on Monday Night Football and selected tennis championships, is again on-site, offering spectacular views of the game from above, and has its own dedicated feed on ESPN3 for fans who wish to watch the game from the sky on their computers and mobile devices.
The camera angle that Placey is most proud of, though, is one that made its debut on the Rose Bowl telecast on New Years Day. A FlyCam tethered across the southeast corner of the stadium captures a fantastic sweeping image that includes the Rose Bowl’s iconic sign and opens up into the bowl to show the in-stadium action.
Renovations to the Rose Bowl have made that shot possible. When the stadium extended the luxury- and press-box area further across the south side of the bowl, it made it possible for the tethers for both the SpiderCam and the FlyCam to safely coexist.
“We’ve been working on that one for five years,” smiles Placey. “[The press-box area] didn’t stretch as far, and the angle didn’t allow us to do it with the SkyCam because the wires would overlap too much. Now, with the press box going that far down, we came back, resurveyed it, and got the approval of the Rose Bowl folks. The timing worked out great to have construction finished in time and to have it available for the 100th Rose Bowl Game and the final BCS Championship Game. It’s a pretty cool shot, and we hope to show it off even more tonight.”
See How Far We’ve Come
For the sixth straight year, Mobley is directing ESPN’s main production of a BCS National Championship Game. He soaks up the sun on Sunday in a white polo shirt, a memento from the 1999 Fiesta Bowl, the first Bowl Championship Series championship game ever.
It’s a wardrobe choice not without meaning, as tonight’s game will be the final of the BCS era [next season marks the first year under the new four-team playoff system] and brings the television production of the at-times controversial selection system full circle.
A lot has changed in sports TV since that night in Tempe, AZ, when a 22-camera show run over analog produced a standard-definition program for a vieweing audience that hadn’t even heard the term plasma flat screen yet. Tonight is a much different ballgame.
Having nearly 70 sources to pull from at any point throughout the game makes this a directing experience unlike any before.
“[Derek] is masterful in that he can keep organized all of the other things that are affected,” says Placey. “Even when they aren’t part of his production, he knows that a camera is being used elsewhere and there might be things that he can or can’t do.”
Here’s a full breakdown of the different viewing options available across the ESPN family tonight.
ESPN: the main game production
ESPN2: BCS Title Talk, which features the game, with analysts, guest hosts, coaches, and celebrities commenting on the action.
ESPNews: BCS Film Room, analytical play-by-play coverage with exclusive camera angles and live breakdwons by coaches.
ESPN Goal Line: BCS Command Center, split-screen views of live action and immediate replays of every play along with the ESPN Radio broadcast and stats.
ESPN Classic: Sounds of the BCS, an announcer-free production that presents only the natural sounds of the events inside the Rose Bowl.
ESPN3: the main game video layered with the home radio announcers of each team; an isolated feed of the SpiderCam; and BCS Campus Connection, which offers images from each school’s home campus.