‘ESPN3 Surround’ Offers College-Hoops Fans Alternative Angles, In-Arena Atmosphere

Following its landmark MegaCast production at the BCS National Championship Game in January, ESPN continues to explore new ways to offer fans a truly multiscreen experience when it comes to college sports programming. Case in point: the new ESPN3 Surround offering, which provides a live streaming companion feed giving viewers alternate camera angles and in-stadium audio from high-profile college-basketball matchups.

“We have been wildly successful in creating a meaningful destination for exclusive live events spanning nearly every sport across the globe on ESPN3,” says Jason Bernstein, senior director of programming and acquisitions, ESPN. “Admittedly, one of the oddities in the ESPN3 ‘first-screen strategy’ had been where the ‘traditional second-screen experience’ fit alongside those full-length live events. We’re placing an emphasis on those experiences — especially with so many great games week in and week out across our networks.”

Just Like You’re in the Arena
Used on a trio of college basketball games thus far (Syracuse vs. Duke on Feb. 22, Kansas vs. Oklahoma St. on March 1, and Duke vs. North Carolina on March 8), ESPN3 Surround offers a switched feed of three camera angles: a robotic reverse wide shot, and two POV above the-rim cameras. All three cameras were already part of ESPN’s standard college-basketball A-game coverage, so no additional gear was necessary.

In addition, the ESPN3 Surround feed features exclusively natural sound from the arena with no commentary or announcers. Aside from a clock/score-bug graphic, the scaled-down approach aims to make viewers feel that they are watching the game from inside the arena (albeit at 15- to 60-second delay compared with the linear telecast).

“The genius in all this is that the infrastructure is already there, so it is a great model of efficiency,” says Jay Levy, senior coordinating producer, ESPN. “We have the ability to provide an enhanced opportunity for fans and add very minimal infrastructure.”

During the first ESPN3 Surround outing, the three iso camera feeds were switched via a simple router and staff operator located in an on-site van. ESPN hopes to eventually move this operation into the B unit and use on-campus students as operators.

“Ultimately, the plan is to grow this out further, and, if we are going to do that, I think we need to work with the schools to give students an opportunity here,” says Levy. “That’s something I think we are going to look into. It would be a great opportunity for someone going to school for television to do something like this. It would be very much in the same model as ESPN3 [productions].”

Alternative Coverage Nothing New But Growing
Alternative coverage and additional camera angles are nothing new to ESPN3, which has been delivering them for years, including outer-court coverage at the Grand Slam tennis tournaments, multiple mat streams during NCAA Wrestling Championships, and in-car cameras for motorsports. ESPN3 Surround marks the next chapter in these efforts.

“We want to continue to position ESPN3 as a home for top-tier content. When the biggest games and rivalries are on ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPNU, we have an opportunity to take fans closer to those games by way of ESPN3. The biggest games just get bigger.”

Although the strategy is in its infancy, experiences like ESPN3 Surround and the MegaCast are likely to continue to grow as ESPN looks to exploit its valuable sports properties on more and more platforms.

“Early returns [on ESPN3 Surround] are strong,” says Bernstein. “With an extremely limited sample size, we have seen usage exceed some of our exclusive college basketball games on ESPN3. Again, offering a complementary experience alongside some of the biggest games on television will only benefit fans and overall audience size.”

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