ESPN interactive TV Coverage of U.S. Open Hits 10th Anniversary

It was 10 years ago this weekend that ESPN looked to begin investigating how it could turn its digital rights for the U.S. Open into something sustainable not only from a business standpoint but from a programming standpoint. Don Colantonio, ESPN, senior director of production enhancements and interactive TV, remembers that project vividly on what is the last weekend of ESPN’s interactive TV role at the U.S. Open as Fox Sports takes over the rights. “We didn’t have the rights for live golf and we ended up doing a two-hour driving range show with Karl Ravech and Hank Haney on the Thursday and Friday morning,” he says.

It was 2005 and it is worth recalling just how different the world was when it came to non-broadcast TV platforms. Smartphones were still two years away and watching clips required a subscription to Verizon’s V Cast service. And from a production standpoint Colantonio says it took up to two hours to edit, feed, and encode a clip. Live viewing was not even an option.

That was then. Today ESPN’s interactive service for DirecTV as well as the video that is streamed out via the USGA Website is put together by a crew that includes 16 production personnel, about 30 technical crew, and 14 on-air talent personalities. And instead of operating out of the back of an SNG vehicle the team calls two Game Creek Video trucks (FX A and B) home, a production facility that handles NASCAR racing and other top events.

“I don’t think anyone at the time realized how radically the technology was going to advance to where we are today,” says Colantonio. “And as the distribution opportunities advanced so did the workflow and the networking technologies. One of the things we’ve been complimented on by the USGA this year is how all the ESPN features and content produced for the network gets seen across all the platforms.”

ESPN’s ITV service has four unilateral RF cameras at its disposal and this year its broadcast team is on the same studio tower at 18 that is home to the regular ESPN team as well BSkyB studio.

Given that ESPN’s contract for U.S. Open broadcasts end this year the ITV service has come full circle as it was launched at Pinehurst and will end at Pinehurst. But ESPN’s ITV efforts continue onward. Wimbledon coverage this year will be expanded to include the women’s quarterfinals and once again Colantonio and the team are gearing up for golf’s next major: the Open Championship in Liverpool. And they have some surprises in store there as well.

“The viewers have advanced so much and they are much more savvy,” he says. “Viewership is stronger than it has ever been and the growth is directly related to TV everywhere services.”


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