Live From CFP National Championship: Reimagined Megacast Leverages Player-Tracking Tech

ESPN brings back its ultra-robust Megacast again this year at the College Football Playoff National Championship Game, a programming assault in which virtually every outlet of the ESPN family will offer a unique way of watching tonight’s showdown between Ohio State and Oregon. This year’s version of Megacast grows to 12 viewing options — from the eight available at the title game in Pasadena last year — and includes options with a focus on player tracking and data analytics.

ESPNChyronHego’s TRACAB player-tracking system will be used in two Megacast offerings: Off the Ball, a studio-based breakdown of action happening away from the ball, and Film Room, a wildly popular feature of last year’s Megacast  offering a thorough breakdown of the game using in-studio analysts in real time. These enhanced telecasts will feature Chyron technology over the “All 22” camera to identify player positioning, speed, etc.

Also, the Megacast will feature a new “channel,” called DataCenter, intended to further leverage the commitment to player-tracking technology that ESPN has deployed throughout the stadium for tonight’s game. The commercial-free coverage will include a full offering of on-screen graphic content: analytics, player tracking, curated social-media reaction, and more.

Making its collegiate debut for ESPN, ncam virtual-graphics and augmented-reality tracking system is built into the Skycam hovering above the field inside AT&T Stadium. The technology has been featured on Monday Night Football and various X Games events for the network.

The full Megacast menu looks to offer every fan an opportunity to view the game in a specific the way or to check out a few of the options throughout the night, besides watching the traditional game telecast on ESPN. There are ways to view exclusive camera angles, such as Coachcams and a raw feed of the Spidercam. Fans of hometown teams can also watch the telecast with their hometown radio announcers fed in. There’s even an option with no announcers at all.

But how is ESPN deciding which Megacast channels are produced onsite and which are handled “at home” in ESPN facilities? It all depends on what tools are needed where.

“We have taken on the challenge of putting more isolated camera feeds up [via satellite] through our transmit path to the [Los Angeles] facilities that are producing some of these shows so they can selectively pick them off and use them as they need them,” says Kevin Hendel, a remote operations manager for ESPN.

Determining which signals go where is, in his words, an exercise of maximizing equipment onsite to support production facilities in Los Angeles and Bristol.

“Some of the shows have a whole lot of graphics inserts and would require almost a full production-control room or a mobile unit here,” he says, “so we delegated those sorts of things to [production facilities].”

Two key onsite Megacast productions are Taco Bell Student Section and Sounds of the Game. The former, another commercial-free option, will feature cameras dedicated to shooting fan sections of each team, along with cheerleaders, band, mascot, etc. The sponsored element has its own dedicated mobile unit (Lyon Video’s Lyon 3), producer, director, and crew. Two hard cameras are pointed at each section, and two wireless cameras will be working the show. Sounds of the Game will be produced out of a Game Creek Video B unit equipped with a 16-channel mixer taking in audio signals from more than 70 microphones placed around the stadium. An associate producer will monitor that mix, which, this year, will include the in-stadium PA announcer as well.

In addition to tweaking and expanding viewing options, there were lessons learned from last year’s first edition of the Megacast, little things that ESPN’s crew of 50 dedicated to the service are happy to fix. For example, Command Center, a stat-heavy multiview option, features cameras locked off on each of the coaches. Last year, the sideline cart cameras traditionally shooting the opposing sidelines were shared for this function. It became obvious that that wasn’t the best route.

“It sounded like a great idea,” laughs Jay Gleeson, operations manager, ESPN. “The thing is, that camera is going to be on all the time. It doesn’t stop between plays; it doesn’t stop for commercials. So that far-side coach was on as that cart was rumbling down a natural-turf sideline. This year, that far-side coach will be shot with a fixed camera and will not be moving on the cart and rumbling all over the place. It was a brilliant idea to share a resource, but, hey, lesson learned.”

Here’s a rundown of the shows and their respective linear channel/streaming destination:

  • Traditional telecast: (ESPN/WatchESPN)
  • Spanish telecast: Traditional telecast with Spanish-language call of the action (ESPN Deportes/WatchESPN)
  • Film Room: ESPN analysts Chris Spielman and Tom Luginbill with Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen, new Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi, and new Nebraska coach Mike Riley provide analysis of the game as it happens from a studio in Bristol. (ESPN2/WatchESPN)
  • ESPN Voices: Jay Bilas, Aaron Boone, Julie Foudy, Barry Melrose, Mark Schlereth, and Michael Wilbon watch and discuss the game from Bristol. Bob Wischusen hosts. (ESPNU/WatchESPN)
  • Off the Ball: New viewing option has ESPN analysts Kevin Carter, Matt Millen, Jason Sehorn, and Matt Stinchcomb, as well as Amani Toomer, focusing on the plays away from the ball. (ESPNews/WatchESPN)
  • Sounds of the Game: Live video with natural sounds captured by 100 microphones positioned throughout the stadium. (ESPN Classic)
  • Command Center: Commercial-free coverage will feature a full-time, split-screen application showing live game action, along with immediate replays of every play and isolated camera feeds of both head coaches, enhanced statistics, and the ESPN Radio broadcast call. (ESPN Goal Line/WatchESPN)
  • Spidercam: A high-angle presentation of the game with natural sounds of the field and stadium (ESPN3)
  • Taco Bell Student Section: Commercial-free option will feature cameras in special sections created by Taco Bell that give 500 students from each school a VIP experience, as well as with the cheerleaders, band, and mascot of each team. (ESPN3)
  • Oregon Radio Call: Oregon’s radio broadcast will feature Jerry Allen, analyst Mike Jorgensen, reporter Joey McMurray, and host Chase Morgan. The on-screen presentation will provide the game feed plus isolated cameras on coach Mark Helfrich and players. (ESPN3)
  • Ohio State Radio Call: Ohio State’s local radio broadcast will feature Paul Keels, analyst Jim Lachey, and reporter Marty Bannister. The on-screen presentation will provide the game feed plus isolated cameras on coach Urban Meyer and players. (ESPN3)
  • DataCenter: (ESPN3)
More from the College Football Playoff National Championship Game:

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