Live From Pan Am Games: ESPN’s Phipps Details IBC Presence, Production Workflows

In the far corner of the International Broadcast Centre, ESPN and ESPN Deportes have carved out a sizeable production facility that has been the networks’ home away from home throughout the Pan Am Games. Spearheading the onsite effort is Claude Phipps, director for remote production operation, ESPN, who chatted with SVG about the workflows surrounding ESPN’s impressive presence in Toronto.

The IBC, located within the Exhibition Centre in CIBC Pan Am Park, houses the production facilities for CBC’s host-broadcast feed and eight additional broadcasters, including the combined efforts of ESPN and ESPN Deportes. ESPN/ESPN Deportes’ production facility houses a wealth of gear provided by VER, including a Sony switcher, Calrec audio console, and EVS replay servers. Dejero provided cellular-based technology for ENG ingest.

Inside ESPN’s production facility within the IBC. Photo courtesy ESPN

Inside ESPN’s production facility within the IBC. Photo courtesy ESPN

“One of the biggest challenges of doing something like this is that production has a certain plan, and we provide the equipment for that plan,” explains Phipps. “The plan has definitely expanded over what we’ve done before, so the biggest challenge is, now that we have the equipment, now that we have the plan, the workflow just needs a few days to settle down, and it has. We’ve gotten into a really good groove and know what has to be done. Production is very familiar with the equipment that’s available and utilizing it to the maximum, so I would say that things are going very well.”

ESPN and ESPN Deportes’ host studio set — featuring a main desk, standup position, and lounge area — is located approximately 2½ miles from the IBC in Corus Quay, an office building on the Toronto waterfront. Within Corus Quay, a small control room handles audio, control of the studio’s four cameras, and lighting for the three sets; dark fiber connects it with the IBC, where the studio shows are produced.

“We have all the cameras and all the mikes at our disposal [in the IBC], so it’s like we have the studio right next door,” says Phipps. “We’re able to communicate [with the studio]; we’re able to take all the various feeds seamlessly.”

In addition to content created in its studios, ESPN leverages CBC’s host-broadcast feed — video and audio from the various Pan Am venues — and supplements it with 15-20 of its own cameras to round out broadcast coverage across ESPN and ESPN Deportes.

“It’s pretty much a total integration with the host broadcast and trying to leverage as much equipment as possible in the IBC,” says Phipps, “and also being able to get a very unique location in Corus and be able to connect Corus to [the IBC] to make it seem as if we’re all out of just one box.”

Feeds are sent over 11 paths to two small control rooms at ESPN’s Bristol, CT, headquarters, where the at-home production team can isolate feeds for specific needs, add voice-over commentary in English and/or Spanish, or play produced content as is. The Bristol team handles digital and radio as well as the bulk of the ESPN Deportes operation. ESPN Deportes, in addition to broadcasting a whopping 200 hours of Pan Am Games coverage, is also producing a daily highlights show.

“[The Pan Am Games are] pretty much their show in that they’ve given it a lot more content, a lot more background, highlights, etc.,” says Phipps. “It’s probably the biggest coverage that they’ve ever had for the Pan Am Games in the history of them covering the Pan Am Games.”

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