ESPN To Double Number of ‘At-Home’ College-Hoops Productions to 93
ESPN will make an even deeper commitment to “at-home” production workflows — or, as they’re called in-house, “REMI” productions — estimating that it will use the model to produce 93 live college basketball games this season. That’s more than double last year’s 42.
“We are more comfortable [with at-home production] because of the reps that we are getting,” says Tom Gianakos, director, remote production operations, ESPN. “This is not new to the industry, but it was new to us, and we needed, [as with] anything, more reps, and the more reps we get the more comfortable we feel.”
College hoops season is an awfully busy time of year for ESPN, so it’s little wonder that network brass would be looking for a more efficient method of production on certain games. More than 900 live productions are on its schedule this season. Last year, the company used 97 mobile units on college basketball games alone. This year, more than 75 operations producers will work at least one college-basketball broadcast.
These REMI productions will help streamline and cut costs on a percentage of those telecasts by keeping production-crew members in control rooms either at ESPNU’s campus in Charlotte, NC, or at the Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando. ESPN will deploy to the site only a Sprinter van with connections for no more than seven cameras, an engineer in charge (EIC), four camera operators, a “highly qualified” A2, an operations producer, two utilities, and an uplink engineer. Everything else from producer and director to graphics and replay operators, even to the on-air talent will produce the game from one of ESPN’s home control rooms.
Although other at-home production models, such as the one deployed by the Pac-12 Networks, use fiber and an Internet 2 infrastructure, ESPN is using satellite uplink for most of these productions given the nature of many of the venues involved.
“Unlike much of the pro facilities that we are typically working out of, where there is fiber infrastructure, many of these schools do not have that infrastructure to support fiber transport back, so we use satellite,” says Bob Swider, operations manager, ESPN. “We are looking, possibly near the end of the season, to go and start testing some fiber, but, in all honesty, we are relying heavily on satellite for this season.”
This model is used on smaller college-hoops productions, which typically air on ESPNU (although a few selected telecasts will make their way up the ranks to ESPN2 this season). Those games take place all across the country and, as a result, many ESPN regional crew members are getting experience in the method.
“Our technicians and ops producers across the country are getting exposed to this. So they are more comfortable,” says Swider. “That’s what we’ve learned over the past year. There is a difference between studio people and remote people. We’ve never needed to communicate as much as we do now. That has become a great learning experience for many people.”