ESPN Tests Remote Operation of SkyCam System at NCAA Women’s Lacrosse Championship

Using The Switch’s new Cumulus platform, the trial workflow locates the SkyCam operator across the country from the game

ESPN’s use of an aerial camera at the NCAA Lacrosse Championships is nothing new; the broadcaster has deployed either SkyCam or Spidercam in its coverage of the Division I Men’s and Women’s Championships since 2010. However, during the Women’s National Championship at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, MA, this Sunday, ESPN will test a brand-new SkyCam workflow called SkyCommand: the pilot will be onsite as usual, but the camera operator will be located at The Switch’s facility in Los Angeles.

“This is an initial test scenario with The Switch and SkyCam to show that this can be done and done live on the air,” says Dennis Cleary, associate director, remote operations, ESPN. “We were always planning on using SkyCam to cover the men’s and women’s lacrosse championships, so it made a lot of sense [to test it here]. We really want to make sure we’re comfortable with the connectivity and test for latency. Then we will see where it goes from there. Distance-wise, we’re going from one end of the country to the other, so that will be a great test of the system.”

For the game on Sunday (11 a.m. ET on ESPNU), SkyCam will have three crew members besides the pilot at Gillette Stadium: an EIC, a rigger, and a backup operator. The pilot onsite will have full PL connectivity to the operator in Los Angeles. In addition, all communications will run from the truck to SkyCam’s central operating location at Gillette (where the pilot will be situated), as well as to Los Angeles via The Switch.

In terms of video return, the program feed and SkyCam video feed will be provided to both the truck and the operator in Los Angeles via The Switch in real time and, according to SkyCam, with zero latency.

SkyCam has branded the new patent-pending remotely-controlled system as SkyCommand.

“This setup changes the standard deployment in that the operator is not at the event,” says SkyCam CTO Stephen Wharton. “This means SkyCam can operate at a lower cost, and a single operator can operate on multiple games a day from The Switch Studio.”

The Switch’s Cumulus demo at NAB

This marks the first major test of The Switch’s Cumulus at-home–production platform, which was demonstrated at the NAB Show last month, for live sports coverage. The cloud-based, real-time production service leverages The Switch’s FiveNines transmission network to deliver live productions from the stadium via production-control services that can be located anywhere in the world (including at The Switch’s facilities in New York, L.A., and London).

“This came out of the demo at NAB, which was just a month ago, so we’re starting the process, and we don’t know where it’s going to take us yet,” says Cleary. “We’re still trying to figure out what [the benefits could be of this workflow]. The biggest [selling point] is obviously the cost saving on having the camera operator at a home location; you’re not paying for any travel for that person. But we will see how this goes and then go from there.”

More for Lacrosse Championship Weekend
In addition to the test of remotely operated SkyCam, ESPN has plenty more tech treats planned for its annual Lacrosse Championships coverage.

Fans will be able to view a live feed from SkyCam via the ESPN app for the men’s and women’s semifinals and title games.

In addition to SkyCam, game action will be captured by a wireless goal camera for an alternate view during the broadcast.

All three game officials will wear microphones during each semifinal and championship, providing on-field dialogue throughout the telecast.

ESPN’s NCAA Division I Lacrosse Championships coverage begins Friday with the women’s semifinals at 5 p.m. ET on ESPN2 (No. 4 seed Penn State vs. No. 1 Maryland, Navy vs. Boston College). The men’s semifinals begin Saturday at noon on ESPN2 (No. 2 Towson vs. No. 3 Ohio State, No. 5 vs. No. 1 Maryland). The women’s national championship takes place on Sunday at 11 a.m. on ESPNU; the men’s game, on Memorial Day at 1 p.m. on ESPN2.

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