Live From Final Four: ESPN Credits CBS/Turner With Smooth Accommodations To Support World-Feed Production
ESPN’s international feed is aired in more than 170 countries
More than 13 million Americans watched Turner Sports/CBS Sports’ double dose of Final Four action from San Antonio on Saturday, but an event of this magnitude can have international impact as well. Enter ESPN, which, for the sixth year, is producing the world feed of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship for more than 25 global ESPN affiliates to deliver to more than 170 countries.
ESPN has roughly 30 staffers onsite working the world-feed show, which is powered by 40 video feeds and other necessary resources being supplied by Turner and CBS’s main domestic efforts. ESPN personnel onsite have been thrilled with the cooperation from both Turner Sports and CBS Sports. It makes their jobs simpler and the whole process more seamless.
“The [world-feed production} has evolved so much simply in the relationships that we all have,” says Bob Swider, senior operations manager, ESPN. “Over the past five or six years, when we came on board, the industry was so different. It was us; it was them. There was no collaboration. Down the chain, though, the people who are working for Turner and CBS [will] next week [be] running camera for us. That becomes one of the really big things. Now with CBS and Turner, the compound personnel has changed, and they have been so accommodating to us.”
The sharing of resources dramatically reduces the technological footprint in and around the Alamodome. Less fiber needs to be run, and fewer cameras need to put set up. ESPN does roll out four of its own cameras, including its main game and high-and-tight cameras, but most of its angles are coming in clean from Turner/CBS.
“It makes it easier,” notes Fred Clow, operations manager for ESPN at this Final Four. “Over the course of the years, it’s been fine-tuned as you go along. This is a big event. I love the interaction that we have with CBS and Turner. I think they do a great job, and they know what we are doing.”
The most notable example of the collaboration is in the production trucks in the compound. ESPN runs the world-feed show from Game Creek Video’s Pride A unit. ESPN needs only one unit to pull off this show, but Pride can operate only with its B unit at its side. Turner/CBS was willing to go in with ESPN on Pride, and its team is using the B unit to house its main game-graphics unit. It’s a win-win: ESPN gets a new, high-powered truck for its production, and Turner/CBS gets an advanced extra unit to work from.
One major change to ESPN’s world-feed operations this year is that connectivity with its facility in Bristol, CT, is primarily via satellite; the public Internet is used as backup (IPtec encoders). In addition, a link from LTN Global Communications is providing a return feed to San Antonio from Bristol.
Another major feature of ESPN’s international effort is accommodating the needs of foreign broadcasters that wish to provide their own in-depth coverage of the event. For example, in each of the past two years, a broadcast from Italy and France requested resources to provide live commentary for games featuring a hometown athlete. ESPN holds on to one in-venue announce booth until the Final Four is determined. If it does not need to use it, which was the case this year, the space is released back to the NCAA, which can grant it to someone else.
“This operation is almost like a flea market,” says Rand Joseph, senior operations producer, ESPN. “We have different groups coming in, be it us for the International feed, SportsCenter[, and College GameDay] onsite. There will be international clients that will want to work with us and do stuff. We may help [ESPN] Deportes or [ESPN] Radio. There’s a lot of clients we will support. We have to be prepared for a barrage of requirements.”
The Final Four world feed is being produced by Eric Mosley and directed by Bryan Lilley. Mike Leonard is coordinating producer. Also helping oversee the entire effort is Associate Director, Operations, Larry Wilson.