Live From Final Four: ESPN’s World-Feed Operation Expands to Largest International Offering Yet

With the support of CBS Sports and Turner Sports, ESPN will deliver Final Four to more than 200 countries

While U.S. sports fans go college-hoops crazy this weekend, ESPN is onsite in Minneapolis to ensure that the Final Four will be seen in homes and establishments around the world.

This marks the seventh straight year that the sports-media giant has delivered the world feed of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship, and this year’s offering is available in more countries than ever before. More than 25 ESPN affiliates across the globe will receive the feed, delivering the Final Four to a whopping 213 countries.

Overseeing the world feed of the 2019 Final Four for ESPN are (from left) Associate Manager Martin Vilem, Senior Operations Producer Rand Joseph, Manager Erin Orr, Senior Operations Producer Fred Clow, and Senior Operations Producer DJ Driscoll.

It’s a production that, thanks to a crew and vendors that have been part of the show for numerous years, ESPN has become very comfortable with. The network is also quick to praise the efforts of host broadcasters CBS Sports and Turner Sports, who work in collaboration with ESPN to ensure that the world feed is taken care of.

“[The relationship] only continues to improve,” says Fred Clow, senior operations producer, ESPN. “It’s a little smoother and a little more comfortable, and that’s CBS being really good at what they do and helping us do what we do.”

ESPN is receiving the feeds of 35 of CBS/Turner’s cameras while deploying four of its own at basic traditional positions: high and tight, high and wide, a slash, and on the floor under one of the baskets.

For the first time this year, ESPN will actually be sending its four camera feeds to CBS/Turner as backup. If, for any reason, CBS/Turner’s main production units were to go down, they would be able to broadcast the game with those four cameras. It’s another example of the broadcasters’ cooperation.

“We know the CBS people. We know the Turner people,” says Rand Joseph, senior operations producer, ESPN. “It’s like old friends that you go to a reunion with. We tell them what we need. They tell us what they need. It’s all collaborative.”

ESPN’s international responsibilities are a bit leaner this year because there are no international radio broadcasters nor the presence by Chinese conglomerate Tencent that there has been in previous years. The network’s compound presence is a bit larger this year with a trailer added to accommodate extra onsite staffing.

“It’s like a floating crap game,” cracks Joseph. “You have different aspects of every show. There’s the core stuff like the positioning of the game cameras, but there are plenty of things that are different that aren’t necessarily driven by relationship but by production requirements and the way the stadium is built.”

ESPN is using Game Creek Video’s Dynasty to produce the world feed, but, given the nature of U.S. Bank Stadium’s compound, the truck’s two units are split, with one near the main CBS/Turner facilities inside the stadium and the other in the overflow lot just outside the stadium’s east end.

There’s also a minor change in transmission at this year’s show. ESPN will not use an IPtec encoder, which was deployed last year as a second layer of backup in getting the signal to Bristol over the public internet. The connection proved tremendously helpful but wasn’t deemed necessary at the ultra-modern U.S. Bank Stadium. Otherwise, transmission to Bristol is via fiber, with satellite from ARCTEK Purple as the primary backup (a C-band muxed feed).

The Final Four world feed is being produced by Eric Mosley and directed by Bryan Lilley. Mike Leonard is coordinating producer.

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