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November 29, 2004

ESPN enters digital world

By Justin Skaradosky

In probably the largest project ever undertaken by ESPN, the cable sports giant completed its new digital center this year.

This facility, covering over 120,000 square feet, was built to give sports fans the ultimate ESPN viewing experience.

Containing over 1.3 million hours of video and about 600 taping machines, the digital center is taking ESPN into the future by making it nearly tapeless.

The conversion to digital is well underway.

ESPN uses seven production rooms to edit and produce the videos and highlights for “SportsCenter” and other programs.

Each room is equipped with several t a p i n g machines and a wall full of t e l e v i s i o n screens that will show networks like ESPNews or animations for shows being taped later that night.

But what’s the real reason for all these production rooms if ESPN doesn’t use all of them at once? Well, when one of the rooms fails to cooperate, ESPN employees just move into the next room and finish their scheduled work.

The sets are high-tech. The hallways that lead to the studios are filled with props for the shows that aren’t on the air at that moment, from signs with the “SportsCenter” logo to loose tools.

The “SportsCenter” studio’s design would give any techno geek a heart attack.

Walking through the two giant doors is like stepping into the future.

Bright red and blue neon lights surround the entire set from the ceiling to the floor.

An anchor’s desk stands in the front center of the room, made of pure fiber and glass.

It’s quite the piece of work.

In the front bottom part of the desk is a small screen. The camera zooms in on the screen before a commercial break.

This liquid crystal display screen will usually project an animated Sports Center logo.

On the back wall of the set is a giant “SportsCenter” logo surrounded with neon lights.

This set contains 13 high definition, or HD, holograph projectors. Towards the middle of the set is a tower stretching to the ceiling, with four built-in LCD screens. On these screens are the images that are being projected by the HD projectors.

To the left of the tower is the research room, where anchors gather information for the show. Next to the anchor desk is the debate desk, where commentators like Michael Irving can quarrel over Major League Baseball or the National Football League.

Behind the anchor desk is a tri-fold screen that uses the same technology as the tower, and to the sides of the set are six more high-tech screens.

The floor of the “SportsCenter” set is the most eye-catching of all. Truly a piece of art, the floor contains pin lights and neon fiber optics, displaying a “SportsCenter” logo and containing thousands of lights. It is amazing.

Cameras are top-notch at ESPN, too. The “SportsCenter” set uses several different types of cameras to capture a variety of angles.

High cameras are used for aerial views of the set and can raise anywhere from 9 to 20 feet in the air.

There are four hard cameras used on the set that are used for basic shots of the anchor table and rest of the set.

The one center camera is used for center views of an anchor or anchors when they are speaking. There is also one shoulder camera that is usually used in the show’s closing sequence, when the credits are being shown.

One studio uses all robotic cameras, but these cameras aren’t used throughout ESPN due to their slow movement and ESPN’s fast pace. The robotic cameras, controlled via remote, move at only one foot per second, which is far too slow for “SportsCenter.”

Next door to the “SportsCenter” studio is a larger studio for the new NFL set.

The studio covers more than 9,000 square feet and has three sets within it. The floor contains a mini football field where plays will be demonstrated. In the spring, baseball will replace football in that studio.

With its snazzy new digital center, ESPN is racing into the future.

 

 

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