ESPN, ABC Get Xcited with Winter X Games

On January 28 Aspen will host ESPN s annual Winter X Games, a televised celebration of backside rotations, double grabs, and pop tarts. But it s also a cutting-edge technology showcase as the network looks to make its coverage as intense as some of the tricks in the competition.

ESPN s XGames coverage will push the boundaries of technology with a heavy reliance on point-of-view cameras. FollowCams have become one of the more popular tools, taking a Sony camera and mounting it on a rack system that is carried at waist level by the operator. And there s an added twist: the operator is skiing at speeds upwards of 40 miles per hour to keep up with competitors on the SuperPipe snowboarding and Slopestyle skiing events.

We ve perfected that system, says Feinberg. The trick is to have camerapeople who are great enough skiers that they don t impede with the race. It s also a challenge from an RF standpoint.

New this year will be FlyCam, a Panasonic camera that is mounted more than 20 feet above the ground. It will travel at speeds of up to 75 miles per hour on custom-designed cables to capture overhead views of the action on the X racing events like SnoCross (a race on snowmobiles), Snowboarder X and Skier X.

The SnoCross race this year will be 20 laps as compared to 8 for the last two years, says Feinberg. The FlyCam will let viewers get a much better sense of who is where on the track and to also keep track of racers on nearly every turn. Six on-board sled cameras will also be used during the races to get POV shots from the track.

The X Games have made the transition from quasi counter-culture event to being a full-blown preview of the Olympic games. In most cases this will be the last live competitive runs and appearances the snowboarders will make before the Olympics, says Rich Feinberg, X Games senior coordinating producer. So that makes it an added part of our story. Snowboarding has resonated throughout the country and our goal is to take that story and update it.

Feinberg gives the credit to the growth in popularity of events like snowboarding and freestyle skiing to the athletes but there s little doubt that TV exposure on ESPN and ABC helped turn those athletes into international stars.

The three-day event, which is being held in Aspen for the fifth straight year (and ESPN is committed to Aspen through 2007) from Jan. 28-31, requires about 400 people on the engineering side and a number of freelance personnel will also be using it as an Olympic tune-up.

One thing that won t be seen at the XGames are HD cameras. The show is just so big, says Feinberg. And a lot of what makes it special are the miniature technology and HD is just coming into its own on that front.

For Feinberg and the crew the goal is to do a better job than last year. We always look to improve our product and deliver a more compelling experience for viewers, he says. It s just a matter of executing.