ESPN, NFL Network team up for draft coverage

The National Football League draft last weekend provided ESPN and the NFL Network the unique opportunity to work together and ensure that viewers of either telecast never missed a shot.

“Working with the NFL Network was easy,” says Steve Carter, ESPN operations manager, remote productions. “We know these guys and we’ve worked with them before so it made sense. Why put two podium cameras up when one would suffice?”

The joint production saved both time and money, cutting down on cabling costs and manpower. And for an event that had more than 200 personnel and talent working on a broadcast that lasted more than 10 hours reducing the burden on crews was important.

“The length of time makes this different and it also has different needs and requirements versus a regular sporting event,” says Carter. “We also had to address the needs of ESPN radio and ESPN.com with a whole area built out with high-speed data connections and monitors.”

NEP gets the call
NEP Supershooters was the truck vendor for the production, with its SS16 and SS10 standard-definition trucks working for ESPN and SS8 handling the NFL Network’s broadcast. The B unit, SS10, was used for all the Avid Deko graphics needs while SS16, complete with a Grass Valley Kalypso production switcher, Calrec S2 audio console, and EVS systems, handled the primary coverage responsibilities for ESPN.

The biggest challenge in the hall was making sure the 16 Sony cameras, a mix of nine Sony 900 and 950 units with three handheld units on jibs and one on a Steadicam, all had proper sight lines to the stage and audience. “Seats needed to be taken out and cameras needed to be put on platforms to make sure the cameras were level with the stage,” says Carter.

While the happenings inside Radio City Music Hall were of paramount importance there was plenty of action outside of New York. ESPN built more than 210 graphics and highlight packages ranging from 30 second to a minute each in length. Video and audio from the production trucks was sent up to Bristol where the player packages were then played out to viewers.

Videoconferencing viable
ESPN’s Digital Center in Bristol also handled the incoming video teleconferencing signals that came in from different team headquarters via Glowpoint’s video network.

Prior to the use of videoconferencing gear ESPN would position a few production trucks at key team locations and have phone interviews with the other teams. But video conferencing technology has allowed ESPN to enhance its coverage to have real audio and video presence from every team during the telecast.

ESPN says the technology is not a replacement for sat trucks and ENG crews, as the quality is not ideal enough to use everyday in every situation. Nevertheless, it’s an improvement over the old phone interviews with a still graphic on screen.

The past two draft telecasts have used the Sony Ipela PCS 1 units at site and G70 systems in Bristol. To maximize the quality, ESPN uses a high data rate, 1.15 Mb/s, which requires T1 lines

“Most of the concern is being on air for 10 hours and making sure the talent can punch through the crowd,” says Carter. “We need backup mics for all of the talent and need to anticipate any possibilities.” A twin pack of generators, for example, were used with Radio City house power serving as an additional backup.