ESPN Winter X Games heat up Aspen

By Ken Kerschbaumer

The Winter X Games this weekend will once again give fans of half-pipes and super-pipes plenty of action and ESPN is taking its multi-platform strategy to a whole new level. Combined ESPN and ABC will broadcast 15 hours of live Winter X Games programming from Jan. 25-28 from Aspen/Snowmass, CO.

“Our mantra is to deliver sports to fans in any way they want consume it,” says Chris Stiepock, ESPN XGames general manager. “That means having a diversity that moves away from the TV screen and deliver it over the Internet, mobile phone, or other mediums.”

Once again the X Games will be ESPN’s largest remote broadcast operation of the year. The TV unit will be complemented by a separate new media unit that is outfitted with its own editing systems, pulling in its own feeds from the events and cutting and slicing up the action in different ways.

“The main telecast drives a lot of content but then we’ll peel off something for a music highlight segment,” says Stiepock. “Also we won’t televise an elimination round on the telecast but we’ll show them from start to finish on ESPN360.”

Also available at ESPN360 will be the “follow-cam,” a camera that, thanks to a very capable skiing cameraperson, will follow athletes down the course.

“We have some camerapeople who are very accomplished skiiers,” says Stiepock. “It’s a very cool perspective from which to watch the competition.”

That heavy reliance on broadband connectivity shouldn’t come as a surprise for an event aimed squarely at males in the 12-34 demo. “They’re heavy users of new technology,” says Stiepock who admits to being in the X Game demo when he began working on the first Summer X Games 13 years ago.

During that time Stiepock has garnered wisdom that many TV executives and advertisers have yet to grasp. For example, a fear of creating a quality online experience because it will pull eyeballs away from TV ratings is unfounded.

And then there is the issue of authenticity.

“It’s very dangerous to try and imitate cool,” says Stiepock. “In large part the reason the XGames continues to grow is because we can stage and televise the event as one unit. We always keep the athletes top-of-mind in everything we do.”

Because it’s an ESPN owned-and-operated event Stiepock and the crew can move quickly to reshape the event to suit tastes. “We don’t have a lot of redtape with board or committee members voting on changes,” he says. “We can change from year to year and make sure it’s fresh.”