ESPN Rethinks Lower-Third Graphics for Monday Night Football

By John Rice
It may not be readily apparent as you watch Monday Night Football this season, but ESPN is bringing a new approach and style to its lower-third graphics during the game.
We re giving the screen back to the viewer, says Michael Spike Szykowny, senior director, Graphics Development and Post Production Group, for ESPN Creative Services. Many networks have a bottom line; they have their clock and score and their miniboard. And above that, they put their insert graphics. So you re starting to stack graphics one on top of each other.
We came up with our Monday Night Football Dashboard, he explains. It s an area at the bottom of the screen that will not only house the miniboard and the clock and score and all the essential information to do a game, but that information area will also supply all your lower-third stats. So there s a line at the bottom of the screen that is our line in the sand. You will never see any lower-third graphic go above that line.
Szykowny and his team have been testing the concept during this summer s pre-season games and will unveil the dashboard on the first MNF game, Sept. 8. You learn stuff with every test you do, he says. We re testing it off-line in a separate truck.
The concept has been in the works for at least the past three months at ESPN. Once it was presented and approved, the network probably gave us less than three months to make it happen, says Szykowny, which ain t a lot of time. The idea is simple enough, he adds. Pulling it off is the hard part.
These graphics have to have a lot of locks programmed into them to be able to go from one graphic to the other, he explains. To do that, ESPN s Graphics Development and Technology Group is using Vizrt s Client Slide Library (CLS).
We are building content through Trio and playing out through our custom front-end application, explains Stefanie Gjorven, senior director of graphics technology and development for ESPN. This allows us to maintain parts of our current workflow, and associate producers can still build content on their laptops prior to arriving at the event.
Using the Vizrt CLS, we are able to combine Vizrt s products with our own custom applications, she adds. We are using a custom application to control the graphics and automate content for either the clock and score or the information graphics.
The design was initiated internally at ESPN, then modified by the Santa Monica, CA-based graphics house The Syndicate.
Explaining the concept, Szykowny says, If you have five stats on a guy, what s the most important? Let s get that out. One piece of information. Let the viewer digest it. Then go to the next piece. He acknowledges that it is difficult to explain the new style and approach until you really see it in action. The key is how it interacts with the game, and that s the true experience. I think that s where we are gonna get the bang for the buck.
It s one of the concepts that is so simple, he adds. I can t believe no one else has done this! But he also wonders if the home viewer will consciously notice the change: I think they ll know it s a better experience. But they won t know why.