ESPN’s 1080p Facility Designed To Bring L.A. Closer to Bristol

By Carolyn Braff
Next week marks the beginning of a new month, but at ESPN, it opens a new era as well. Come Nov. 1, the first ESPN personnel will begin moving into the network’s brand-new production facility in downtown
Los Angeles. The staff will have plenty of time to get their bearings in the state-of-the-art 1080p plant, which is scheduled to go on-air in April.
The production center, which has been under construction for four years, is set to be completed in time for staffers to begin moving in next week.
“The engineering portion, the system integration, is going on right now,” says Judi Cordray, VP in charge of the new
Los Angeles facility. “All the technical geniuses back in
Bristol have been putting this production center together and building the technology that we’re using in it.”
Those technical geniuses are led by Jon Pannaman, senior director of technology at ESPN and lead engineer on the project. He designed the workflow to eliminate, as much as possible, the thousands of miles separating network headquarters in Bristol, CT, and the new facility in Los Angeles.
“The system we’re looking at is a combination of different technologies,” Pannaman explains. “Eventually, when all is in place, any editor in
Bristol or
L.A. can obviously see their own media but also what’s on the other site. That’s done on browse-quality video, but they’ll be able to make a shot selection and drop it on their timeline.”
When the setup is complete, Pannaman explains, it will not matter whether the game was recorded for ingest in
Bristol or
Los Angeles. Once an editor has built a timeline, the full-quality media will be sent at high bitrate to be incorporated into the finished piece.
“It really is quite a seamless setup,” Pannaman says. “[The editors] really don’t need to know where their source material is coming from.”
The new facility features three production-control rooms and two master-control rooms. The Quantel edit systems in place in
Bristol will be used to fill a chunk of the eight craft edit suites in the new facility, with the rest to be determined. The 12,300-square-foot facility also features a music room, voiceover room, and two studios.
“We’re putting in a variety of technologies; some come from systems that we’ve purchased, and some of it is our own infrastructure,” Pannaman says, adding that, from the production systems to master-control servers, “we’re going to have quite a flexible setup.”
Perhaps the biggest selling point on the new facility is that it is built to support 3-GB and 1080p/60 production.
“We’re always looking for the next latest and greatest,” Pannaman says. “ESPN blazed a trail with HD when they built the facilities in Bristol, and this is the next significant step in quality and experience in the home.”
While ESPN is certainly on the cutting edge in Los Angeles, Pannaman says, there will “very definitely” be some conversion required to continue working with Bristol, which has not yet released any plans to convert its headquarters operation to 1080p.
Storage at the new facility will accommodate more than 1,000 hours of 1080p HD footage.
“What we’ve done here is, we’ve taken the tremendous knowledge that ESPN gained over the last few years doing the non-linear workflow in
Bristol and certainly pulled in the best parts of that, which allows the new facility to operate very seamlessly with
Bristol,” Pannaman explains. “We’ve also looked carefully at the areas we felt we could improve or make some changes and made those changes. This is certainly an evolution of what’s in Bristol.”
Much of the staff in the
L.A. facility will come from
Bristol, so it helps that the new production center will be working in concert with network headquarters on the other side of the country.
“The biggest thing is the enterprise-wide connectivity,” Pannaman says. “A lot of the effort that we’re putting in here is about making a facility 3,000 miles away operate in very tight concert with headquarters in
Bristol. That’s certainly a big undertaking, but we’re looking forward to being able to edit from 3,000 miles away.”
The new Los Angeles facility will produce plenty of original content, but the flagship show will be the 1 a.m. ET SportsCenter, which will go live from Los Angeles five days a week beginning in April.