ESPN Looks To Transform the Second-Screen Tennis Experience

Jason Bernstein, senior director, programming and acquisitions, ESPN, has spent most of his time the past couple of weeks in an office deep inside Arthur Ashe Stadium at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Given ESPN’s new 11-year exclusive broadcast agreement, which begins next year, he might want to start personalizing it a bit more. Part of his focus has been on how ESPN3 Surround, the feature launched as part of ESPN’s “megacast” of the college-football BCS National Championship Game, can continue to evolve and become a richer user experience.

“The launch of ESPN3 Surround reminded us of the opportunities to use ESPN3 as a second-screen experience as opposed to a single-screen destination,” he explains. “We are usually so focused on working hard to create 7,000 standalone events, but there is an opportunity to amplify the biggest events in the ESPN universe with a second-screen experience on ESPN3.”

ESPN3 Surround gives the viewer a single-screen view of not only main-court coverage but also insert boxes that show simultaneous live alternate angles from the Spidercam as well as two additional boxes each with an iso on each player

Wimbledon was the first ESPN3 Surround tennis broadcast, but a fourth box was added at the US Open to give the Spidercam look.

“The Spidercam angle is like the Alt-22 angle on soccer, and the iso-cameras allow the viewer to see the speed and dynamic footwork of the players,” Bernstein explains. “It is usually hard to appreciate the speed and how far they are running.”

The future of ESPN3 is a bright one, especially as consuming content delivered via non-traditional broadcast and cable platforms is increasingly a part of everyone’s TV-viewing experience.

“If you have someone who is on a couch without a device nearby, they are an anomaly. The reality is that consumption on multiple screens simultaneously is here and the real habits are being formed.”

At the top of that list of habits are social-media platforms as well as e-mail. Often that consumption can be about everything but the show. So the challenge for ESPN and all other broadcasters is to create a compelling second-screen experience that has users consuming content that is about the show.

“In digital, we have the real estate for player metrics, so we don’t corrupt the TV screen with tons of data,” adds Bernstein.

Continued developments in wearables could someday offer viewers live information like heart rates, distance run, and more. And then there is the potential to bring ESPN3 closer to the CourtCast offering that incorporates a lot of social-media and statistics.

And lastly? The desire to make sure that viewers can see all the action on every court.

“We want to retire the phrase TV court,” says Bernstein.

Millions of tennis fans around the world couldn’t agree more.