SBD/Issue 238/Sports Media

Beam Me Up: ESPN Will Use Holograms Of Personalities On Set

Ley (c) Demonstrates New Technology Where
Hosts Can Appear On Screen As Holograms
ESPN’s Media Workshop Thursday included the first public display of new technology in which someone at a different location can appear on screen as a hologram. ESPN Exec VP/Technology Chuck Pagano and anchor Chris Berman were seated together in one room, while anchor Bob Ley, in a room down the hall, was “beamed” into the panel. “It's a way to bring people from the field in and bring people from the studio out," Pagano said. The technology, which is the next step following the debut of the EA Virtual Playbook during NFL coverage last season, will be introduced in ESPN programming next spring and will be utilized in the net’s coverage of the FIFA World Cup from South Africa. Ley joked, “This is just an example of the cutting edge technology that will save us so much money on airfare for the World Cup.” CNN’s use of holograms during election night last November served as a spark for ESPN’s interest in developing the technology. “Can we do it better? Can we do it more robustly? Can we do it in a better quality fashion? That was the proper motivation,” Pagano said.” “But we also looked at it from a production enhancement (standpoint). Not just bringing the talent from the outside, how do we extend the internal studio to the outside world?”

INTO THE THIRD DIMENSION: The USC-Ohio State football game on September 12 is being broadcast in 3D, and Pagano said the game is ESPN’s latest “research effort” into developing the technology. Noting the net has been working with 3D technology for the last three years, Pagano said the game is “just a test scenario to see what we need to learn more.” “We’re very focused on innovation,” he added. “We’ve got to get ready for the complexity and the dynamics that are changing the viewing habits and the behavior of the viewer.” Television companies are working on creating 3D sets for widespread use, and Pagano said, “We’re just getting ourselves into position for if and when the floodgates open to be ready for it.” Should the technology become readily available, consumers should be in for a treat based on early reviews. Ley called 3D broadcasts “amazing,” while Pagano said, “It just blew me away when I saw the first sports production done in 3D.”

ESPN Exec Says "SportsCenter" Block Is An
Example Of Net's Focus On Live Programming
MORE LIVE PROGRAMMING COMING: ESPN last August debuted the six-hour block of live “SportsCenter” episodes from 9:00am-3:00pm ET, and ESPN Exec VP/Content John Skipper said that is an example of the net moving to more live broadcasts instead of recorded shows. “That’s an increasing focus for us, and you’ll see us keep moving in that way,” Skipper said. He noted around 65-70% of programming on both ESPN and ESPN2 currently is live. Meanwhile, ESPN Exec VP/Sales & Marketing Sean Bratches said the live daytime “SportsCenter” “opens up new opportunities for us -- new categories and new opportunities -- because we’re not dependent upon the replay of the 2am show.” Bratches: “You can actually create features and elements that are sponsorable, that actually target categories that are more contained to that time period.” He added that makes the networks “more valuable to the fan, which in turn makes us more valuable to our affiliates, our distribution partners” (Rick Ellington, THE DAILY).

NOT MADE FOR TV: In Hartford, Eric Gershon reports in a “shift of strategy,” ESPN has “decided against further broadcast on its network of made-for-TV movies or miniseries.” ESPN execs Thursday said that the company instead “will pursue what it calls ‘scripted content’ in movie theaters only.” ESPN Senior VP/Content Development Ron Semiao: “Viewers come to our networks for games and news and information.” Skipper said that cost was “also a consideration.” But ESPN President George Bodenheimer Thursday said that the shift “away from television movies is unrelated to the company’s performance during the recession.” Gershon notes ESPN “will continue to broadcast documentaries on its own networks” (HARTFORD COURANT, 8/28).

NOTES: CABLEFAX DAILY reports ESPN Senior VP & Exec Producer Jed Drake "will forego his day-to-day duties overseeing 'smaller' matches like 'Monday Night Football' and the NBA playoffs to handle" the '10 World Cup solely. Drake said that the net will have 125 staffers in South Africa "working on the coverage, which begins in June." Meanwhile, Bratches indicated that the network has "opened a media and advertising laboratory" in Texas to "investigate new forms of advertising," and ESPN Exec VP/Administration Ed Durso noted that the net "hopes to have a second digital production facility 'up and running' within 3-5 years" (CABLEFAXDAILY, 8/28).

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