SBJ/20100607/SBJ In-Depth

Ready on the set for Disney’s television operations

Built 25 feet off the ground and overlooking South Africa’s Soccer City, ESPN’s state-of-the-art studio will be the centerpiece for Disney’s television operations from the World Cup.

The studio will feature a 16-by-9-foot LED
screen, while the main set (below) and its
30-foot, roof-to-floor glass wall will overlook
Soccer City Stadium.

ESPN, of course, will use the studio most frequently, producing pregame and postgame shows and filing “SportsCenter” reports from the event. That starts Thursday, with a live three-hour show that will be shot from the studio. ESPN will use the studio Friday for “SportsCenter” reports and pre-match coverage, then go back to it every day during the monthlong tournament.

But ABC News — including “Nightline” — and the network’s morning show “Good Morning America” also plan to use the studio for their reports.

In the fall of 2005, ESPN paid FIFA $100 million for the rights to the 2010 and 2014 men’s World Cup and the 2007 and 2011 women’s World Cup. Univision holds the Spanish-language rights to the same events, for $325 million.

The studio is set up with a patio that will allow several live reports to multiple outlets at the same time. Each of the shots will have the same background.

“We have three control rooms, and we’ll be able to handle that kind of multiple live situation when asked,” said Jed Drake, ESPN’s senior vice president and executive producer of remote production.

“Good Morning America’s” Robin Roberts will use the studio for much of the tournament and plans to host the network morning show from that location on June 14. ABC will house its news operation at ESPN’s operation in the International Broadcast Center in Johannesburg.

Big numbers ahead for World Cup ratings?
ABC’s Sunday afternoon live broadcast of the Italy-France 2006 FIFA World Cup final averaged 7.7 million households, and a 7.0 rating. The audience size was 188 percent greater than the 2002 World Cup final, which originally aired live at 7 a.m. ET.
In April, ESPN executive John Skipper said he expects 2010 FIFA World Cup ratings in the U.S. to increase 25 percent to 50 percent over 2006.
Panelists in the Turnkey Sports Poll were asked in May:
Are these expectations …?
Source: Turnkey Sports & Entertainment in conjunction with SportsBusiness Journal. The Turnkey Sports Poll covered more than 1,100 senior-level sports industry executives spanning professional and college sports.

The studio’s sets will have distinctive on-screen looks, Drake said, the most impressive of which will be the 16-by-9-foot LED screen. “It was built by the same folks that designed the 360 circular screens that hang over the U2 set,” Drake said.

The studio will feature a 30-foot, roof-to-floor glass wall that overlooks Soccer City. And it will have multiple sets, including one that can hold four on-camera talent members and a separate interview set.

ESPN also is pulling out technological bells and whistles for its shows. The one Drake said he’s most excited about will be the creation of a virtual soccer player that will look like an EA Sports-type athlete. The player will be able to move around in sync with the background, which will give the image a three-dimensional appearance.

ESPN has used similar technology during its NBA coverage, showing the virtual player dribbling, with a wall of statistics to the left or right of him.

Just two weeks before the start of the World Cup tournament — and 24 hours before he planned to hop a plane for South Africa — Drake said ESPN’s planning is on schedule. “In terms of all of our animation projects and music and features, everything there is right on target,” he said.

But Drake said his internal countdown clock does not run to the start of the World Cup tournament. Rather, it takes him to the end of the tournament, nearly two weeks into July.

“When you have an opportunity to do something that’s really special and really remarkable, there’s just an incredible feeling of emptiness when it’s over,” Drake said. “That, to me, is usually the best measure of how well something went — when you’re really sad that it’s over. I expect to feel really sad on July 12.”

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