ESPN Makes Digital Splash with Eye-Popping SportsCenter Upgrade

Mobile displays, video floor, social media wall among many highlights of the new SportsCenter digital studio DC-2.

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The center of The Annex, where ESPN News airs SportsCenter, features a large glass cube/work station, housing a new “SC Display Unit,” dedicated to overseeing what appears in the set’s 114 video and graphic display monitors.

The nearly 10,000-sq. foot SportsCenter studio is twice the size of the current studio and contains 100 more monitors than the original Digital Center studio, which debuted in June 2004.

The anchor desk includes curved LED video tiles across the pedestal and many elements feature automated movements, allowing multiple configurations of the same displays. In one case, different size seamless monitors are put together at varying depths, introducing a 3D element to a traditional 2D video wall.

Anchors can walk across the length of the studio while broadcasting because the monitors move along with them and are always on camera, no matter where the person stands. This was achieved because WorldStage in-laid a Nanolumens 4.4mm LED display across the Plexiglas Studio X floor.

WorldStage also designed, programmed and installed a control infrastructure and system that provides a comprehensive control interface for the display technology operators working within the studio. Based on Medialon software, the control system provides critical control points for the technology and is also programmed to allow the operators to use pre-set cue sequences to automate transitions or to build their own pre-sets.

A social media room, with monitors focused solely on outputs coming from various social media platforms, allows ESPN to view instant reactions to their own shows and track current events in the sports universe during its 18 hours a day on the air.

The Los Angeles SportsCenter studio features a huge video wall, touchscreen and branded SportsCenter Los Angeles signage.

Dealing with Challenges

Because of the nature of the job and the setup of the studio, Weisberg’s team had to be pretty much ready for anything at any time, in most cases anticipating what would come next.

“We had to make sure, as they were working on different parts of the studio, everyone was ready,” says Weisberg. Most of the displays are part of the set, not part of the construction, he says. WorldStage worked closely with fabricator Mystic Scenic throughout the process.

“We were there for a long time, but it never got crazy,” says Weisberg. The biggest challenge with working with ESPN through its implementation of new signal infrastructure techniques, he says. “When you think through all the possibilities ahead of time, you shouldn’t be surprised by anything. There’s a level of trust with this group. The way we look at it, if there’s a problem with the project, it’s everybody’s problem.”

A few final highlights of the job: the DC-2 lobby includes three interactive towers that show a cascade of video squares showing every “This is SportsCenter” promo ever made, a cool thing for those who are big fans of those always-creative spots.

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Finally, ESPN officialssubmitted DC-2 to the US Green Building Council for consideration as LEED new construction because of the energy efficiency, sustainability and water conservation tactics employed in its construction. That includes high-performance CFL and LED lighting, occupancy sensors for lighting control and electronic dimming during daylight hours.

Interestingly, ESPN and its parent company, Disney, are “a very budget-conscious organization,” says Weisberg.

“You have to work within those limitations,” he says. “You can’t always go with the 18K gold-plated version when the bronze or brass version will work just as well.”

Weisberg thinks the pressure of installing in an active TV studio is lower than in some other types of projects, because “you usually have weeks to iron out all the bugs” through rehearsals, blocking shots, etc. He describes DC-2 as a “very flexible space” that will serve as “the foundation for how they expand over the next 10 years. It’s the next step in the evolution.”

“It’s a good combination of using the most current technology in ways viewers enjoy,” he says. “A studio of this size isn’t built every day, but we hope the visibility of the work we did here will lead to similar projects of this type.”

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