ESPN Explores Innovative Remote Integration Model (UPDATED: 2/05/17)

The last few years have seen an exorbitant growth in the value of live sports rights. Networks have stockpiled these live rights in order to provide wall-to-wall live sports on their 24/7 channels dedicated to sports. With the quantity of sports being produced, and the price at which the rights are acquired constantly growing, it comes as no surprise that the networks are looking to cut costs. The challenge for the networks is to cut costs, while the only thing rising faster than the live rights is the expectation of their viewers.

One way that ESPN has been able to cut costs, without compromising the high quality of their broadcasts is by implementing more of an “at-home” workflow. Since NBC heavily relied on an “at-home” workflow at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, profiled in the October 2008 issue of Broadcast Engineering magazine, the other networks have looked into ways to incorporate this workflow in to their own events. In 2013, ESPN looked for a way to expand this concept, and implemented their own remote integration model (which would come to be known as REMI), which would culminate with their production of the 2014 FIFA World Cup from Brazil.

“Despite the changes behind the scenes, viewers should receive the same quality production level that they’ve come to expect from ESPN,” Dave Miller, ESPN senior coordinating producer said. “In short, we will maintain a consistent level of quality in a more efficient way.”

The Pac-12 Networks launched by the Pac-12 Conference in August of 2012, has heavily relied on an at-home workflow in order to not only produce more events at a lower cost, but also to supplement their broadcasts with a wide array of equipment that wouldn’t have been available before for the quantity of events. According to Sports Video Group, 277 of the 850 live events relied on the IP production model, with almost all of their events receiving support utilizing their IP studios located in San Francisco.

In 2013, ESPN delved into this type of IP production-utilizing fiber to send raw action and host feeds of the X Games back to their broadcast center located in Bristol, CT. The savings realized by ESPN by utilizing this type of at-home workflow stem from the reduction in the number of editors, producers and support personnel along with their travel expenses, hotels and per diems.

In November of 2014, at the start of the college basketball season, ESPN announced that they would be expanding their Bristol integration on basketball productions. With a planned 2700 college basketball games planned across all of ESPN’s outlets. ESPN announced in a press release that they would “supplement its on-site event presence with production support originating at ESPN”. See below how ESPN planned to utilize this new remote integration model.

“We have a new state-of-the-art facility and a commitment to the latest production innovations,” said ESPN Vice President, Remote Operations, Chris Calcinari. “Given those resources and the frequency and volume of college basketball, we are able to try something new.” 

Of the actual specific plans, Calcinari noted, “For these select games, we plan to bring a smaller production truck to the event site with our standard complement of cameras, plus other equipment and operations personnel. The live individual camera and audio feeds will be sent back to ESPN in Bristol where a producer and director will be located, along with commentators who will call the action.”

The 2014-15 college basketball season is now in the past. ESPN began to test this new technology on December 2nd with Stephen F. Austin traveling to Memphis on ESPNews with Marc Kestecher (PxP) and Malcolm Huckaby (analyst) calling the action. The REMI model was implemented on 43-college basketball broadcasts airing predominantly on ESPNews and ESPNU, along with one game on ESPN2 (Dayton at George Washington on February 6, 2015). Nine conference games were between teams in Power Five conferences. The only Power Five conference that did not have a REMI produced game was the Big Ten. This table provides a glimpse at which games were produced using the remote integrated model along with the talent assigned to call the games from the Bristol, CT studio. ESPN has managed to maintain their high-quality broadcast standards and continued to produce the X Games, Tennis and Major League Soccer using the REMI model.

Look for ESPN to increase the number of events that they produce using this model, as they streamline their operations and as their capacity to produce these events increases. As reported by Chris Korman of USA Today, remote integration can save up to 30% per broadcast. The average cost of a Major League Soccer broadcasted using a traditional production truck is between $90,000 and $120,000. With cost savings realized using remote integration of almost $30,000 that can either be reinvested in technologies to improve the quality of every broadcast, or used to secure new rights. Amy Rosenfeld, an ESPN senior coordinating producer, said “These evolutions will allow us to put more things on live TV, to reach more people with the events they care about. That’s what we want to do.” ESPN has long lauded itself as the ‘World Wide Leader’, through continued innovation and resourcefulness they continue to provide an endless amount of content available across a plethora of platforms. The remote integration model (REMI) is just the latest method employed to bring the consumer more content than ever before.

UPDATE as of 2/5/17:

For the 2017 College Basketball season, ESPN has planned to produce approximately 175 games (between men and women’s games) using their REMI model. With games airing on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU and ESPN3 they’ve grown comfortable with the production workflows and are confident that the viewing experience is not altered enough to impact the consumer. As many as 12 games on ESPN may be produced as REMI’s including games from premier conferences: Big 12 and Pac-12. In addition, possibly as many as 95 games may be produced as REMI’s for ESPN2

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