ESPN Winter X-Games 11 Goes Tapeless With EVS IP Directors Courtesy Of Bexel

Last month marked the eleventh edition of the Winter X Games, ESPN’s premier action sport series held this year in Aspen, CO. For the first time, the entire program production workflow was tapeless, as ESPN utilized EVS IP Directors furnished by Bexel Broadcast Services for live event coverage, their onsite SportsCenter show, and ESPN New Media Group’s Web-based content delivered to the ESPN 360 site.

Previously, ESPN had utilized a traditional tape-based workflow: recording line feeds and dubbing highlights of each event, relaying them back to the broadcast center, and hand-carrying tapes to the edit suite. This manual process required their editors to wait until each event concluded and then spend valuable time locating content from among a stack of tapes.

Beginning late last year, Bexel, ESPN and EVS began exploring how they could transition this year’s event to a tapeless workflow. Recording camera and program ISO's to tape, logging each feed, and managing tapes across fifteen venues was a difficult task that ESPN’s Operations and Technical Management teams had mastered over years of producing the X Games. They understood that upgrading this process meant leveraging digital assets at their existing point of origination—the venue acquisition already taking place on EVS disk recorders.

By utilizing their experience with EVS’ already proven tapeless workflow technology, a Bexel team headed by lead engineer Greg Blanton devised an integrated system for ESPN that met this project’s complex challenges. Several potential obstacles were identified during weeks of testing prior to the event, but EVS’ timely delivery of advice and custom solutions ensured a successful outcome.

Eleven EVS XT disk recorders, located in three NEP venue production trucks (ND-2, SS-12 and SS-16), comprised a 60-channel server network. Two EVS IP Director logging stations created searchable logs and content metadata that both the venue and broadcast centers could access and use, and two additional IP Directors allowed direct searching and access to venue content. Three EVS X-File archive devices transferred the logged content to ESPN’s broadcast center operation and returned finished feature packages back to the venue trucks for live production.

Eleven additional disk recorders, XT[2] models in this case, were onboard NEP’s top-flight SS-25 truck, which also serves ESPN Monday Night Football. These were utilized to create a 46-channel broadcast center production server. Fourteen IP Directors enabled producers to search the venue logs, clips and individual event program ISO’s, as well as manage melts, Avid ingest, linear editing, media conversion and associated duties. Two X-Files managed content from the 9.2 Terabyte storage array, and EVS’ MediaXChange handled EVS-to-AVI format conversions. Two EVS SQL servers provided database management and constant backup throughout the event.

This server-based, tapeless workflow provided instant access to a manageable set of digital assets for every X Games production group. And nearly everyone benefited as a result.

Producers didn’t have to spend hours searching through tapes for “that one great shot” anymore, because they had immediate access to the entire array of camera angles.

Editors didn’t have to wait hours for “the tapes” to arrive anymore, because they had immediate access to the footage needed to finish their feature packages.

Broadcast and SportsCenter production crews didn’t have to record their own feeds for air anymore, because all venue content was immediately available for their respective shows on demand.

ESPN 360 subscribers were able to view X Game features online even sooner, because all content was immediately available for fast formatting and delivery over the Internet.

And even ESPN’s accountants were pleased, because the cost of tape stock was almost entirely eliminated!