Q&A: ESPN is Pushing HD Sports to the Max

Bryan Burns is vice president for strategic business planning & development at ESPN. He recently spoke with HD Notebook:

HDNotebook: Why do you think HD is so important for sports programming?

Burns: HDTV was made for ESPN—and ESPN was made for HDTV. When we announced we were going HD, CEA President Gary Shapiro said, ‘ESPN going to high definition will be the tipping point for HDTV in the United States.’ He was absolutely right. By next fall, we will have four of our domestic channels in HD. Sports fans are now expressing frustration when games aren't in HD! There simply aren't yet enough HD trucks available to produce everything we do in high definition.

HD Notebook: What are you working on right now in this regard?

Burns: Our people are working hard on the March 30th launch of ESPNews HD, as well as the August 28th launch of ESPNU HD. We're also well on our way to completion of a new HD production facility in Los Angeles which will be up and running in the spring of 2009.

HD Notebook: ABC/ESPN typically feed programming in 720p. Can you yet see a time when production and transmission may jump to 1080p, which seems to be the preferred choice for native displays these days among many consumers of new HD sets?

Burns: We’re continuing to monitor the growth of 1080p within the consumer electronics business, however, as you know it’s not currently an approved ATSC broadcast standard. As such, all necessary equipment for producing live television does not yet exist—and live television is (if you will pardon the pun) a different ballgame. We are watching technical developments, but don't see a switch to 1080p in ESPN's near-future.

HD Notebook: Anything of an HD variety you guys are involved in now that does not involve sports?

Burns: Actually, We're also working with our parent company [Disney] to assist with the launch of three new HD channels on March 30th—Disney Channel HD, Toon Disney HD and ABC Family HD.