Despite the reduced schedule and less presence, ESPN will produce 17.5 hours of content
What should have been a historic X Games 20th anniversary celebration in Aspen this weekend is a toned-down affair with no spectators. Due to the pandemic, local ESPN and Echo Entertainment production has been scaled back, and the normally harsh X Games atmosphere with live concerts and festivals will instead be a largely virtual experience for fans. The mere fact that the X Games are even taking place in Aspen this weekend is a testament to the will and perseverance of ESPN’s dedicated X Games team.
ESPN and Echo deployed 24 manned cameras that will be repositioned to 55 camera positions throughout the competition.
“I couldn’t be more proud and grateful that we are here [in Aspen]and that pays homage to all of the teamwork, ”says Tim Reed, Vice President, X Games, ESPN. “The amount of work the operations and events teams put into developing our plan is just incredible. You have almost two events at the same time: one is the actual competition that we have been running for many years, but then you also have that health and safety component that has created a significant amount of work on a completely different layer. I am so proud of the team and the work they have done and we are all excited to be here. “
Despite a reduced schedule of events and a reduced on-site presence, ESPN will produce a lot of content: 17.5 hours of live content over three days on ESPN, ABC and ESPN2 (ESPN’s Facebook and Twitter will host live-stream competitions on Friday). as well as exclusive streaming content via @XGames social and XGames.com. ESPN created one too virtual X Fest experience for fans and has teamed up with Psyonix on one Rocket League Championship Series (RLCS) X Regional Event.
Smaller footprint with the same big show mentality
This year ESPN has again signed mobile units from Dome Production for X Games
ESPN and Echo have rolled out an A-Unit and a B-Unit – Dome Productions Silver and Unite Trucks – for all three X Games venues at Buttermilk Mountain. A third dome truck has been brought in to transport equipment, and long-term partner BSI has a mobile unit to manage RF operations.
The X Games team also decided to forego a host set this year after switching to a mobile host set in 2020.
“We don’t have a set this year, partly because of the security protocol and partly because the benefit of having a host set was having hosts Jack [Mitrani] Sit down with the athletes and get to know them and spend time with them. We felt that it would be difficult to deal with social distance, ”he says Echo Entertainment President Hugh Arian. “From a production point of view, we’re just delighted that the event is taking place this year. This is the world’s leading action sports event. The fact that we actually do it is the most important thing. “
In the ESPN production office tent on Buttermilk Mountain
In total, the ESPN and Echo deployed 24 manned cameras – including 11 Sony HDC-4300 and nine HDC-2400 – which were repositioned under 55 camera positions throughout the competition. ESPN has also brought back the CondorCam point-to-point antenna system and will deploy it on both the SlopeStyle and Big Air venues. In addition, BSI has four RF POV cameras: three FollowCams and one camera attached to a snowmobile, which brings the athletes to the top of the course after each run. BSI also distributed 18 RF microphones to the three venues.
Echo and its partners have laid 450,000 feet of ST single mode fiber and 20,000 feet of SMPTE fiber over the Buttermilk Mountain.
“The biggest change this year is obviously the COVID logs, which while slowing us down a bit, keep everyone safe, which is most important,” he says Pierce Williams, Echo Entertainment’s technical director. “Everything else is pretty much on par, just with a smaller footprint. We still have big numbers when it comes to technology and equipment. “
As with all ESPN shows, Aspen crew members must wear masks at all times.
ESPN has a detailed health and safety plan in Aspen and has requested all employees to take a negative COVID test both before traveling to Aspen and upon arrival on site. Frequent tests are performed on-site on a variable basis depending on a person’s role and the segmented group to which they are assigned. All offices and production facilities in Buttermilk Mountain have been equipped with suitable filter systems, and the on-site staff must distance themselves socially at all times, wear masks and maintain hand hygiene.
“We have all the critical components for our health and safety protocols,” says Reed. “A lot of details went into this topic and we worked on it for a long time with the best health and safety experts. It got us to this point and I think we are all fine with the protocols we have here. “
Jam session format, active viewing strategy Keep the show moving
All of the ESPN crew were positioned at least two meters apart in the truck, and numerous fiberglass separators were also installed.
ESPN brought back the popular “jam session” format this year, which allows for more live competition with less downtime between runs. In this format, multiple riders compete for a period of time, and the judges officially rate each competitor based on their overall impression (rather than waiting for the judges’ scores to be given for each athlete individually).
“We’re doing a lot of things again that we implemented last year in terms of production approach and competitive format,” says Arian. “The jam format is back, and every athlete gets a timer. So we don’t wait for results between runs. We implemented that here last winter. We thought it would make the event faster. We were all pretty happy with it. “
Despite a smaller footprint in Aspen, X Games production from ESPN and Echo Entertainment is still sizeable this year
Also back is the “Active Viewing” strategy from ESPN / Echo, which aims to accelerate the cadence of the broadcast by increasing the camera movement and using mobile cameras such as FollowCams and CondorCam as much as possible. The front bench will also cut cameras faster within the show, and the production team has been working on shortening athlete profiles and sponsorship spots so that they can be more easily incorporated into the show instead of crowd shots.
“As part of the active viewing last year, we not only made a lot of camera movement. We also cut a little faster, ”says Arian. “We’re going to try to make more of it this year because we don’t have a crowd to adjust to. You will see that we are also reducing more to short form content. “
Though operations in Aspen look very different on site, viewers can expect the same style and quality from X Games – a boon for action sports fans starving for content during the pandemic.
“Of course the sports world has been hit hard,” says Arian, “but I think action sports.” [have been hit] even harder than other sports because we don’t have the deep pockets that they do [major leagues] to have. It’s amazing to be here and get everyone back to work. “
X Games Aspen kicks off today at 2 p.m. ET with streaming on @XGames social and XGames.com, followed by coverage of ESPN2 starting tonight at 10:30 p.m. On Saturday and Sunday, reporting on ABC starts at 1 p.m.