For the first time in its brief history ESPN’s Winter X Games will be televised live using a collection of specialized camera rigs. The all-sports network’s “SportsCenter” news program, will also broadcast on-site for the first time, covering the eighth annual event with highlights and live action during its usual 11p.m. timeslot.
Among the cutting edge technology to be used, that endeavors to bring viewers closer to the action, are the FlyCam, FollowCam and TowerCam.
“The Winter X Games always provide us with a platform to be creative and use broadcast technology in ways we wouldn’t ordinarily,” said Don Colantonio, coordinating director, Remote Productions, for ESPN. “This year we hope to outdo ourselves, although the live component will certainly be a challenge.”
He added that technologies that are successful will eventually make it into other sports productions. For example, the overhead FlyCam is being used for ESPN’s “Sunday Night Football” broadcasts, after its success at last year’s Winter X Games.
The FlyCam camera, which is mounted more than 20 feet above the ground, will travel at speeds of up to 75 miles per hour over two different spans of cable to capture moving overhead views of some of the events. A third system has been added this year to cover the Snowmobile SnoCross racing course.
As a result, FlyCams will now be used for top-to-bottom course coverage of the “X” racing events, which include Snowboarder X, Skier X, Snowmobile HillCross and UltraCross (a Snowboard/Ski relay), as well as the Snowmobile SnoCross.
In a new twist this year, ESPN will utilize live digital FollowCams for the SuperPipe and Slopestyle events in the Snowboard and Skiing categories. Expert skiers, who are also trained camera operators, follow the competitors as they complete a run, providing an ideal tracking shot of the athletes. The camera is mounted on a rack system carried at waist level by the operator, who skis at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour. In order to accommodate the live component, digital RF technology will be used to transmit the images back to an on-site mobile production truck before being sent back to ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn. (via satellite) for distribution to viewers’ homes.
The TowerCam will find a camera position in the parking lot of the main Winter X Games venue (Buttermilk Mountain). A crane with a cameraman at the top will rise up to 130 feet in the air to provide overhead shots of the courses and “beauty shots” of the mountain.
Held in Aspen, Colo. this year, the ESPN Winter X Games will begin Saturday, Jan. 24 at 1 p.m. ET on ABC Sports and continue each day on ESPN, during nightly 9-11 p.m. telecast windows. In all, ABC Sports and ESPN will combine for 15 hours of coverage, while ESPN2 will present nightly late-night highlight programs for 19 total hours of original Winter X Games programming. ESPN International will distribute the Games worldwide, while EXPN.com will offer extensive online coverage.