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ESPN Embraces Full At-Home Workflow for the WNBA's 2019 Season


ESPN Embraces Full At-Home Workflow for the WNBA's 2019 Season Only the All-Star Game and Finals will be produced onsite By Kristian Hernandez, Assistant Editor

Thursday, May 23, 2019 - 11:08 am

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Heading into its 23rd season, the WNBA is hitting its stride in the national limelight. In the recent offseason, the league signed a 40-game, multiyear deal with CBS Sports and found a digital home for all postgame recaps on Facebook Watch. To capitalize on that momentum, ESPN is hyping up its productions for the new season, which includes an uptick in televised broadcasts (with three nationwide productions on ABC) and a REMI-exclusive workflow for coverage of the entire regular season.

All of our productions for the [16 games of the] regular season, first and second rounds, and the semifinals of the playoffs are REMI-driven, says Rodney Vaughn, WNBA producer, ESPN. The All-Star Game [in Las Vegas] and the WNBA Finals are full [onsite] productions, but [all REMI productions] are produced out of Bristol, CT.

Home-Court Advantage: Putting REMI to the Test

In an age of increased at-home production, ESPN's REMI procedure will be the backbone of this year's productions. A nationwide audience will witness three of these productions, and ESPN Associate Manager, Remote Operations, Jarrett Baker (alongside Senior Remote Operations Coordinator Justin McIntosh and Operations Producers Tracy Howe, Barb Williams, Shane Smith, and Randy Joseph) is adding some powerful reinforcements to ensure that the job is done without any hiccups.

We're really looking forward to doing WNBA REMIs on ABC, says Baker. The opportunity came up in the offseason, and we had a number of conversations with our counterparts at ABC in New York, with our transmission and production groups, to make sure everyone is on the same page [in order] to make sure those telecasts run smoothly. [Given the] magnitude of ABC, we're adding a couple of backup procedures that we might not have on our [other] regular-season REMIs on ESPN2. We'll have a backup generator onsite and some backup transmissions that are in the works. We're just taking a couple of extra precautions.

From a distribution standpoint, these telecasts will be solely in 720p HD. Although this format will remain consistent, the staff will have two methods of transmission to HQ in Bristol. In venues that have a switcher with IP capability, eight JPEG 2000-encoded feeds will be at the production team's disposal. In venues without permanent installation, either fiber provided by AT&T or an uplink signal from a satellite will do the job.

When we have 10 paths out, we're able to send our Marshall [POV cams] and a scoreboard reference camera back to the PCR on their own dedicated paths, says Baker. When we have eight paths, we have to make that a routable source that changes between the Marshalls and the scoreboard as needed.

Action-Packed Slate: Season Details and Production Headlines

As the 2019 season starts, WNBA coverage promises a wealth of storylines. From intriguing trades and unfortunate injuries to a breath of fresh air with an impressive draft class, Vaughn has a ton of creative carpentry in his toolbox.

There are a number of storylines going into this WNBA season, he explains. One of the biggest ones is that there are a number of star players that either are choosing to be out [like Minnesota Lynx forward Maya Moore] or are injured [Seattle Storm forward Breanna Stewart and Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi]. Two great players changed teams, and [it] will be interesting to see their impact: Chiney Ogumike going to Los Angeles and, recently, Liz Cambage going from Dallas to Las Vegas. There will also be a great rookie class that is going to be starting this year, with Jackie Young being taken No. 1 overall to Las Vegas and Arike Ogunbowale over in Dallas.

Although themes will unfold on the hardwood as the season progresses, Vaughn, Baker, and the rest of the WNBA crew have developed a production element that allows fans to hear game-day storylines during the course of the action. One month from now, on June 23, the Coaches on the Bench wrinkle will return, placing analysts Rebecca Lobo and Kara Lawson on respective benches during the Washington Mystics at Atlanta Dream game.

A few years ago, I was producing college basketball, and we did a telecast with Seth Greenberg and Dan Dakich at the University of Illinois, says Vaughn. We did something similar where we put the two with a coach of both universities, and it was very effective in the sense that we got a perspective on what they were hearing on the sidelines from the coaches and assistants.

Seattle Storm forward and 2018 WNBA Finals MVP Breanna Stewart soaks in her team's championship win.

I took that idea, he continues, brought it to the WNBA last year, and used Lobo and Lawson for a game in Connecticut [vs. the Los Angeles Sparks]. I thought it gave the viewer great insight into what Rebecca and Kara were able to hear in terms of substitution patterns, what coaches were disagreeing with about referee calls, [etc.]. They were able to hear those things [that] they're not usually able to hear on the other side of the floor.

To facilitate seamless transitions between the traditional broadcast and the specialized locations, Vaughn established a system that would allow up to three-boxes of content simultaneously.

We [will] designate one of our high cameras to [Lobo and Lawson], and then we [will] utilize a three-box on screen periodically throughout the game, he says. The game is in the middle of the picture [while] Rebecca's position and Kara's position are in two smaller boxes above the screen. [At times,] we'll have Kara and Rebecca in a two-box while [analyst] Ryan Ruocco will be doing t
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