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ESPN And The New Era Of Sports Broadcasting In The Social Media Age

When ESPN founder Bill Rasmussen first introduced the idea of a 24-hour sports network in 1979, he had his fair share of critics. People mocked the idea, some even said it would never work and regarded the thought of never-ending sports content as insane.

Thirty-five years later, the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network is the most watched network amongst men from the ages of 18 to 34, a fact that truly merits its status as the "worldwide leader in sports."

Its flagship production, the ever-popular SportsCenter, has grown exponentially during the past 10 years, with the network having moved from airing three hours of live programming in 2004 to 18 hours of live programming today.

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After expanding to near ubiquity, SportsCenter is now due for a makeover, with ESPN set to debut a new studio that will provide a whole new look to the show.

"The new studio is state-of-the-art, it's the only place like it in the world and I think it has technology that's not just for 2014 but for 2020," said ESPN's senior coordinating producer Michael Shiffman.

That new studio, dubbed Digital Center 2 (DC-2 or short), will be the new home of SportCenter with a scheduled debut set for Sunday, June 22. The show's new home is designed to provide a viewing experience like no other, with a structure that was built to make SportsCenter as visually engaging as possible.

When all is said and done, DC-2 will encompass six production control rooms, four audio control rooms, 16 edit suites and five studios that offer 25,000 square feet of production space, 9,700 of which will be dedicated to SportsCenter.

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The show's primary home, Studio X, is decked out with screens to fit your visual learning needs. Facing the main desk will be the North Wall, which is comprised of monitors, some of which protrude to provide a Jenga-like feel to it.

The East Wall consists of eight stationary displays that flank a large, centered touchscreen-enabled display. To the east, there is a collection of six screens that can come together or spread apart, behind a 2-foot high cat walk for the anchors

There's a giant screen in one corner, a giant screen in another corner that can move back and forth; there are screens in the floor, screens by the desk... by now you get the point. There are lots and lots of screens, 114 of them to be exact, and that's important, particularly for two types of people.

For the viewer and fan of ESPN, the network's $125 million expenditure is tailored to cater to his or her experience. That intention to meet the desires of the 21st century fan is evident in discussing what Shiffman described as "the second screen."

In a world in which multi-tasking and divvying attention have become the norm (think watching a broadcast, while checking out stats on a laptop, whilst also scrolling through tweets about a game on your phone), ESPN wants to provoke fans into giving the network their undivided attention, mainly by providing everything they need all on the television.

We can make that better direct connection and even in some ways, because of the surrounding monitors, become part of that second screen, where we may be talking about [a player's] great throw yesterday and then surrounding us are tweets, Shiffman said. So you don't even need to go look for the second screen for that because you're getting our discussion.
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It is DC-2's suitability for the next generation of SportsCenter viewers that gives Shiffman reason to promote the new studio as one that is built for the future. That suitability, though, has implications for more parties than just the viewers and producers of the network.

ESPN, in ushering a new era of SportsCenter production is also bringing forth a new era of broadcasting for its on air talent and, by extension, its future talent.

For the thousands of ESPN hopefuls all across the country, from the journalism major at 'State University to the rookie anchor in Rancho Cucamonga, the debut of DC-2 will inevitably introduce a new paradigm for delivering a sports-centric broadcast.

It's a lot more fun because it forces us to really be that much more engaged with what we are talking about and the stories that we're sharing with our viewers, said Lindsay Czarniak, one of the many ESPN personalities who has been logging in practice hours at DC-2 since early April. We should always be engaged, but this is a whole different animal because if you don't know and aren't really in-depth with what you're talking about that you're trying to convey, then you're gonna be completely exposed in here.
Elite Daily/Robert Rodriguez

In a studio that will provide more visual eye candy for viewers, but also considerably more face time for anchors, Czarniak said that there's a heightened responsibility on the side of sports broadcasters to be able to digest information and perfect the art of storytelling.

Honestly, as broadcasters, you have to really be on the top of your game constantly here. That's what's a big challenge and that makes it exciting. Before, you could read just off your script if you need to [but now] if there's a clip change coming, here you can't do that because you're always on camera. So I've got to really dig in and understand what it is I'm conveying and understand why whatever he shot last night was a big deal. Whereas I could just rely on reading it off a piece of paper before I can't do that anymore.

The message that Czarniak attempts to convey is simple to understand. In order to succeed in this new age for ESPN, on-air talents need to place emphasis on the ability to ad-lib and have so much knowledge about the topics that they are discussing that they are as much a complement to stats and graphics as those things are to them.

Those are the skills that are most important at DC-2, the studio that will brighten SportsCenter and will be sure to make it an even more prominent fixture in the lives of all sports fans. For the producers, viewers and broadcasters alike, this is the new era of sport broadcasting and ESPN, in typical fashion, is leading the way.