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"SportsCenter" ready to unveil state-of-the-art set on Sunday

ESPN's new SportsCenter set in Bristol, Conn., on

ESPN's new SportsCenter set in Bristol, Conn., on May 22, 2014. ESPN will be among the offerings on the new Dish television service, Sling TV. Photo Credit: Newsday / Neil Best

BRISTOL, Conn. - It's been 10 years since ESPN introduced its massive, state-of-the-art digital center, which can mean only one thing: It's time for ESPN to introduce another massive, state-of-the-art digital center.

Sure enough, what the network has nicknamed DC-2 is up and running and is scheduled to host its first "SportsCenter" on Sunday night, featuring Stuart Scott, Steve Levy and an array of modern technical marvels.

During a media tour last month, ESPN president John Skipper called it "the most technologically advanced studio facility in the United States.'' He added, "This building is a pretty big statement about where we are and what we think of in terms of our place with fans and sports and sports media."

But for all the gadgetry ESPN will unveil, the biggest change most viewers will notice in the approach to its venerable "SportsCenter" franchise involves people, not machinery.

The idea is to use the new set full of video screens to get anchors up from their chairs and moving about -- and to allow them and their personalities to be a bigger part of the show, a throwback in its history.

So for example, rather than leaving the anchor's face while showing a highlight, he or she now more often will be seen standing next to a screen on which a highlight is shown.

"Our goal here in this facility is to be able to inject a little more personality back into it," Skipper said, especially because the show now is on essentially 24 hours a day on various ESPN channels.

"We will probably try to establish slightly different missions for the different 'SportsCenters' so you don't feel like you're looking at the same thing."

The buzzwords for the new mission are "talent forward."

"Talent forward, content back," said Craig Bengtson, director of news. "We're going to bring the talent forward."

Rob King, senior VP for "SportsCenter," said: "We want a real connection with the audience. That's why we work so hard to find on-air talent, to find people we really believe do sports in a really exciting way and really communicate that. So talent forward isn't something to be concerned about."

The trick is balancing personality with information, which remains the core mission -- or at least it should remain the core mission -- and not annoying viewers with too much of it.

Another risk is using technology just because you can, as when CNN infamously unveiled a holographic gimmick during its 2008 presidential election coverage.

Bengtson said the edict to studio designers was: "I don't want to buy anything that we think is just going to be used as a gimmick. Let's purchase technology and equipment we think is going to help us deliver content in a better way. If it's not, we don't need it."

It will be up to the anchors to make it work in a way that benefits viewers rather than annoying them.

"It's got a cool factor; it's got a 'wow' factor," Levy said. "It's the colors, it's the flash, it's the dash . . . But you might not even see it in the first year. Our plan is to roll it out and roll it out with what we're comfortable with."

Said Scott: "I've never seen anything like it. Just rehearsing in there, the different places we're going to do lead-ins, the different ways video is going to appear and be seen, these video panels moving in and out, us on top of a scaffold.

"I think it's going to blow an audience away, because it blows us away."

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