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ESPN Exploring Alternate Broadcasts For NBA Playoffs

ESPN’s senior coordinating producer and head of NBA game production Tim Corrigan met with the media.

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Courtesy: ESPN

It’s been a year of upheaval for the minds behind ESPN productions, especially in the NBA. The regular season has wrapped up, and now the league and ESPN have their sights set on the Western Conference Play-In tournament beginning Wednesday, May 19, at 7:30 p.m. ET. ESPN’s senior coordinating producer and head of NBA game production Tim Corrigan met with the media this week to discuss challenges from the season and how the playoffs will look.

Corrigan spoke about the trials this year caused by the pandemic along with his pride in how the whole team has powered through it. The marquee addition for ESPN production in these playoffs comes via a new camera. The MoviCam is making its debut on ESPN NBA broadcasts over the coming months.

This new camera replaces some of the intimate shots the rail cam offered while fans weren’t allowed courtside. Corrigan confirmed the new camera would be used sparingly before the conference finals and then fully implemented in the final two rounds.

The other new technologies ESPN has experimented with this season also came up. The alternate betting and Marvel broadcasts were successful in their trial run. Corrigan noted that the production team is in talks with the network to put on more alternate broadcasts for the playoffs but couldn’t confirm any details.

The production team has learned a lot from a year that Corrigan says was more difficult to execute during this shortened season than what the Orlando bubble presented. ESPN had to outfit their talent’s homes with a full broadcast setup to ensure the COVID-era productions ran as smoothly as possible.

Corrigan answered what the pandemic opened ESPN’s eyes to about previous production features they don’t need. He didn’t single anything out but highlighted how broadcast hubs smoothed their coordination during the past year.

ESPN has facilities in Bristol, Los Angeles, Charlotte, and New York, to name a few. Hubs had to be aligned for the company to keep things rolling. NBA fans catch all the playoff coverage on ESPN starting this Wednesday with the Western Conference Play-In matchups.

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Andrew Marchand: Netflix’s Struggles Make ESPN More Valuable To Disney

“It does sound good to just throw $30 billion into shows and then you own that. But there’s no guarantee with that.”

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Streaming services like Disney+ and Netflix did very well during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when many were confined to their homes. But that rise in 2020 gave way to a fall in growth for both services based on recent fourth quarter earnings reports by both companies.

Part of what has been cited as a reason to the slowdown in growth and shortfall in revenue for Netflix has been the lack of new original programming. Despite the widespread success of the series Squid Game, the streaming service increased prices as it couldn’t replicate that following with other movies and series.

Netflix also has a limited offering of sports programming, though the Drive to Survive series has resonated well with Formula 1 fans and has made way for a DTS-like series to be developed for Netflix featuring the PGA Tour.

On the latest edition of the Marchand and Ourand Sports Podcast, New York Post sports columnist Andrew Marchand said Netflix finding itself in a bit of a tailspin will have executives and shareholders at Disney thinking differently about ESPN and its streaming service ESPN+.

“Maybe the people thinking, ‘Hey, let’s just spend $30 billion and instead of on sports programming, let’s just try to make the next Ted Lasso or whatever,’ I do think it’s a little forward,” he said. “It does sound good to just throw $30 billion into shows and then you own that. But there’s no guarantee with that.”

There have been rumors swirling that Apple is planning to open its checkbook and bid on live sports to add to its streaming service Apple TV. Ted Lasso, which has become one of the top shows offered on the platform, didn’t become as popular as it is overnight.

But what ESPN and ESPN+ seem to have done right is offering plenty of original programming on top of the live sports offerings. And that’s something Marchand believes is a difference-maker.

“I don’t think anybody thought Ted Lasso would be what it is,” he said. “So I just think when you look at it, I think that might’ve helped ESPN in terms of how it’s looked at in the castle that is Disney.”

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Chris Russo Debates Barry Bonds With Stephen A. Smith to Delight of Many

The positive response may have been due to Russo understanding the assignment. Mad Dog will yell back! He called Stephen A. “Stevie”!

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ESPN

If ESPN’s First Take and Stephen A. Smith wanted a heated discussion about the Baseball Hall of Fame 2022 election results, bringing on Chris Russo as a guest was probably the best choice for Wednesday’s show.

Sure, someone like Jeff Passan, Tim Kurkjian, Eduardo Perez, or Doug Glanville could’ve joined Stephen A. and Molly Qerim at the desk for a reasoned, informative discussion. But the volume wouldn’t have been high enough to match Stephen A.

Someone needed to shout back! And there might be no one on TV or radio who can get as loud, as outraged, as indignant as “Mad Dog” Russo. On one side, Stephen A. argues that Barry Bonds should be in the Hall of Fame. Counterpoint from Mad Dog (a San Francisco Giants fan): Bonds should not.

As could’ve been expected, the debate got loud. Those watching at work may have needed to use headphones.

But rather than denounce all the noise, all the yelling, social media and sports media observers appeared to enjoy Stephen A. vs. Mad Dog.

Maybe because the debate only lasted for one six-minute segment, rather than the entirety of the show. But the positive response may also have been due to Russo understanding the assignment. Mad Dog will yell back! He called Stephen A. “Stevie”!

Here’s a sampling of reactions:

Marchand’s view of Russo’s appearance is particularly interesting and not just because he covers sports media for a living. In the new version of First Take with rotating combatants to face Stephen A. at the table, isn’t Russo a capable opponent? No one wants to see a wrestling superstar face a jobber, right? Edge vs. Seth Rollins is a marquee matchup!

Judging by the response from fans on social media, Russo is someone First Take should bring back on a regular basis. Maybe even, as Marchand suggests, one day per week. But maybe not for a whole show, for the sake of our ears and temples.

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Meadowlark Media to Create Content For Spanish-Speaking Fans in U.S.

The plan is to oblige an underserved audience by providing a product for one of the fastest growing demographics in the U.S.

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Meadowlark Media, co-founded by former ESPN President John Skipper, and Ocellated Media are expected to announce a strategic partnership later today. Their plan is to create Spanish-language audio and unscripted video programming for Latino sports fans living in the U.S.

According to Skipper, “the content available does not mirror the proportion of the population,” which fuels the interest in non-English programming. Very little sports programming is delivered in a language other than English, although Latinos make up around 19% of the total population. Understandably, that community would like to hear the programming in its native language.

Meadowlark and Ocellated recently decided to work alongside Skydance Sports to produce Good Neighbors, a documentary about the rivalry between the U.S. men’s national soccer team and the Mexican national team.

The documentary will include current and former members of both teams with each player interviewed in his first language. It will not be told from a specific team’s point of view.

“We want it to play in both Columbus, Ohio and Mexico City,” Skipper said.  

By keeping the documentary unbiased, playing it in multiple countries, and capitalizing on soccer’s standing as the world’s most popular sport, the companies have set themselves up for a high value project.

Besides the Good Neighbors documentary, viewers can expect most of the collaborations going forward to be in Spanish. The plan is to oblige the underserved audience by providing a product for one of the fastest growing demographics in the U.S. According to the 2020 U.S. Census, the Hispanic population grew 23% between 2010 and 2020.

Up to this point, Telemundo and Univision have been the go-to networks for Spanish-speaking programming and the bulk of sports-related content for the demo. But Meadowlark and Ocellated aren’t trying to compete with them. They actually see those networks as potential buyers.

Based in Mexico City, Ocellated brings a level of market expertise, authenticity, and in-house production capabilities to the partnership. 

“Production services in Mexico are quite efficient and significantly less expensive,” said Skipper, “so on selective projects we’ll take advantage of that.”

Along with today’s announcement, Meadowlark and Ocellated will also introduce a new daily Spanish-language sports, entertainment, current events and sports betting podcast, to be hosted by Jorge “El Burro” Van Rankin. The plan is for the podcast to complement Meadowlark co-founder Dan Le Batard’s daily show.

“We will not have to build [the audience] from scratch,” Skipper said. “We can use Dan’s show to help launch [the “El Burro” show] and [to] get it an audience. And over time we think we can develop a fairly significant audience.”

If everything goes well, Skipper expects the two companies to replicate the model and “build [out] some other Spanish-language podcasts around the world.”

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