Editor’s note: Bryan Burns is ESPN’s vice president, strategic business planning and development. He leads the company’s business strategy team for ESPN 3D, the industry’s first 3D television network. In this Front Row post, he reflects on ESPN HD’s 10th anniversary.
It isn’t often that a company and its people have the opportunity to help materially change the technological underpinnings of an entire industry. Ten years ago this weekend, that’s what happened at ESPN.
Today is the 10th anniversary of ESPN HD. It was on March 30, 2003 when Alex Rodriguez and the Texas Rangers opened the Sunday Night Baseball schedule in Anaheim, Calif. against the Angels as the first telecast on ESPN HD.
A year of planning preceded the ESPN HD launch, planning which was originally rooted in determining the technology that would serve as the base for ESPN’s Digital Center. Approved as a standard definition digital facility, Chief Technology Officer Chuck Pagano and his team had to consider what would happen if the rest of the industry would ever migrate to 16×9 HD from 4×3 SD.
The implications were considerable for a building being designed to last for many years. But going HD wasn’t a given at that point. The production gear hadn’t been fully created and workflows not considered, creating a difficult and expensive decision.
In true ESPN style, the recommendation to ESPN’s senior management and to Disney was to “go for it,” to lead the television industry to high-definition television. An announcement that ESPN was “going HD” was a highlight of the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in January 2003.
Comporium Cable of the Carolinas was the first affiliate to offer ESPN HD. Customer Marketing and Sales brought Best Buy and Philips on as initial sponsors, just as HDTV sets were just starting to arrive at retail. Today, almost 80 percent of U.S. TV homes own an HD set and receive HD service, which jumped 11 percent from the winter of 2012 to the winter of 2013.
After the launch, focus then increased on the build out of ESPN’s Digital Center, which opened with SportsCenter on June 1, 2004, 14 months later. Hundreds of people across ESPN were involved in the original planning and execution that placed the company at the forefront of the nation’s move to high definition television, and it all started 10 years ago this weekend, a milestone for ESPN and for the worldwide television industry as a whole.
ICYMI: Highlights from the past week on Front Row
• ESPN’s Hannah Storm and 2013 Arthur Ashe Courage Award recipient-to-be, Robin Roberts, discuss the honor and some of her memories from working at ESPN.
• What if SportsCenter were a network unto itself? Craig Bengtson, vice president, SportsCenter and Artie Bulgrin, senior vice president, research and analytics, explain why the idea is not so far-fetched.
• Mike and Mike bobbleheads don’t get the spotlight until these folks put them on set. Watch a time-lapse video of the early morning routine alongside some bobblehead trivia and stats.
• ESPN.com’s Eamonn Brennan is on the road for a whirlwind tour visiting 4 NCAA regional sites in 4 days covering the Sweet 16 and Elite 8. Brennan shared how he planned to get it all done.
Row of Four
Our favorites from across ESPN over the past week
• Team IMPACT unites sick kids and college athletes with the power of teamwork.
• From Grantland’s Kirk Goldsberry The Evolution of King James: LeBron explains how he transformed himself into an efficient scoring machine.
• From espnW’s Elisabeth Meinecke: Penguins PR guru Jennifer Bullano commands respect with her persuasiveness and sense of humor.
• Enjoy an array of photos in this gallery from ESPN Images.