ESPN HD made its debut as a 24/7 high-definition simulcast service of ESPN on Sunday, March 30, 2003, with Baseball Tonight and the opening game of ESPN’s 14th season of Major League Baseball — Sunday Night Baseball with the Texas Rangers visiting the World Series Champion Anaheim Angels.
ESPN’s early entry into the HD arena was seen as critical to the HD industry. At the Consumer Electronics Association HDTV Summit in March 2003, CEA President and CEO Gary Shapiro stated, “When we’re looking back, it could be that ESPN will be viewed as the tipping point for HDTV. . . ESPN HD is the most significant announcement in HD programming. We believe that sports programming is the key to wide consumer acceptance of HDTV and with ESPN HD programming, consumer interest in HDTVs will skyrocket.”
ESPN cemented its commitment to HD on June 7, 2004, when it opened a 136,000-square foot, state-of-the-art digital center, the largest in the world at the time. Since then, ESPN built a second digital center (DC2 – 194,000 square feet) which went online in 2014.
“ESPN’s expertise and embracement of HD technology was a leading driver in the adoption of HD,” said ESPN’s Chief Technology Officer Aaron LaBerge. “Watching sports in high-definition is a spectacular experience and at the time was a huge leap forward in user experience. Thirteen years ago, smart phones didn’t exist. Today most of them have HD displays, and demand for HD content across media devices has never been higher.”
Currently, five of ESPN’s eight U.S. Cable Networks offer a high-definition simulcast service (ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNEWS, ESPNU and ESPN Deportes) and its HD video content helps power digital video on the leading digital sports portfolio in the world.