Innovation, technical achievement and a hyper focus on serving fans have always been at the heart of ESPN’s success, with today’s news of ESPN’s alternative production announcement with Omaha Productions being the latest example. There are countless other examples of ESPN breaking new ground by mixing creative ideas with emerging technology to meet the ever-changing interests of sports enthusiasts. Perhaps the best example to illustrate this inventive spirit has been ESPN’s creation, development and evolution of the alternative production concept and MegaCast executions, where multiple viewing options are presented for a single event or program. Below is a visual timeline that highlights ESPN’s history, key dates and important moments that tell the story of this impactful category of industry-driving innovation. (EDITOR’S NOTE: If you click on the story headlines or press releases throughout the post, you will be directed to those specific stories or releases.)
ESPN2 was launched October 1, 1993, thereby providing ESPN’s first 24-hour companion television network and a true second-screen opportunity. The first sample of an alternative side-by-side production came in 1994, less than a year after ESPN2 launched. ESPN televised a traditional production of an IndyCar race, while ESPN2 presented an all in-car feed with mostly natural sound and little commentary. Utilizing multiple ESPN platforms for different feeds of the same event would become a hallmark in the years ahead.
In a creative studio twist, while ESPN2 televised its flagship news and information show, SportsCenter, ESPN showcased a behind-the-scenes, all-access program focusing on the live creation of that very SportsCenter. ESPN would bring back the all-access SportsCenter concept in later years, including an alternate presentation in 2004 and a stand-alone show in 2018.
This marked the first of what would become an ESPN staple – utilizing a collection of existing platforms to present the same event in different ways. The initial branding for this concept was unveiled as “ESPN Full Circle” for the North Carolina at Duke men’s basketball game, and that ESPN Full Circle moniker later evolved into the ESPN MegaCast title.
During coverage of the first two rounds of the U.S. Open Championship, while ESPN offered a traditional telecast, ESPN360.com provided live coverage of all groups from Bethpage Black’s signature Par 3 17th hole. This companion golf coverage — showcasing specific holes or following featured groups — would become a significant element, particularly with the addition of ESPN+ during Masters and PGA Championship action.
Longhorn Network (LHN) provided a second screen experience for the Alamo Bowl (Texas vs. Oregon). While ESPN showed the traditional production, LHN featured “Command Center,” a multi-view showcase. Earlier that year, LHN had debuted “Director’s Chair” for the Sept. 7 Texas at BYU game, which gave fans an on-screen mosaic of six camera angles (similar to a director’s point of view).
The multi-platform approach to a single live event was taken to the next level with the introduction of the first-ever “ESPN MegaCast” for the final BCS Championship Game (before the sport changed to the College Football Playoff the next season). The different presentations for the Florida State/Auburn game included six television platforms, plus audio and digital outlets. The ESPN MegaCast innovation was met with rave reviews from fans and media and the term “MegaCast” would become synonymous with ESPN’s fan-friendly barrage of viewing options for a single event.
The third consecutive year of ESPN’s MegaCast presentation for the college football title game (final BCS in 2014, first-ever CFP in 2015) provided fans with 14 alternative productions for the College Football Playoff National Championship. ESPN’s coverage captured a Sports Emmy, a MegaCast first. Additionally, ESPN introduced added feeds for the College Football Playoff National Semifinals, including Spanish-language game coverage on ESPN2.
ESPN’s fifth college football national championship MegaCast was the most comprehensive to date, offering 20 distinct productions of the College Football Playoff National Championship. Notably, after providing select alternative offerings in previous seasons, ESPN officially added “MegaCast” branding for the College Football Playoff National Semifinals, with a significantly increased number of feeds for the two semis.
To align with the statistical focus of MLB fans, a special Statcast-driven option was introduced for ESPN2 viewers of the annual Home Run Derby, while the traditional production aired on ESPN. Months later, a StatCast feed was added for ESPN’s MLB Wild Card game coverage and regular-season StatCasts also debuted in years ahead.
ESPN's exclusive coverage of the 2018 T-Mobile Home Run Derby: Innovative production elements, a Statcast-driven alternative viewing experience & more.— ESPN PR (@ESPNPR) July 10, 2018
Participants announced on the Home Run Derby Bracket Show following Wednesday Night Baseball on ESPN: https://t.co/DALnbdUbGu pic.twitter.com/b7JfhbB4Ii
The second year for a season-opening, college football MegaCast (Virginia Tech/Florida State), which marked a first for Labor Day, had planned a Goodyear BlimpCast among the offerings, but that feed was grounded due to weather conditions.
A new year brought more ESPN innovations to its MegaCast. For the CFP National Championship, ESPN unveiled five new feed options to go along with the dozen or so returning alternatives. The five planned new options included Field Pass, Monday Night Film Room, Thinking Out Loud, TechCast and the awaited debut of Goodyear BlimpCast.
While ESPN offered a traditional NBA production of Bucks/Lakers, ESPN3 and the ESPN App provided a Full Court Press Second Spectrum presentation which featured three different viewing modes: Coach mode, Player mode and Mascot mode. That same concept was applied later that season to ESPN’s NBA Playoff coverage. A year earlier, ESPN2 offered a different Full Court Press second-screen experience for Game 2 of the 2018 NBA Eastern Conference Finals.
The NFL Draft expanded its reach with multiple viewing options. While ESPN presented the popular coverage fans have enjoyed for decades, ABC (and anchor Robin Roberts joined by the College GameDay team) added its own distinctive telecast by broadcasting three rounds for the first time. The ABC presentation focused on the journey of the NFL Draft prospects and the role their families played, while incorporating celebrity appearances. The addition of ABC came a year after ESPN2 introduced a College GameDay-led alternate NFL Draft feed in 2018.
The College Football Playoff National Championship is the pinnacle of our college football season— ESPN PR (@ESPNPR) January 7, 2020
▪️ 100 Cameras, 100 Microphones and Our Best Innovation Inside Mercedes-Benz Superdome
▪️ 15 MegaCast Presentations
more: https://t.co/xFkHY2FjYe pic.twitter.com/QK7CZHsniE
ESPN extended the multi-network concept to an NFL game, with the first Monday Night Football MegaCast (New Orleans at Las Vegas), commemorating the league’s regular-season debut in Las Vegas. Multiple platforms offered different ways to watch the game, beyond the traditional game on ESPN. No fans were in attendance due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tapping into the vast resources and distinctive content across The Walt Disney Company, ESPN2 provided a Marvel-themed NBA telecast called “Arena of Heroes,” which supplemented the traditional game presentation on ESPN. The distinct program incorporated Marvel characters, storylines, graphics and more.
The very next day came more fan-friendly offerings courtesy of the larger Disney company, when “May the Fourth” Star Wars content found its way to an ESPN2 alternate Star Wars-themed MLB production. Among the many fun features were ESPN commentators dressed as Star Wars characters and Star Wars-related graphics.
The 2021 NFL season brought the debut of the pioneering Monday Night Football with Peyton and Eli. The award-winning effort with the Manning brothers, a collaboration between ESPN and Peyton’s Omaha Productions, would help set a new industry standard for an alternative experience. The ESPN2 companion to ESPN’s traditional Monday Night Football telecast mixed expert analysis, humor, fun banter and an incredible guest list. Less than a year later, ESPN and Omaha Productions agreed to a new multi-year extension to continue the NFL series and extend the collaboration to alternative productions for golf, UFC and college football.
With the flexibility of the new groundbreaking agreement between Disney/ESPN and the NHL, ESPN+ debuted an alternative NHL feed called “Star Watch,” with isolated cameras and stats on Sydney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin throughout the game. A few months later (March 5, 2022), ESPN+ presented an alternative feed called “Ice Cast,” allowing fans to see how plays develop from above the ice.
Sixteen years and one day after the first-ever “ESPN Full Circle” for a North Carolina-Duke men’s basketball game, ESPN’s coverage came “full circle” with a MegaCast for another North Carolina-Duke matchup, the last home game involving Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski. Among the options was an ACC Network telecast with a dedicated camera on Coach K.
Another technological advancement was unveiled during a Mavericks/Nets game when ESPN+ (and ESPNEWS) provided NBA CourtView for the first time on a full game presentation. This innovative view, resulting from cameras tracking player movement and data, plus 3D models, resulted in a unique video game-like look.
Dubbed “The Bird & Taurasi Show” (BTS), basketball legends Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi took over ESPN2 during the Women’s Final Four, co-anchoring alternative telecasts of the National Semifinals and the National Championship. Their extraordinary mix of great guests, entertaining discussion, expert commentary and hilarious conversation/storytelling led to an incredibly positive reaction from fans and media. This concept was an offshoot of the ESPN alternative production “Smack Talk with Sue and A’ja,” (Sue Bird, A’ja Wilson) which premiered during a February 2019 regular-season women’s basketball matchup between Connecticut and South Carolina.
To commemorate the 75th anniversary of the NBA, ESPN introduced the NBA75 Celebration Game – a separate presentation of the Nets/Knicks matchup. The unique production mirrored NBA television styles, graphics and presentations of decades past, including the 1960s on ABC, the 1970s and 1980s on CBS and the 1990s on NBC, as well as representation from present day. Guests included several members of the NBA75 player list and Hall of Fame coaches and broadcasters who have been integral to the game through the eras.
We saw Seth Curry open the scoring in the 1960s... his triple in the 1990s highlights the @BrooklynNets 10-0 run to take control late! #NBA75 Celebration Game Broadcast on ESPN2 pic.twitter.com/Bj77nPi4Gs— NBA (@NBA) April 7, 2022
Another ESPN MLB concept was unveiled with the debut of ESPN’s KayRod Cast – a special series of alternative presentations for select Sunday Night Baseball games. Pairing World Series Champion and three-time M.V.P. Alex Rodriguez with iconic New York broadcasting voice Michael Kay, the KayRod Cast included lively discussion and analysis, special guests connected to the game and perspective/stories from Rodriguez’s historic playing career.