January 10, 2019

ESPN’s MegaCast – Mega Hit or Mega Hype?

Monday night’s College Football Playoff National Championship game featured two titans of college football, as the defending champion Alabama Crimson Tide squared off against the Clemson University Tigers. Meeting in the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year, the teams combined for first quarter fireworks only to have Clemson take control and run away with a surprising 44-16 victory.

With the game’s outcome decided early in the second half, viewers had plenty of time to fully explore the highlights (and lowlights) of ESPN’s Megacast. With so much put into ESPN’s coverage, I’m left wondering whether there was true value to viewers, or if the CFP Megacast was really just mega-hype.

What is Megacast?
“Megacast” is the term coined by ESPN for its multi-network simulcast of a sporting event across its family of networks and services. Each feed provides its own unique format, features, and perspectives.

Monday’s Alabama-Clemson game was the fifth CFP National Championship game to be given the Megacast treatment, and ESPN pulled out all of the stops. It featured 17 different entry points for college football fans of all levels to engage with the telecast. Going way beyond just the main feed on ESPN, this year’s Megacast was ESPN’s biggest ever and included new features such as sideline play-by-play announcing (Field Pass) and eye-in-the-sky anchors watching the game from inside the Goodyear blimp (Blimpcast), a unique viewing. (For a full list of features, see ESPN’s summary.)

The Highlights: Something for Everyone
When originally introduced, Megacast was positioned as a way for ESPN to use technological advances in coverage and delivery, as well as its vast network of outlets, to target different parts of its audience, and address specific viewing preferences. In this regard, Megacast has been successful — there is something for everyone. Monday night’s game was presented in a number of ways that matched up well with the spectrum of college football fandom, including:

  • Monday Night Football Film Room (ESPNews): For the hardcore football fans who wanted a real-time breakdown of the game, this spin-off of ESPN’s Coaches Film Room was hosted by ESPN’s MNF announcing team and went deep into the analysis of each play, just as coaches and players would watch film after a game. While the commentary felt forced at times, for the football junkie, this feed gave them an inside look at how pros view the game.
  • Field Pass (ESPN2): For the serious football fan who wanted something a little non-traditional, ESPN anchors Steve Levy and Adam Amin called the action while roaming the sidelines near the team benches. Joined by former college coaches and players throughout the telecast, this feed had a unique vantage point and a good mix of fan-like excitement with insightful commentary.
  • Thinking Out Loud (SEC Network): For the more casual fan, the hosts of this popular weekly show gathered with other guests including Tim Tebow throughout the game to provide commentary, analysis, and some good-natured fun from their broadcast location.
  • Sounds of the Game (ESPN App): For football purists who wanted to feel the stadium experience and needed a break from talking heads, this feed presented the traditional game telecast without announcers, just the sounds of Levi’s Stadium. Extended coverage included the complete pregame on-field festivities, band performances, and some behind-the-scenes footage of the teams making their way to and from the playing field.

Additionally, for the data geeks out there who wanted to feast on as much information as possible, Command Center blended a split-screen with multiple camera views (including dedicated feeds of both coaches prowling the sidelines) and on-screen game statistics. While initially slightly disorienting as you determined where to watch, this multi-camera feed did provide some great looks at key plays, as much data as you could ever want, and some compelling reaction shots of the coaches (i.e., Clemson’s Dabo Sweeney sprinting down the sidelines after a third quarter touchdown).

The Lowlights: Visual Overload and Feature Fatigue
In providing their viewers with so many choices, ESPN took some swings that missed. For example, the ESPN3.com site allowed fans to access all of the above along with other novel options including the aforementioned Blimpcast as well as TechCast.  Situated high above Levy Stadium, the Goodyear Blimp provided a spectacular birds-eye shot of the stadium. However, the telecast from inside the blimp was little more than two ESPN anchors hanging out and sporadically commenting on the main game feed. One got the feeling that ESPN was broadcasting from the blimp just because they could, with no way to add real value from the shot location itself. Similarly, TechCast (12 different camera views surrounding a split screen view) felt disjointed and did not hold attention for long. Many of the views were stagnant (PylonCam view) as the action was happening elsewhere on the field, or disorienting (RefCam view) as the shot from the hat-mounted camera bounced along with the referee’s movements.

Also, on ESPN3.com as well as the ESPN app, fans could opt for a singular feed from a variety of vantage points including the SkyCam, High SkyCam, and All-22. As was the case with the cameras mentioned previously, these cameras did a great job of providing one-off shots or replays in support of the other telecasts. However, for viewing the game in its entirety, most of the feeds felt distant and lacking. Of those listed, SkyCam, which has been used in football coverage now for many years, provided the best viewing experience, often showcasing a behind-the-offense look at game action as it hovered over the field.

The Verdict
The CFP National Championship is a flagship event in ESPN’s annual line-up and is treated as such with its Megacast. While the game’s main feed on ESPN provides a traditional presentation that suits the masses, ESPN’s desire to experiment with presentations to address the changing viewing habits of an increasingly fragmented audience is to be commended. Yes, it was overwhelming at times to have so many options to choose from, but this year’s presentation undoubtedly will provide ESPN with valuable data to help craft future broadcasts of not only college football but other sports, as well (think soccer). Monday night’s Megacast might not have hit every ball out of the park, but there is value in the attempt to transform the way live sports are consumed. With the ultimate goal of continuing to engage a broad audience including younger fans with live sports, ESPN’s Megacast is worthy of a continued spot in the line-up at the worldwide leader in sports.

Gary Pfeiffer is an accomplished marketer of technology and entertainment products for leading global brands. Prior to TDG, Gary led the marketing efforts of Disney INFINITY, Disney’s best-performing video game franchise in its interactive division’s history and the #1 toys-to-life product in the world in 2014 and 2015. Gary holds an MBA of Marketing from the Anderson School of Management at UCLA. He lives north of Los Angeles with his wife and two sons.

 

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