On Tuesday, June 19, a media conference call previewing the all-new, all-ESPN Wimbledon was held with Jason Bernstein, ESPN senior director, programming & acquisitions; Jed Drake, ESPN senior vice president & executive producer; and Jamie Reynolds, ESPN vice president, event production. Wimbledon begins Monday, June 25, exclusive to ESPN platforms. Each made an opening comment and then took questions.
JED DRAKE: We are thrilled with the privilege and the responsibility to begin our now 12‑year relationship as the exclusive broadcaster in the U.S. of Wimbledon, and it is certainly something that we have worked hard towards achieving, and I humbly submit that the good efforts of Jamie and the tennis team over these few years had factored into the decision ultimately by the All England Club to allow us this opportunity to televise the entire tournament.
We will, as I said, televise everything live, and not only on ESPN but on ESPN2 the second week, and on ESPN3 and on ESPN 3D Wednesday through Sunday. So by Wednesday, the second week, we’ll have in essence four networks televising simultaneously, and that’s the kind of coverage that this event deserves and that we will, as I said, shepherd with great care because we all understand how important this tournament is to our company, to Wimbledon and to our viewers. So with that, we’ll go around the horn here. Jamie?
JAMIE REYNOLDS: Thanks, Jed. We are indeed here at Wimbledon. It’s been a short hop, finishing up the French Open and now bringing the majority of our folks here to SW19. We have no less than about 225 people credentialed for the event at this point. That does not include our technology and engineering partner in Vision, who’s the provider of that ‑‑ supplier of those services and operations here on‑site. So it’s a pretty hefty run that we’ve got here of folks.
Through the fortnight, we will have first ball to last ball coverage. We are running with the BBC on all production decisions, which has been a great boon for us and a terrific cooperation with them as our partners running through this, and with the support of the All England Club, there are a great many innovations and opportunities to continue to broaden the scope of what this event represents.
The talent pool is rich and deep, and we can get into that if anybody would like to discuss that roster, as well, and from a technology standpoint and what we’re doing between Centre Court, Court 1 and the myriad of situations that we have from an edit standpoint, from a shoot style standpoint, we have tremendous assets that we can get into in detail, as well. Jason?
JASON BERNSTEIN: Thanks, Jamie. Yeah, as the guys said, yeah, we are pleased to be a part of really redefining how the championships are consumed by American audiences. This is an opportunity unlike very few others for us to do so. The all‑live coverage, as Jed mentioned, really will ensure that all matches will be seen live on all devices, and for the first time ever, every ladies’ and gentlemen’s quarterfinal will be seen live in its entirety coast to coast, and that’s something that we really pride ourselves on in working with the club to ensure that that live coverage is delivered coast to coast.
And further, our tennis portfolio is as significant as it’s ever been, and it is our goal to ensure that the tennis narrative from Australia through the US Open is told appropriately by ESPN, and we’re pleased that the All England Club entrusted us with allowing us to continue that narrative from the Club.
Q. This is for whoever wants it, I guess. I don’t know who would be most appropriate to field this. But how important was it for the All England Club in negotiating this deal that you guys were getting everything live considering all the tape delays that NBC had been doing for the past decade‑plus at least and not having live matches on in this growing era of social media and up‑to‑the‑second updates on everything?
JASON BERNSTEIN: For sure. During the negotiation, it was abundantly clear that being live and bringing fans live matches was of paramount importance to both the All England Club and ESPN. No doubt about it. And our ability to do so, lining up two networks, and to Jed’s point four networks, given ESPN3 and 3D, merely ensured that we were serving all fans on all devices, all live, all the time, given that that’s what fans have required for so many years and given the expansive nature of social media and the social currency that live sport delivers.
Q. Do you think there was a degree of frustration in the previous NBC contract for the All England Club?
JASON BERNSTEIN: Yeah, I can’t speak for the Club, but I can speak for what fans have voiced over the years, and in any sport and in any walk of life, when there isn’t that immediate live payoff, there have been a number of letters written, stories written by folks like you, and it was always our intent to work with the Club to ensure that fans had the opportunity to see live coverage coast to coast.
Q. This is for whoever most wants to speak to the question. There will be people who will complain that they used to be able to see at least some Wimbledon on over‑the‑air channels. Do you think that being able to see it live trumps being on free TV?
JASON BERNSTEIN: I’m happy to make a quick response, and Jamie and Jed I know have some thoughts on this, as well. In short, the schedule that we crafted with the All England Club really was designed to give fans the best of both worlds. We wanted to obviously serve the fans on a live basis, every match possible to be consumed, and then in sports windows, the traditional sports windows, if you will, of broadcast television and weekend afternoons when live play has mostly been exhausted, we’re serving fans in the middle weekend with a highlight show on middle weekend when there is no play, so we’re giving fans an opportunity to experience Wimbledon for the first time if they haven’t witnessed it for the first week on ABC, and then encore presentations of both the ladies’ and gentlemen’s Finals will be seen in the late afternoon sports windows on ABC on both the Saturday and the final Sunday.
Q. So both the men’s and women’s Finals will be able to be watched by people who don’t have cable?
JASON BERNSTEIN: Correct.
Q. And how anachronistic is it to tell people they couldn’t watch live sports in this day and age? It was getting harder and harder to explain, wasn’t it?
JED DRAKE: There wasn’t anything left to explain. We were televising what we were televising live.
Q. But to us West Coasties who weren’t getting it live, it was really annoying.
JED DRAKE: I’m sure it was, but it’s not our issue in the past.
Q. For Jamie and Jed, with ESPN’s increased role out there this year, increased investment, as well, has that increased the level of production resources you guys can have out there, whether it be crew, number of production trucks, cameras, anything on that end? How has that affected the sort of toys you guys have to play with out there this year?
JED DRAKE: I’ll let Jamie speak to it, but he just threw me an email about a half an hour ago on the number of credentials, and it’s over 220, so that speaks to the sheer size of the operation. I’ll let Jamie speak to the specifics.
JAMIE REYNOLDS: It’s fair to say that we have in some categories doubled the work force, and in other categories just to get the volume of hours that we’re doing, we’ve almost tripled. We’ve tripled the number. And when you look at it, just the sheer magnitude of operating on a 10‑hour day for the first week in the broadcast windows, and then the second week when we’re simultaneously broadcasting on E1 and E2, to say nothing of ESPN 3D and prepping things for ABC, we’ve got a work force that’s running concurrently right about that second week. So that now requires us to have two fully functional integrated control rooms.
We’ve increased the central tape record area. We’ve now on‑lined two brand‑new sets to accommodate both networks independently and can also integrate and work between both networks based on our story and editorial narrative, which is a massive undertaking at the club.
We’ve brought some force into this thing at this point. Our edit suites, we now have three that are running 24 hours a day. We have a 3D control room on‑line, as well. And then to just help amplify that, we’ve had to increase our talent load, as well, because we will be servicing a heck of a number of hours, and as we often say, the video hospital never closes. We’re up and running all the time.
Q. This is to everybody. Guys, Wimbledon obviously is pretty much the crown jewel of tennis, and you guys have the opportunity now to do it with your style and put your moniker on it. What are some of the things that we’ll be seeing that will give us the ESPN style and brand to tennis?
JED DRAKE: Jamie, if you want to go, really what that comes down to is a signature heretofore, and what has led us through all the years now of our coverage of not just Wimbledon but of the other Slams. There are certain touchstones that we always emphasize, but I think in general I’ll let Jamie speak to the specifics. But in general, I think we just have a very intelligent broadcast that plays to a knowledgeable audience, that is incredibly intelligent in terms of ensuring that we do proper justice to documentation, that we don’t over exert ourselves into the presentation, that we give the event respect, context, and a level of intelligence ultimately that enlightens our viewers. But that’s just sort of around the fringes.
JAMIE REYNOLDS: I think you can quantify it in three categories. The first is when you’re involved in an event of this magnitude, coverage is what the coverage is of the match. As Jed said, we don’t get in the way of it. But there are three ingredients that enhance and amplify that coverage: The first is the voice, the branding, who are the identifiable figures, the personalities that we attach to it, so you have to start with a talent roster and look at the depth, magnitude and the résumés that our group brings to this event, and that’s the voice. That’s our identity.
The second level is the strategy with which we produce it. And when you look at the first week, we treat it very much like a golf tournament in that our goal is to get our viewers, our customers to the most important matches at the right time in a live environment rather than backing things up on tape. We have the ability to weave, to whip around, to run between courts and get invested in multiple story lines and pay them off properly because we’ve got the value of 10 hours to run with. So we can give you that full experience at home of what it’s like to be around the grounds Round 1, Round 2, Round 3, until the middle weekend.
The second week we take the strategy of getting invested in the matches. As you get farther down in the Round of 16 through the Quarters, Semifinals and Finals, that target approach is then amplified by the feature elements, the look, the feel, the grandeur of the event that we try to deliver the atmosphere of this event, giving it its just place, its just due, and give our audience the full experience of being here as if they were on Centre Court or at Court 1. So when you put those three elements together, the voices, the strategy and the focus, either in a whip‑around approach and then getting into a targeted approach, that defines the character of what we do.
Q. Jed, what does the addition of the exclusivity for Wimbledon mean in terms of the overall portfolio of ESPN? How does this sort of change the game for the network?
JED DRAKE: Well, that may be somewhat of a question for Jason because it’s more of a programming angle on this. But look, we’ve had a strategy for some time that says that we’re going to put together a portfolio of events that are at the highest level and really recognize their value, and when you look at tennis, it certainly is the case with Wimbledon and other championships, and we realize that it’s an important thing for our viewers, for our affiliates, that we have a portfolio with events at the highest possible level, and it speaks well to our brand.
I think over time, people have come to expect that from us, that they are going to see the most important events here. Certainly you can’t have everything. The test of time has shown in our industry that there’s not going to be one entity that’s going to have everything. But we certainly feel very strong and proud of what we have overall, and Wimbledon clearly is one of those at the very top of the list.
My gosh, I mean, for another network to have had this for 42 years and for us to take this on now for the next 12 at the very least is ‑‑ what can I say, it’s a really cool thing for this company and for us, and like I said, we are really excited about the opportunity.
JASON BERNSTEIN: I’d just amplify that, that our strategy is to deliver championship‑caliber content, and to crown champions on ESPN no doubt delivers value to our fans, our advertisers, our distributors and our other partners. Our ESPN tennis portfolio now is as strong as any service in the world, and we’re thrilled to be associated with the major brands and certainly the preeminent tennis event in the world, and part of the service of delivering every major tennis event in the world on an ESPN service, and that’s an honor for us, as is it being an honor to be able to distribute the Breakfast At Wimbledon program and showcase all that that moniker carries over the years and taking it in a new direction with the All England Club and being a part of the All England Club’s history with bringing the Wimbledon trophies to the U.S. for the first time ever this past weekend. It demonstrates the evolutionary nature of the All England Club’s perspective and where we’re going as a company with the sport.
Q. I know you have your multi screens on ESPN3, and I assume you’re doing the same thing on DirecTV with the multiple screens available. I’m wondering how you guys feel, is that maybe something in the future that may look to be expanded? Is that the way that maybe big events and golf and tennis best get presented is giving the viewer a choice of what they want to watch?
JASON BERNSTEIN: Yeah, from a programming perspective, absolutely. There may be times, as rare as they may be, that fans disagree with what the programming people put on the linear channel, so given that, we do believe when there’s so much content and so many matches and rounds of golf and players associated with these major marquee events, that we believe very much that fans should be able to access all the live content that’s made available, and that’s where Jamie and Jed, you guys can certainly elaborate as to how we do that and why that’s so important.
JAMIE REYNOLDS: Well, I think when you look at what we strive for in differentiating between the multiple streams, the multiple distribution, it goes back to the identity and how we produce, package, wrap, if you will, the experience between the multiple screens. At the end of the day, you want to be able to know that your customers, our audience, again, can have a different experience on any of those platforms, but at the end of the day, they’re still recognizing the content and the integrity of what we do for the event and the branding exercise. In many ways it goes to the same philosophy coincidentally that you’ll see between ESPN1 and ESPN2 on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday the second week and how we in many ways will focus E1, ESPN1, on Centre Court, while ESPN2 will be Court 1 specific, and what we’re calling the Grounds Pass Access to all the outer court matches.
So depending on your appetite of the day or your affinity for any of the players, you’ll know which network you want to invest in, if not bouncing back and forth between the experience. We’ll keep audiences on both sides of the house on the linear network in the know, if you will, or up to date of what happens in that live‑live moment, and if you want to invest in one match or the other, you have the latitude or ability to do that. And that experience then translates to what we do do through the rest of our digital platforms.
JASON BERNSTEIN: And I’d just add that sometimes life can get in the way of a good six‑hour final, and being able to take your ESPN with you to experience both life and the match is a good thing, and that’s one of the things that we know that we can do and that we’re pleased to be able to do here with the championships.
JED DRAKE: I think the thing that does get lost occasionally at particularly many of these majors is that the television courts that are accessible aren’t necessarily ‑‑ don’t always ‑‑ the best matches sometimes aren’t on televised courts, and in some ways we do end up in a zone where the best we can do is send an ENG or RF camera out to those courts to get bonus coverage, if you will, versus where the tournament and order of play has dictated those matches are.
Q. Showing every match and all that, is there any kind of disadvantage at all for West Coast viewers in the way the new setup will be?
JASON BERNSTEIN: From a programming perspective there’s an advantage in that the West Coast viewers will get the same thing that our East Coast viewers will see, and that’s been a departure from years past. Jamie, in terms of approach do you think it’ll be any different?
JAMIE REYNOLDS: No, I think that the tragedy is that it just requires you to get up a little bit earlier.
Q. Well, for some of us that might be a tragedy.
JAMIE REYNOLDS: No, but the beauty of being live‑live everywhere ‑‑ and again, tennis is a very polarizing sport, and the fans are passionate and ardent supporters of the sport, which is terrific. But I think as we discussed earlier in terms of the social gratification, if you will, of being in the know, either through text alerts, through online services, what have you, that dynamic is very frequent and urgent, and the tennis community is very committed to following those matches. Regardless of the time zone, regardless of where we are, we strive to maintain the integrity of that to deliver everything in real‑time.
Q. You talked about expanding the ESPN tennis portfolio. Is there any plan to expand it beyond the events it has now, which are pretty much only tournaments in the U.S. or Grand Slams? Any other matches or events around the world?
JASON BERNSTEIN: Well, our portfolio includes certainly the American‑based tournaments, but also across ESPN3 we carry every major tennis tournament in the world in the thousands and the 500s, as well as some WTA Premier events all season long, and then we do capitalize the season and put a period on the season on TV with both season‑ending championships, the men’s from London and the ladies from Istanbul. So we do believe we’ve got a very significant portfolio on television and perhaps the largest tennis portfolio online.
Q. Could you ever understand the non‑live broadcast going on the last few years that would cause such an uproar out here? And also, do you see a story line ‑‑ and maybe this isn’t your bailiwick, but do you see a story line developing that includes the Olympics this year because the Olympics are at Wimbledon, and will you follow it?
JASON BERNSTEIN: The question is can we understand the non‑live offering?
JASON BERNSTEIN: I think fans have required live, and that’s what we’re determined to deliver. The reality of the situation is that other networks over the years have had other commitments, and to defend it is for them to do. But we know that serving fans live content is what they’ve craved, and in some aspects we’ve been associated with that given the rights that we’ve had in the past few years, and to Jed’s point earlier in the call, just by mere association, but it hasn’t been our issue. It’s been our goal to ensure live matches are delivered to fans, and we make no bones about that.
Q. As a sports network could you ever imagine not televising a sporting event live?
JASON BERNSTEIN: Very hard to do. Given the expanded nature of social media, the immediate need of fans and the importance of the here and now, it is very difficult to ever imagine how we could take a world‑class event and deliver it on tape.
Q. Because the Olympics are at Wimbledon, do you think there will be a story line this year at Wimbledon surrounding the Olympics and will you guys be following that?
JAMIE REYNOLDS: Yes, we will, and it’s unique because the All England Club has that duality right now of their game plus being host in three weeks’ time to the Olympics. We do have some stories working on candidly the recovery of the grass, the venue, of how to prep the venue to be an Olympic base in that short turnaround, so there’s certainly that kind of stress, if you will, on the duality of the club. We’ll be following that.
But even on the editorial side, the players on the teams that have been announced and the fact that we have Mary Joe Fernandez on our roster, who’s coach of the U.S. team, there’s certainly some insight there and opportunity to look at how the U.S. if not the world will do, and certainly with guys like Patrick McEnroe or Darren and Brad, certainly opinionated folks relative to what that Olympic experience is all about. Yes, we do plan on delving into that as it affects this tennis community.
Q. On the same kind of line, whether you could ever imagine a sports network carrying something tape delayed, what kind of thoughts do you have about the way NBC still runs the Olympics and presents them?
JASON BERNSTEIN: From my perspective I’d rather not make this an NBC or an ESPN thing as much as this is a fan thing, and fans deserve live coverage, and we’re obviously honored to be a part of delivering live coverage here and in a way that it hasn’t been done before. And we think that whether the event is Wimbledon, the Australian Open or the Euro Championships, fans are way too smart and way too savvy to accept anything other than live.