'College Football Countdown' on ABC goes HD

College Football Countdown, the ESPN-produced studio show that airs on ABC Saturday afternoons before its 3:30 pm college-football telecasts, is moving to high-definition this season starting with this Saturday’s broadcast.

 The shift to 720-line progressive (720p) HD production coincides with moving the pre-game show from ABC’s West 66th St. headquarters to Disney’s Times Square Studios on 44th and Broadway in New York, which is already the home to Good Morning America’s HD broadcasts.

College Football Countdown had actually been produced out of the Times Square facility back in 2000, but moved to a studio at 66th St. as ABC consolidated some resources there. ESPN producers were eager to take Countdown to HD this season to keep up with ESPN’s studios shows out of Bristol, Ct., but the HD facilities at 66th St. are busy now that ABC News has taken World News and other news programs to HD.

  So the production of Countdown has gone back to Times Square, which has an available HD studio on the first floor and corresponding control room, along with much better fiber-optic connectivity to high-definition editing facilities located in Bristol which are used to create highlight packages.

Countdown will be produced out of Control Room A at Times Square, which features a Sony production switcher, Calrec Sigma audio console and a Miranda monitor wall system. ESPN production staff has enhanced the control room with the addition of a Quantel server, which links via fiber to ESPN’s massive Quantel-based highlights operation in Bristol, as well as Vizrt graphics and two EVS X2 replay servers.

 The transmission links with Bristol include 10 southbound hi-def feeds and two northbound HD feeds, along with associated data for the Quantel system. ESPN has also improved its RVON intercom connectivity with both Bristol and 66th St., which still serves as the master-control hub for all the games airing on the ABC network.

 “We’ve set up full connectivity back to Bristol, and we’re doing everything server-based,” says Bill Graff, senior coordinating producer for ESPN. “Because we have much better incoming feeds, we can cut all the highlights in HD and access the server directly at Times Square.”

 ESPN began bringing in new gear to Times Square for Countdown, which is hosted by John Saunders, Craig James and Doug Flutie, about six weeks ago. It had its first rehearsal in the new studio last Saturday, with further rehearsals yesterday and today.