ESPN Converts to All-MPEG-4, Phases Out MPEG-2

Looking to cut down on satellite transit
costs, ESPN is converting to all MPEG-4
distribution effective June 30 — dropping
the four MPEG-2 simulcasts of its HD
services to become one of the first programmers
to phase out the older compression
format altogether.

The sports programmer said 98% of affiliates have
signed on for the switchover at this point and expects
all of those to be equipped before the June 30 deadline.

Video encoded in MPEG-4 requires roughly half the
bandwidth as MPEG-2. But most set-top boxes currently
deployed by cable operators are capable of decoding
only MPEG-2, which means ESPN’s cable affiliates
must install receivers that can automatically transcode
the video into MPEG-2 for delivery over
the cable plant.

ESPN is supplying Motorola DSR-6100
integrated receiver/decoders to eligible
affiliates, which provides HD outputs in
MPEG-4 or MPEG-2 and a downconverted SD output
in MPEG-2.

Currently the Motorola IRDs are live and being used
with 40% of affiliate sites, according to Lori LeBas, senior
vice president of strategy and business operations
for Disney and ESPN Affiliate Sales and Marketing.

All of ESPN’s HD services now are delivered in
MPEG-4 over satellite, including ESPN, ESPN2,
ESPNU, ESPNews and ESPN Deportes.

ESPN began the transition in July 2010 by converting
systems previously using analog VideoCipher II for
ESPN and ESPN2 located on Intelsat’s Galaxy 14 satellite.
Th rough Motorola, the programmer began distributing
the new IRDs to cable affiliates in March 2011.

Other programmers have introduced MPEG-4 feeds,
including HBO, Showtime Networks, Starz Entertainment,
MTV Networks and Turner Broadcasting System.
However, they have continued to offer most of
their services in MPEG-2, particularly SD versions, for
cable affiliates.