TNT Gifts NBA Fans with Marquee Matchups and Playoff Mentality

After an offseason marked by marathon negotiating sessions and seemingly endless uncertainty, the NBA returns this Sunday.  TNT tips off the 2011-12 season on Christmas Day, delivering basketball-starved fans the gift of a marquee matchup between the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks.

Turner Sports, in its 28th season of NBA coverage, will broadcast a total of 45 games on TNT throughout the lockout-shortened regular season.  Despite the pervasive will-they-or-won’t-they mentality plaguing the past few months, when the players and owners reached a tentative deal in the early hours of November 26, the network was ready.

“We kind of went about our preparation thinking that the lockout could end at any moment,” says Renardo Lowe, senior director, sports production, Turner Sports, “so it wasn’t the mad scramble that probably some people think it might have been.”

This season, Turner Sports maintained a similar timeframe as years past: when the MLB postseason ends, NBA preparation begins.

“We were able to get probably 90% of that [normal preparation] done,” says Lowe. “The only thing that we could not do [was finish our graphics package], because a lot of our graphics package is matchup based [and we had to wait] until we had a solid schedule. But we had to go about our prep because they could have settled at any moment and the season could have started.

Whole Screen, Whole Story
Compounding the graphics-creation process was Turner Sports’ decision to convert to the 16:9 widescreen format, and downconvert using the letterbox for SD consumers. However, for Turner Sports, the challenge of expanding the graphics package to widescreen is well worth it for the ability to better capture the game using the entire screen.

“[16:9] allows the cameraman to tell the story in framing [and] in shot composition,” says Lowe. “It’s so important, especially when you’re telling the story of the game as far as covering the basics: basket, no basket, did the clock expire, was that a foul, not a foul, whose possession is it?”

Turner Sports will roll out a 10-camera complement for its TNT broadcasts, occasionally supplemented with an additional camera trained on specific players or coaches wearing microphones.

“We’ve [miced players] in the past with varying degrees of success,” says Lowe, “but we’re also making a focus to do that more this year.”

On the broadband side, Turner Sports’ TNT OverTime on NBA.com will feature enhanced live streaming, which will provide users with an HD-quality experience, DVR functionality, and alternate camera angles for TNT games. Fans can also vote on a quarter-by-quarter basis throughout each game on which players should be followed with a robotic camera.

Opportunity Knocks
TNT’s Christmas Day coverage begins with a special hour-long preview show, TNT NBA Tip-Off presented by AutoTrader.com, at 11 a.m. ET, followed TNT’s exclusive coverage of the Celtics-Knicks at noon.

“We look forward to another highly anticipated NBA season getting underway on TNT with a fantastic matchup on Christmas Day and two great doubleheaders during opening week,” says David Levy, president of sales, distribution and sports, Turner Broadcasting System.  “With a schedule featuring marquee doubleheaders and multiple appearances by some of the league’s most prominent teams, combined with our roster of talented and experienced announcers and analysts, TNT will once again be a weekly destination for fans, players, and coaches during the NBA regular season.”

Because of the shortened schedule, TNT has increased its programming slate beyond the usual Thursday-night matchups of years past.  This year’s schedule includes several Monday and Tuesday night doubleheaders in addition to the Thursday-night doubleheader.

“It’s probably closer to how we go about our playoff coverage,” comments Lowe.

The shortened schedule has also caused TNT to lose the near-exclusivity of its Thursday night broadcasts; a change that Lowe believes will actually add to the studio show.

“There’ll be more highlights, more live look-ins to the games,” Lowe says. “I think this year, we will get a chance to touch on more storylines and more teams than the top tier teams that usually make it on our national broadcast.”

The network also will air more than 40 NBA playoff games including exclusive coverage of the conference semi-finals and the Western Conference Finals.

This season, the NBA on TNT’s roster of NBA announcers includes Marv Albert (play-by-play), Kevin Harlan (play-by-play), five-time NBA Champion Steve Kerr (analyst), four-time All-Star Reggie Miller (analyst), former NBA coach Mike Fratello (analyst), David Aldridge (reporter), Basketball Hall of Famer Cheryl Miller (reporter), and Craig Sager (reporter).

Four-time NBA Champion and 15-time All Star Shaquille O’Neal will make his TNT debut alongside Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, and Kenny Smith for TNT’s studio show.

Stay Tuned for All-Star Weekend
TNT will serve as the exclusive home for NBA All-Star 2012, from Feb. 24-26.  TNT is slated to broadcast NBA All-Star Friday, NBA All-Star Saturday, and the 2012 NBA All-Star Game in Orlando.

“All-Star weekend is one of our signature events for Turner Sports, so we’re always looking to do something new and innovative,” says Lowe, “and the NBA is very good about allowing us to test new technologies and come up with new concepts. I’m sure we’ll have something to announce as we get closer to All-Star weekend.”