ESPN Tips Off NBA Coverage With New Faces, Enhanced Technology

While the revamped talent lineup for ESPN’s NBA Countdown studio show has dominated the headlines going into the network’s 11th season covering NBA basketball, there is also no shortage of technical enhancements for ESPN’s hard-court coverage, including a new studio set, the addition of an ultra-slo-mo camera shooting through the glass backboard, and a redesigned animations package.

“We’re very excited to get back at it,” says Tim Corrigan, senior coordinating producer, ESPN. “Last year was very challenging [due to the NBA lockout, but we benefited because it seemed like there was a blockbuster game or even multiple blockbuster games on every night. I think that built interest across the board, and you saw the ratings benefit as a result. And we think we can continue that momentum this year.”

NBA Countdown: A New Home for New Faces
Blogger/podcaster/outspoken NBA enthusiast Bill Simmons and former NBA All-Star Jalen Rose will join Hall of Famer Magic Johnson and columnist Mike Wilbon on ESPN’s Kia NBA Countdown studio show this year.

“The show is going to have a different feel with a couple new characters,” says Corrigan.  “It will be very social-media–minded as well, since Bill and Jalen both have strong followings. It will be an interesting roundtable debate that is a continuation of what it was but with a new cast.”

Later this year, the quartet will receive the Christmas Day gift of a brand-new studio just down the hall from the current Countdown studio at ESPN’s Los Angeles Broadcast Center. The set will boast a redesigned look, bigger footprint, and the addition of several interactive monitors that the hosts can use to break down the action on and off the floor.

“As the set is being built out now, we are designing new graphics for it and picking out spots for standups,” says Corrigan. “You don’t want this to be a gimmick. You need to be able to smartly interact with the set because it benefits the overall production.”

Behind the Board
Last year during the NBA regular season, ESPN held a Tech Week sponsored by Cisco, in which it experimented with a variety of new technologies and production techniques. One of the highlights was the use of an I-MOVIX ultra-slow-motion camera shooting through the glass backboard for basketball coverage. ESPN was so impressed with this angle that it deployed the I-MOVIX in that spot for the first time on the biggest NBA stage possible: the Finals.

This year, ESPN plans to use this camera for selected high-profile regular-season games and regularly during the playoffs.

“That I-MOVIX through-the-backboard shot created a tone of memorable images in the NBA Finals,” says Corrigan. “It is obviously not something that we are going to be able to do on a weekly basis, but we are going to pinpoint some games during the regular season to include that in our coverage. And same goes for the postseason.”

ESPN, which deploys anywhere from a dozen to 20 cameras for regular-season NBA games, will roll out a larger complement of super-slo-mo cameras throughout the regular season on a game-by-game basis.

The Zebra Stripe Perspective
Also returning after a debut in the postseason last year will be long-time NBA ref Steve Javie, who will provide an official’s perspective for ESPN’s coverage throughout the season — à la Fox’s use of Mike Pereira for its NFL coverage.

Although Corrigan does not expect to use Javie much during live telecasts, he sees the recently retired ref as a regular part of ESPN’s multiplatform coverage.

“It is a little trickier in our game than in the NFL to do [live analysis with Javie],” says Corrigan. “We have discussed that and will experiment with how we want to utilize him this season. But we will have access to him throughout the regular season, so he will be seen on SportsCenter, during live broadcasts, taped segments, and across all the different platforms ESPN can offer.”

New Animations, Same Old Reliable Trucks
NBA fans can expect a revamped animations package for ESPN coverage, with a more “in-your-face” look to it, according to Corrigan.

“It is a bolder, heavier 3D treatment on the team logos and the ESPN and NBA logos,” he says. “It seems bigger to me, and I think it is a much stronger presentation with a lot more feel to it.”

Although the animations may be new, the mobile units rolling out to the NBA sites will be the same Game Creek Video and NEP trucks ESPN has come to rely on over the past decade.

“We work very closely with Game Creek and NEP from the start of our season all the way through the Finals,” says Corrigan. “Fortunately, we have done so much business with them over the years that they can anticipate what we are going to need before we even ask for it a lot of the time.”