For the HEAT Group, Third Time’s the Charm at NBA Finals

When your team has appeared in three consecutive NBA Finals, praise comes with the territory. But Ted Ballard and his HEAT Group video-production team have not been resting on their laurels during the Miami Heat’s postseason run this year: the HEAT Group is once again delivering a wealth of Heat-focused pre- and post-game programming to its rabid South Florida fan base via HEATV on HEAT.com and Sun Sports, the Fox-owned RSN.

“Every year, it has gotten a little bigger and a little better,” says Ballard, executive director of broadcasting, HEAT Group. “We have learned a lot [the past two years], and, as a result, everything is running amazingly smoothly with a very similar framework to what we have used in the past.”

For the third year, the HEAT Group has produced live one-hour pre- and post-game shows for every home and away game since the beginning of the Heat’s second-round series (against the Chicago Bulls). The studio shows are produced out of the on-site studio at AmericanAirlines Arena used for regular-season Fox Sports Florida studio shows. Both pre- and post-game shows appear on HEATV on HEAT.com, and Sun Sports simulcasts the post-game show.

A TriCaster To Call Their Own
While the HEAT Group productions are once again built around a NewTek TriCaster 850, this marks the first year that Ballard and company have purchased an in-house TriCaster system, rather than obtaining one from the league. TriCaster is used in conjunction with a Sony IXS6600 studio router (32×32) and a Sony IXS6700 control-room router (112×119) to deliver broadcast-quality pre- and post-game shows. In addition, the HEAT Group has integrated Chyron Duet graphics and the NBA’s real-time stats platform with the TriCaster.

“[Having] our own TriCaster that we can leave loaded and tinker with is only going to allow us to do more things,” says Ballard. “We are doing everything that we would be able to do in a [traditional] production environment. And we have pushed the envelope this year with the green-screen virtual-animation sets with the TriCaster.”

The studio set uses two Sony PMWEX1 camcorders, but the HEAT Group also has access to a wealth of resources through the AmericanAirlines videoboard production, including six arena cameras (Sony HDC1400s), a Link Research (a Vislink company) wireless RF cameras, and a variety of handhelds and POV cameras. The in-arena production crew also shoots the postgame press conferences for the HEAT Group.

“We coordinate so we have access to all the different arena cameras, but, at any given time, we don’t use more than two,” says Ballard. “Then we use the RF and handhelds to show the crowd and the players getting ready, as well as for our talent to do hits in and around the arena. We are trying to capture the flavor of the buildup to a game.”

The Heat Group also uses two Avid Media Composer workstations.

On the Road in San Antonio
As for road games, Senior Director of Broadcast Services Ed Filomia leads a five-person team (himself, two talent, and two videographers/editors) equipped with two Sony XDCAM PDW700 camcorders to capture practices, shoot-arounds, interviews, and live reports from the AT&T Center in San Antonio (and Chicago and Indianapolis before that).

The HEAT group then deploys a trio of transmission strategies to deliver the abundance of content it is producing from San Antonio to Miami. During the pre- and post-game shows, live standups and other content are delivered via Level 3’s Vyvx content-distribution network.

During the rest of the day, however, the HEAT Group uses the NBA’s High-Speed Arena Network (HSAN) and a Teradek Cube encoder/decoder to send back produced pieces and other ENG content. The Teradek Cube transmits an HD-SDI signal over IP to Miami, delivering a wealth of ENG content without the need for an expensive fiber pipe.

Captioning Issues Take Hold
This year’s Finals marks the first of the Heat’s three trips to fall under the new FCC-mandated closed-captioning regulations (which took effect in March), which require all live or near-live online programming to be captioned if it is also shown on television. This means a whole new series of challenges for the HEAT Group.

“Because we are simulcasting on Sun Sports,” says Ballard, “we had the NBA rewrite all the code, and we had to enlist the services of a captioning group, Colorado Captioning. Javier Caballero [manager, broadcast services, the HEAT Group] worked out this great open-source captioning solution so that now our postgame shows are captioned accordingly. We thought it was going to be a pain, but it ended up being very simple thanks to that solution.”

Finally, an ROI
While the HEAT Group has elevated itself into the league leaders in video production — thanks largely two three long playoff campaigns with HEATV on HEAT.com — it has finally begun seeing some serious return on all its hard work.

“We are at a point now where our sponsors are incorporated and have such a branded presence in our shows,” says Ballard. “We now have five significant sponsors that are part of our program, and they get great exposure. Before, we generally only had one or two sponsors, but now it has become a great visible asset for our organization and on par with any other television property.”