NBA All-Star Weekend: freeD, On-Court Steadicam Highlight Turner Sports’ High-Tech Showcase

As another ice storm pounded Atlanta this week, Turner Sports was already ahead of the game. Not able to afford to let Mother Nature get in the way, production teams moved out early and have been in New Orleans all week, hard at work preparing for one of the broadcaster’s marquee events, NBA All-Star Weekend.

NBA-All-Star-2014-logoTurner Sports will carry live coverage of the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge (Friday, 9 p.m. ET), State Farm All-Star Saturday Night (Saturday, 8:30 p.m.), including the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest, and the 63rd NBA All-Star Game (Sunday, 8 p.m.) on TNT.

With a production compound housing five HD mobile-production trucks and the court inside the newly named Smoothie King Center surrounded by nearly 70 cameras, this year’s show promises to be one of the most high-tech yet.

“This is one of our tent poles, there’s no question,” says Craig Barry, SVP, production/executive creative director, Turner Sports. “It’s a celebration not only for the fans and the league but for us as a chance to not only broadcast championship sports but as an entertainment network. We really straddle that line so we like to throw everything at it. It’s a big weekend for us.”

One of the major tech enhancements to be on the lookout for this weekend will be Turner Sports’ implementation of the innovative 360-degree replay system, freeD. A full installation of the complex video-image–stitching technology required Turner Sports to work in cooperation with the NBA, the New Orleans Pelicans franchise, and the Smoothie King Center to station 22 small, 5K robotic cameras in a perimeter around the arena’s second level.

Although the freeD system will be used throughout the weekend, Barry is especially excited to see it in action during Saturday night’s Dunk Contest.

“It’s going to provide these really spectacular replays,” he says. “It’s great short-form content for us that we’ll be able to send out socially and digitally for NBA.com and NBA TV. It’s unique and exclusive authentic content.”

Israel-based Replay Technologies hit it big in 2013 with freeD deployed as part of NBC Sunday Night Football games at AT&T Stadium and YES Network’s New York Yankees home-game telecasts, but this marks the first installation for a real-time basketball application in the U.S.

For the All-Star Game on Sunday, Turner will also use some valuable RF tools to offer a new level of insider access. According to Barry, upwards of 10 players will wear wireless RF mics, and an RF Steadicam provided by Aerial Video Systems (AVS) will be all over the action, with the operator granted never-before-seen access to the floor during the game.

“The Steadicam should bring us unprecedented access around the court, in the huddles, around the free throws,” says Barry. “He’ll be pretty mobile.”

Former NBA stars Grant Hill and Chris Weber will also be embedded on the East and West benches, interacting with players and conducting interviews, and Kobe Bryant will make a guest appearance in the broadcast booth at some point during the game.

Besides the 22 cameras deployed for freeD, Turner will fill the arena with 45 cameras for game and on-site studio coverage, including 16 hard and handheld cameras, three robotics, the Steadicam, one ultra-mo, four super-slo-mo, and two robotic super-slo-mos behind the glass.

The on-site Inside the NBA studio set, which will be used for play-by-play of Saturday night’s action and for pre- and post-game shows on Sunday, has seven cameras of its own, two of which are jibs.

Turner will also be responsible for the in-venue videoboard show, as well as for the typically spectacular pregame introductions and halftime show. That entertainment unit has nine hard cameras and one robotic.

In the production compound outside the arena, five HD trucks are ready to go. NEP Supershooter 24 will handle the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday night and the All-Star Game on Sunday night. Saturday night’s skills festivities will be run out of NCP 10, and the Inside the NBA studio show will originate from NCP 11.

Turner Sports also has its own production trucks on hand, with TS1 serving as the “entertainment truck” directing pregame intros and halftime concerts. TS2 will program the center-hung videoboard inside Smoothie King Center.

SVG will be reporting live from NBA’s All-Star Weekend in New Orleans throughout the weekend. Check back at ww.sportsvideo.org and on Twitter @sportsvideo for continued updates and looks behind the scenes of the big production.