NBA All-Star Weekend: Inside the Technology With Turner Sports’ Tom Sahara

Tom Sahara oversees many major sports productions throughout the year for Turner Sports — the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, Major League Baseball’s postseason, the NBA playoffs, major golf and auto-racing events — but he won’t hesitate to tell you that the most difficult and complex event to produce is the NBA’s All-Star Weekend in New Orleans.

With three straight nights of major events from the Rising Stars Game to the Dunk Contest to the All-Star Game itself, Turner Sports and NBA Entertainment teamed up with a massive production compound (18 trucks, including A and B units and temporary office facilities), all of which needs to be tightly integrated to handle simultaneous productions.

In taking a major step to streamline the process, Turner developed its own storage area network to connect the compound’s EVS network and to establish a direct IP link to the Turner Broadcasting Center in Atlanta.

“It gives us tremendous flexibility,” says Sahara, Turner’s VP of operations and technology. “We can quickly transfer content in and out of our studio and have access to our library.”

The Present and Future of RF
Between cameras and miked-up players, RF technology was deployed all over the All-Star Game.

More than 400 channels of RF were coordinated by Turner inside the Smoothie King Center throughout the weekend, and that’s just for microphones and internal communications and does not include any cameras, WiFi, etc.

Staggering numbers indeed, but the fact of the matter is, it could become more and more difficult to accomplish these types of productions pending rulings on the incentive auctions.

“Incentive auctions have been a major topic of conversation around here,” says Sahara. “We may lose much of the valuable spectrum that we use for these types of events. We’ve been very careful about documenting what we have so that we can present a good case in any future study of how we utilize the spectrum. And now with the Spectrum Database, we’re certainly aware that all of the frequencies have to be entered and coordinated. There’s a lot of focus on making sure that is done properly.”

freeD Makes Hoops Debut
One of the highlights of the weekend’s coverage was the first basketball implementation of the rapidly growing 360-degree replay server, freeD, developed by Israel-based Replay Technologies.

Turner proposed its use and approached the league for approval.

“Being that it’s such a different look and something that really has never been done in basketball, we had to seek league approval, and, when the league saw it, they were very excited about it,” says Sahara. “They’ve hopped on board with it. It’s been a really good collaboration on taking a new technology and working through the development.”

With approval, Turner worked with the Smoothie King Center and took three weeks to install the system for All-Star Weekend. Unlike in Yankee Stadium and AT&T Stadium, the first two U.S. installations, this is a temporary installation of the freeD system and is being taken down following the All-Star Game.

Sahara says it’s not something a broadcaster would want to bring in for a single game, but an extended, multi-event stay makes it worth the installation. He also hints that Turner will possibly look into using it at the Final Four — at AT&T Stadium, which conveniently already has the freeD system in place.