NBA Season Tip-Off: Turner Sports Refines NBA Coverage

Turner Sports is wasting no time getting into midseason NBA form, beginning the 2014-15 season tonight with a doubleheader matchup: the San Antonio Spurs vs. the Dallas Mavericks followed by the Houston Rockets vs. the Los Angeles Lakers. And, according to Tom Sahara, VP of operations and production technology, Turner Sports, the network is once again refining the production to give viewers more insight into the game, the players, and the personalities.

One new piece of technology that will be put to use is the Grass Valley LDX XtremeSpeed 6X camera, offering up to six times slow-motion playback as well as a simultaneous live output.

“We’re still pretty new to it and getting comfortable with it, but what we saw during the MLB postseason was that it allows us to expand the story of the game,” Sahara says. “We can slow down critical points and times within the game and break down the nuances that the players make seem so easy but that, within hundredths of a second, are really a super-human feat. So we’re excited about it.”

Three of the cameras will be used for each game and will replace non–high-speed handhelds previously used around the court.

“A big plus is that the cameras can be used as regular cameras as well, so we get dual use out of it,” he explains. On selected games. Sony HDC3300 high-speed cameras will also be mounted behind the backboard glass to give an additional slow-motion perspective.

“When super-slo-mo is involved, even in this age of replay, you get a much clearer look as to what is going on,” says Albert “Scooter” Vertino, SVP of programming/GM of NBA Digital, Turner Sports. “The emotion of the game is first and foremost, and it’s vital to show that, as the fans are on top of the game and it is so intimate. It’s not like football, where you can’t see the player’s face.”

Bringing fans closer to the action also involves audio, and a new version of Quantum5X wireless player microphones will be used.

“The NBA continues to work with us on that. It is a process we continue to refine as it is a great way to bring fans into the game,” says Sahara. “And the players understand that it is a good way for them to get some additional face time, so players are embracing it as well.”

Player mics aren’t the only way Turner Sports and the NBA are working together. Arenas like the Staples Center in Los Angeles, for example, have made the move to LED lighting so Turner and the league are working together to make sure color balance and the lighting are even across the entire court. Possible flicker on slow-motion replays and even digital still cameras is also being addressed.

“Some arenas have also put in new sound systems,” Sahara adds. “We are working with the NBA on creating the right environment so there is good audio in the arena and also on TV.”

4K Is Not on the Agenda
One trend that won’t be part of the Turner Sports plans is the use of 4K cameras to provide a super zoom and extract an HD-resolution image.

“The current 4K cameras have too shallow a depth of field: when you focus on one side of the court, the other side is out of focus,” he explains. “And, when you have to follow the action around, you haven’t gained anything.”

The ability to zoom in and see whether a football player was in or out of bounds or a baseball player beat a tag has become an important tool for coverage of those sports, but the new replay system being put in place by the NBA undermines the need for 4K. That system will require the NBA facility in Secaucus, NJ, to access multiple camera signals and then evaluate the best angles before allowing the referee in the arena to make the final call.

“We’re better off giving the fans a better understanding of the replay process and how the official came to a decision,” adds Sahara.

He believes that the new replay system will speed up the game while also allowing the producer and replay operators to not have to scramble to assemble video for the referee.

“It’s going to be a big improvement for everything,” says Sahara.

Support for the Analyst Team
Anyone who has tuned into Turner Sports NBA coverage knows that TNT’s Inside the NBA is the current sports equivalent of “must-see TV” as analysts Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, and Shaquille O’Neal have developed a rapport that is arguably second to none.

Tim Kiely, VP, production/executive producer, Turner Sports, says his goal is to give the analyst team the technology to augment its analysis. “That’s the ultimate goal: to line these guys up, roll the ball, and let the pins go flying.”

From a technology perspective, one of the highlights of the analysis is when Kenny Smith steps in front of a massive video wall to analyze plays.

“It wasn’t meant to be used for anything but graphics so it’s a case of, the greatest things are accidents,” says Kiely. “We were kicking around ideas for how to use the screen, and I asked director Steve Fiorello how video would look, and he said we can do it. The cool thing is, Kenny can analyze a play without having to do a lot of circling: he can just point to [the players] on the screen.”

With the Western Conference continuing to be the stronger of the two conferences and Lebron James taking his talents back to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the season promises to have plenty of storylines and great moments. The team at Turner Sports will be ready.

“When you look at our hierarchy with Lenny Daniels as president and Craig Barry as SVP of production and executive creative director,” says Vertino, “we have two former directors who appreciate how the show looks in the truck, and they are willing to up the ante.”

With the Western Conference continuing to be the stronger of the two conferences and Lebron James taking his talents back to Cleveland Cavaliers the season promises to have plenty of storylines and great moments. The team at Turner Sports will be ready.

“When you look at our hierarchy with both Lenny Daniels as president and Craig Barry as SVP of production and executive creative director we have two former directors who appreciate how the show looks in the truck and they are willing to up the ante,” says Vertino.