ESPN Preps for NBA Season With Enhanced Connectivity Between Arenas, Bristol

ESPN returns to the hardwood on Tuesday night to tip off its coverage of the NBA regular season, the last in its current rights deal before its massive new agreement takes effect next season. ABC and ESPN will combine to televise 90 games this season, including a new eight-game NBA Saturday Night on ABC package beginning in January. The networks will once again roll out a host of high-tech tools and workflows, including increased connectivity to ESPN’s Bristol, CT, headquarters via The Switch.

NBA-ESPN-Logo“Our transmission schemes are getting more complex this season in order to allow us better access to Bristol,” says Wendell Grigely, coordinating director, event operations, ESPN. “We are utilizing The Switch as our transmission provider in all our NBA venues, which gives us the high bandwidth we need for bidirectional feeds both to and from Bristol while onsite.”

This season, ESPN will send iso feeds, the program feed, and other content to Bristol and receive return feeds via The Switch’s fiber network at every NBA arena. This allows the onsite production team to instantly feed content to Bristol for quick-turnaround highlight packages and other pieces to be integrated into the telecast. As the season progresses, ESPN plans to send content for high-end analysis tools available only in Bristol.

“There are some other technologies that, down the road, we will likely be using more with this [workflow],” says Grigely. “This will eventually allow us to use [specialty production tools] efficiently several times in one evening [for] multiple games or across multiple sports.”

ESPN will also continue to use Aspera and Signiant file transfer to speed the process of sending postgame melts to Bristol. The network also uses the NBA’s HSAN (high-speed arena network) to send video for official review to the NBA Replay Center in Secaucus, NJ.

Juggling Trucks During a Busy Season
ESPN will be housed in a mix of Game Creek Video and NEP mobile units this season, with six primary trucks working the majority of the 90-game slate.

“In the first two months, we have about four games per week,” says Grigely. “This time of year is always difficult because we have college football every weekend and so much going on in addition to NBA, but we try to stay as consistent as possible in the trucks we utilize.”

Come 2016, thanks to the new Saturday Night NBA on ABC package, ABC and ESPN will televise NBA games four days a week (Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday) January-April, including three in primetime. ABC previously aired doubleheaders on Sundays as part of its NBA Sunday Showcase and will now air one exclusive game on Saturday nights and one on Sunday afternoons. Meanwhile, ESPN will continue to televise weekly primetime doubleheaders on Wednesdays and Fridays.

“The only difference [with Saturday Night NBA on ABC games] will be that you’re in primetime so you have a little more time that day to get set up,” says Grigely. “From the standpoint of facilities and [equipment] levels, it will be about the same as we have on Sunday-afternoon games.”

Camera Highlights: Sony HDC-4300, Grass Valley LDX 86
ESPN deploys between seven and 13 cameras on its NBA productions, depending on the matchup. The network continues to use Sony HDC-3300 3X slo-mos at all games and will add Grass Valley LDX 86 6X slo-mos in a robotic configuration above the rim and behind the glass for higher-profile games.

“They were able to provide the Grass Valley LDX 86 in a box-camera form that we use on the above-the-rim and through-the-glass robos,” says Grigely. “We used it a lot during the playoffs, and we will use those during the season because it has been successful and everyone loves that shot.”

ESPN also debuted Sony HDC-4300s on its NBA Playoffs coverage last season and plans to use the 8X slo-mo (4K-capable) camera when it’s available for regular-season coverage this year.

From left: Sage Steele, Doug Collins, and Jalen Rose on the NBA Countdown set

From left: Sage Steele, Doug Collins, and Jalen Rose on the NBA Countdown set

“It will depend on the truck we have on a given game, since some of the trucks are running with the Sony 4300s on board right now,” says Grigely. “We did have success with the 4300 in the playoffs, and we will certainly try to take advantage of those cameras more as we get into the season.”

ESPN will also bring back its “wired-for-sound” audio package, outfitting willing coaches, players, and refs with wireless microphones provided by Quantum5X through Bexel.

NBA Countdown Back at LAPC
Sage Steel, Jalen Rose, and Doug Collins return for their third season on ESPN’s NBA Countdown pregame show, which will emanate from ESPN’s Los Angeles Production Center (LAPC) across the street from STAPLES Center for the fifth consecutive year. Newcomer Chauncey Billups joins the party on Wednesday editions alongside Rose and Doris Burke (now in her second season on Countdown).