Turner Sports, ESPN, and NBA TV Gear Up for NBA Playoffs

by Jason Dachman, Chief Editor, and Karen Hogan, Senior Editor

The Golden State Warriors record-breaking 73rd win and Kobe Bryant’s epic 60-point finale sent the NBA regular season off in style on Wednesday. Now, Turner Sports, ESPN, and NBA TV are gearing up for what promises to be a memorable NBA Playoffs run chock full of drama on the court and cutting-edge technology behind-the-scenes.

nbaplayoffsTurner Takes High-Speed Camera Complement to Warp Speed
Turner Sports will televise more than 40 NBA Playoff games – the most of any network – kicking off on Sunday with a tripleheader less than two weeks after televising its first ever NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship Game.

“It’s a big puzzle with a lot of moving pieces, but we just take it in stride after doing it so many years,” says Tom Sahara, VP, Operations and Technology, Turner Sports. “Our NBA [operation] doesn’t stop during the [NCAA Men’s Basketball] tournament, so that machine continues to operate. We typically use a different set of resources when it comes down to trucks, cameras, and hardware. So we are ready to go for Playoffs and very excited about the Warriors and some of the big stories this year.”

As it does every year, Turner will significantly increase its high-speed camera complement as the Playoffs progress. Primarily relying on Sony HDC-4300 cameras, Turner will roll out two high-frame-rate cameras in the first round, three in the Conference Semifinals, and then a six in the deciding games of those series and all Western Conference Finals games.

“We continue to use a proven formula focused on [additional] high-frame-rate cameras,” says Sahara. “[The Sony HDC-4300 camera] has become a proven, reliable camera because it matches very well with the other cameras, while still having the high-frame rate feature. Typically, we run them at 6x [slo-mo] because of the EVS [replay system limitations], but when we have the the latest generation of EVS XT3 [replay systems] then we can use the 8x – and we use that very selectively in the broadcast.”

Turner will also deploy robotic cameras placed above each backboard and a “steady cam” that will capture close-up shots, along with visuals from player warm-ups used during the studio shows. Sahara and company will also outfit players with Quantum5X microphones whenever possible for its signature Mic’d Up segments and continue to find new ways to capture the ambiance and audio action on the court.

“Giving the fans the inside view of what coaches are talking about on the sidelines and how the team members interact is really key to our [telecasts], so we put a lot of effort into providing fans with that viewpoint,” says Sahara. “We also continue to look at ways to enhance the audio around the baskets and on the court using enhanced placements of microphones. We’re trying to bring a lot of that on-court presence home so that viewers feel that they’re deeply engaged in the game.”

Back in the Inside the NBA studio in Atlanta, Turner will continue to explore the 3D and virtual graphics feature set of Ross Video’s Xpression character generator to introduce key game and player match-ups. Also on hand in the Studio will be Turner’s Avid (previously Orad) PowerWall hi-res video wall with branded graphics.

“[The PowerWall] has been a great tool for adding high-quality elements to our studio broadcast and providing sponsors with a first-class high-production-value display that would be very hard to achieve in any other way,” says Sahara. “It integrates so well with the flow of our studio show and we continue to explore new options in using that to create elements for bump shots and feature introductions. We don’t want to just give viewers the same old video screen, so this allows us to add virtual elements with video and graphics and stats content.”

The Inside the NBA studio show will then move on-site for the Western Conference Finals.

ESPN Tips Off ‘Second Season’ Following Historical Regular-Season Finale
ESPN got into the Playoff spirit early, with a no-holds-barred plan of attack in both Oakland and Los Angeles on Wednesday night. The network upped the camera complement to 16 at Oracle Arena to capture the Golden State Warrior’s history-making night, including two Grass Valley LDX 86 high-motion cameras that shot through each basket’s backboard and two super mos. Over three hundred miles to the south, 14 cameras captured the final game of Kobe Bryant’s illustrious career at the Los Angeles Lakers’ STAPLES Center, including two super mos.

“It’s a great way to kick off the Playoff season,” said Wendell Grigely, ESPN’s senior director of event operations, speaking prior to Wednesday’s games. “We’re really excited about tonight and we think it’s going to be a great opportunity for the network.”

Now that the first-round matchups are officially set, the cogs of ESPN/ABC’s NBA Playoff machine can be set in motion. “It’s a logistic puzzle,” says Grigely, “where we put together all of our equipment, our trucks, our people, and get them into place to cover these games starting this weekend. We’ve got about 24 hours [from the end of Wednesday’s games] to get everybody on planes and let them know where they’re going and get our equipment where it needs to be, so it’s a challenge.”

ESPN relies on mobile units from Game Creek and NEP to cover its Playoff slate. After covering ESPN’s massive Golden State production on Wednesday night, NEP’s EN-1 unit will remain at Oracle Arena for the team’s first game against Houston on Saturday (airing on ABC). Game Creek’s Peacock took care of Wednesday’s Laker game and will travel where needed for the first two rounds and Conference Finals, before ultimately teaming up with EN-1 to cover one of the NBA Finals’ two cities. EN-1 will follow a similar plan, taking a brief hiatus to cover the 2016 NFL Draft in Chicago on April 28-30.

For the first round, the network plans to deploy 11 cameras (including one super mo) for its ESPN telecasts and 12 cameras with two super mos for its ABC telecasts. That complement will increase throughout the Playoffs, with more than 30-plus cameras – including additional handheld and reverse cameras, as well as I-MOVIX high-speed cameras for the network’s signature through-the-backboard shot — planned for Conference Finals and Finals. Player mics will also make several appearances throughout the Playoffs, most likely on ABC telecasts. ESPN/ABC will also have plenty of Sony 4300 cameras on hand for games produced out of EN-1 and Peacock.

“We’ll be utilizing those cameras in their high-speed form, probably 6x at least,” says Grigely. “That’s a great looking camera on any position, but certainly using it as a super mo high speed.”

ESPN plans to ramp up its studio coverage throughout the Playoffs as well, with Bristol handling the early rounds. On-site studio coverage will begin with the Conference Finals. Bristol will also assist with editing video, including opens, teases, and melts, particularly during the early rounds.

Now that the Golden State Warriors and Kobe Bryant have secured their respective spots in the history books, ESPN has its sights set squarely on the NBA Playoffs, which tip off this Saturday.

“Our NBA operations team refers to it as the second season. You do a lot of games between November and mid-April, and now we’re getting ready to do another 30-plus games between now and mid-June, so it’s a marathon,” says Grigely. “But we start the second season this weekend — our Playoff season — and everyone’s excited.”

NBA TV Joins Playoff Fray With Up to Nine Originally Produced Games
Coming off of its most-viewed regular season of all time, NBA TV plans to televise up to nine originally produced first-round NBA Playoff games, beginning Monday, April 18, with the Indiana Pacers vs. Toronto Raptors, Game 2, at 7 p.m. ET.  Coverage will include interviews with coaches, who will also wear microphones to bring fans the sounds of the game from the floor.

NBA GameTime, NBA TV’s studio show, will provide comprehensive nightly coverage including pre- and post-game studio programming and live press conferences. Additionally, NBA TV will televise Playoff Playback, 60-minute versions of each playoff game.