Turner Sports is hosting its own series of production technology demonstrations in Las Vegas
The NBA, its broadcast partners and an army of technology providers gathered in Las Vegas this week for the annual festival of innovation that is the NBA Summer League. The league, ESPN and Turner Sports look to take advantage of the annual offseason event to showcase and experiment with cutting-edge production technology at the Thomas & Mack Center and Cox Pavilion.
“Collaboration and participation continue to grow here at the Summer League,” says bArnie Carlton, Director, Broadcast Planning and Strategy, NBA“not only in our broadcast group, but also in our basketball operations group, both our media partners and our regional partners and others [departments] around the league. This year, we have an even bigger footprint and are testing more key initiatives than ever before. Summer League is really institutionalized as an opportunity for all of us to bring vendors together and improve basketball coverage.”
NBA Replay Center Review Facelift
For in-game coverage, the league is exploring new ways to introduce the NBA Replay Center review process within the broadcast. During the 2020 NBA bubble season, the league introduced a courtside camera and microphone for referees to announce the call after it is determined by the NBA Replay Center. This has continued in subsequent seasons, and now the league is working with ESPN and Turner Sports to determine the optimal camera, lens and microphone for these moments.
“We’re experimenting with shooting the referee from an overhead camera, which makes for a really interesting look,” Carlton says. “We’ve experimented with using the reversing camera with some of the different RSNs during the regular season and with our broadcast partners during the playoffs, but the difference here in the Summer League is that we can bring the referee operations department into The Conversation.
“We are working with the referral group and network partners to figure out the best way to disseminate this information once the call is made,” he continues. “We’re testing several different cameras, lenses and microphones in an effort to ensure that information is transmitted as quickly as possible and in the best possible way. It’s a fantastic opportunity where we have so many games in one place so we can try out several different technologies.”
As with all 29 arenas, the league uses its HSAN (High Speed Arena Network) to provide a connection from Vegas to the NBA Replay Center in Secaucus, NJ. To support replay operations and the test taking place in Vegas, the league’s engineering team has prepared 24 outbound and six inbound transmission paths.
The NBA engineering team is also evaluating several SRT encoding solutions for backup transmission paths during Summer League, including SRT products from Evertz and MediaKind.
“As the Internet has become more stable as a transport mechanism,” he says Dave Barry, Vice President, Broadcast Operations and Engineering, NBA“We’re very interested in seeing how we can deploy it more for backup transmission paths.
Additional testing: Influencer streams, tracking, AR graphics and more
The NBA has been a pioneer in creating alternative game presentations, releasing different streams on NBA League Pass and the NBA App. These include the NBABet Stream, Sideline Stream and Influencer Stream, as well as the Mobile View presentation. This year in Vegas, the NBA is looking to expand its roster of on-air talent for the Influencer Stream, which includes influencers and media personalities casually calling the game while interacting with fans on social media.
“The testing we’re doing this summer isn’t necessarily about the technology,” Carlton notes. “It’s more about expanding our talent roster and seeing what works best in terms of format. We’re looking to expand alternative streaming into the next regular season, and influencer broadcasts on NBA League Pass are a big part of that.”
Next-generation player/ball tracking and analytics, AR graphics and virtual cues, as well as new audio and microphone technologies are key innovation initiatives being tested offline in Vegas.
“When the pandemic hit,” says Barry, “we took many of the lessons we learned in our Summer League Innovation Lab and incorporated them into our coverage of the regular season and playoffs. Now we’ve accelerated that experimentation and innovation: you can do something in Summer League and carry it over to the basketball regular season in a matter of months. We are able to innovate and bring things to market at a much faster pace.”
Turner Sports is back for Year 2 of Summer League tryouts
For the second year in a row, Turner Sports is using the NBA Summer League as a testing ground for production technology beyond its own NBA on TNT coating, but also for its other sporting properties.
“Of course, we’re looking for products that will enhance and enhance our NBA coverage,” says Lee Estroff, Director, Technical Operations, Turner Sports,” but we’re also looking at technologies that will benefit our MLB, NHL and US Soccer packages, as well as Bleacher Report and some of our digital efforts. Last year [at Summer League]when we had just got the NHL [rights]it was a great place to test many hockey technologies [coverage]. Now, with the addition of US Soccer, we will be looking at a lot of technology that can be used as part of our soccer package.”
His team looks at everything from high-frame-rate, shallow-depth-of-field cameras to robotics and AI-driven technologies, as well as new lenses, graphics tools, and microphone/audio solutions. Turner Sports demos include technology providers Canon, CP Communications, Dolby Atmos, DreamChip, Fletcher, JibTek, Mobile Viewpoint, Panasonic, Q5X, Riedel Communications, Ross Video, Shure Audio, Sony Hawkeye and Vizrt. Each provider gets a one- to three-hour time slot during Turner’s three-day testing.
“Our goal is to create a learning environment where we can proactively seek out technology,” Estroff explains. “It’s not often that we face so many of our suppliers at once. Everyone is excited to see more than just the technology [being demonstrated] here, but also what our suppliers develop along the way. We’re going to leave here at the end of the three days with a whole bunch of new ideas and that’s very exciting.”
Besides Estroff, Turner Sports Vice President, Operations and Technology, Chris Brown and the entire technical team is on location in Vegas. In addition, key production personnel are available to participate in the demonstrations: I lead NBA on TNT directed by Andrew Greathouse, I lead NHL on TNT directed by Paul Hemming, Vice President/Coordinating Officer Steve Fiorelloand Director, Multimedia Production and Streaming, Katie Sullivan.
“We have a great collection of production talent here that wouldn’t normally get that opportunity,” Estroff says. “Most of us can’t go to NAB because it’s during the NBA playoffs, so it’s a great chance to see all this technology in a more intimate setting.”