SVG Summit: Basketball Execs Stay at Forefront of Technical Innovation, Fan Engagement

Last month, Turner Sports made headlines by announcing that it would produce three separate telecasts of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship Semifinals prior to CBS Sports’ broadcast of the Championship Final.  With the heads of both networks – Turner’s David Levy and CBS Sports’ Sean McManus – slated for keynotes at the SVG Summit earlier this week, it was no surprise that this unprecedented undertaking also was top of mind during the event’s basketball-centric panel discussion.

“CBS has been doing this for a long time, and while we’ve been doing basketball for a long time, we’ve not done the NCAA Tournament [Semifinals],” explains Chris Brown, director of technical operations, Turner Sports. “CBS is going to be the resident expert and we’re going to come in with our experience having worked with the NBA… and at the same time, respecting what they’ve crafted over the years.”

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CBS Sports’ John McCrae (center) speaks as YES Network’s Frank DiGraci (left) and Time Warner Cable Sports’ Larry Meyers look on.

According to the panelists, Turner plans to work with the broadcast infrastructure that CBS Sports will put in place for the event, while CBS Sports plans to incorporate Turner’s unique needs into its complement. Throughout March Madness, the two networks will work together – with CBS crews in Turner trucks, if need be – to ensure the tournament is a success.

“Everyone from Turner and CBS, both from the operations side of things and the production side, kind of check their egos,” says John McCrae, executive director, field operations, CBS Sports. “The important thing is we communicate — dot all the i’s, cross all the t’s, everything from super mos to robos right down to mike flags — and make sure that this is taken care of, and in the end, we get it all done.”

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Steve Hellmuth, EVP, Operations and Technology for the NBA, moderated the panel.

Not to be forgotten, the NBA continues to push the technological envelope, most recently by announcing its commitment to player tracking. Strides have also been made in graphical tools, such as ChyronHego Paint and Liberovision, player microphones, and super slow motion cameras.

“One of the compelling changes to the high frame-rate cameras is that they’re now good enough to use as a regular camera,” says McCrae. “Three or four years ago, to have the high speed, you had to add a camera and you had to add another guy. Now, you can replace an existing camera that can be used and put into an EVS both as a regular camera and use as a high frame-rate camera.”

For Brown, the benefit of being able to seamlessly incorporate super slow motion is twofold. “It helps to tell the story, but it’s also an integral part of getting the story right,” he says. “When we go to a replay, we really do have the ability to answer the question: Did the shot go off in time? Was it a clean block? …Our job is to make sure we’re telling an accurate story.”

On the regional sports level, NBA teams continue to find ways to engage their fan bases both when the team is playing and when they’re not. For the Los Angeles Lakers, the best way to keep fans engaged was through the creation of two 24/7 sports networks: Time Warner Cable Sports and Time Warner Cable Deportes.

Traditionally, teams looking to provide a Spanish feed would add Spanish announcers and graphics to the primary broadcast. However, the Lakers determined that the model would not work for them.

“What we have instead is the first 24/7/365 Spanish language regional sports network in the country. Each network completely controls its content, completely controls its story,” says Larry Meyers, VP, content and executive producer, Time Warner Cable Sports. “That has been the journey that we’ve embarked on in the last couple of years and it’s gone really well, but it’s been challenging… I think everyone recognized that there is a market to be served, that this is the right thing to do, this is the future of the industry in terms of the nature of the viewers who watch sports in this country. It’s been a great opportunity.”

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Turner Sports’ Chris Brown

Teams are also tapping social media tools to interact with fans during the broadcast and keep fans engaged with the brand throughout the year and across the globe. The Brooklyn Nets, already a globally recognized brand, have incorporated #NETSONYES into the YES Network scorebug and are having tremendous success with their Wear Brooklyn At campaign (fans tweet photos of themselves wearing Nets gear from around the world).

“It’s keeping the conversation going 24/7,” says Frank DiGraci, coordinating producer/producer, Brooklyn Nets telecasts, YES Network. “Everyone’s checking their Twitter feed all the time; you can have a conversation with a hashtag, you’re promoting when the games are, what announcers you have, what special features you have. That’s what’s really been exciting for us, to reach people and keep everybody engaged 24/7.”

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