Venue Q&A: NBA Entertainment’s Steve Hellmuth

By Rick Price, Chairman, SVG Venue Initiative

The NBA All-Star Game took over the Big Apple last weekend with events and activities at both Madison Square Garden and Barclays Center and broadcast coverage all weekend long on Turner Sports and ESPN. SVG sat down with Steve Hellmuth, EVP, operations and technology, NBA Entertainment, to discuss how the NBA handled All-Star Weekend in New York City.

So All-Star Weekend 2015 in NYC was a success. From your perspective, what was one thing that stood out and helped make it such a great weekend of sports entertainment?
I was most impressed with the job Turner did from top to bottom. Truly a tremendous execution, and they helped make our international feeds and programming go very smoothly. 

What was unique about how you handled live production from Barclays Center, Madison Square Garden, and Hammerstein Ballroom?
The one thing that we did do that was totally unique was, we created a file structure between NBA Entertainment [headquarters], the NBA trailers [at MSG and Barclays Center], the NBAE edit trailer, the TNT edit trailer, and [Turner headquarters in] Atlanta. They had a unified file structure so they could throw things back and forth to each other. That was really cool, and it was all riding our 2-Gb HSAN backplane. It was nice because it was really just using the networking that was already in place.

I believe you launched the NBA HSAN network in ’08-’09. What is the latest with HSAN and the Digital Media Archive? Are more teams jumping on board and expanding its use?
Oh yeah, more teams are signed up; I think 25 teams are signed up now. We’re down to seven broadcasters now, seven different entities that actually do the NBA. Just 10 years ago, it was up to 30.

One thing that I’ve been thinking about recently is, [if we could have] a melt system where everybody uploads their melts to the cloud — the cloud being someplace on the NBA network — then Fox could share highlights with Comcast, could share highlights with Altitude, could share highlights with NBA, with Turner, with ESPN. In other words, we all want the same thing. Why not just make it easier for everybody?

If we all agreed on a file format and a structure, we could park highlights for each other in the cloud — an NBA cloud — and share the melts.

From the league’s perspective, what were the technical challenges and/or benefits of doing All-Star Weekend in NYC?
We had 14 different sets of international announcers onsite and had to set up commentary positions and handle the audio routing for each venue. So, in other words, we had to have two completely different sets of gear. And we had to have two mobile units as well. That was certainly more of a challenge and required more attention to detail to make sure that things were working correctly in both of those venues.

I think the world feed was truly better than ever because we actually were able to leverage a lot of the in-arena elements that were developed, as well as the live stuff that was going on on the court. But remember, though, All-Star Saturday Night was a completely continuous event that was produced once for the venue and for air on TNT and aired internationally. When they went to commercial, it was seamless, so that was the first time the same production for in-venue and broadcast ran from 8 p.m. to conclusion. It was really tremendous.

As you know and contribute to, the NBA Facility Design Standard document is a detailed guideline for the design, construction, and operation of an NBA arena. Are there any new technologies that have influenced changes to the design guide, specifically in the areas affecting broadcast?
The only thing that’s really changed is the lighting; now there’s LED lighting. And, while we’re still studying, we left the requirements for brightness the same. We did insist that the color temperature be no cooler than 4,500 Kelvin, because the LED lights were so bright white it looked kind of like an outdoor soccer venue. It just didn’t look appropriate for an NBA building. We’re still studying the LED and thinking about what we’re going to do otherwise. There’s three buildings that are lit with LED — Staples Center when the Clippers are playing, Philly, and Detroit — and it just doesn’t look as good for broadcast as metal halide, so I’m kind of like saying to everybody, if you can slow down, slow down, because these pictures have got to get better.

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