ESPN Tips Off Massive Production Plans for Cavs-Warriors Threematch

49 cameras, multiple sets will be deployed for game coverage, studio shows, international broadcasters, ancillary streams

The teams may be the same, but ESPN’s NBA Finals technology deployment is bigger than ever. ESPN and ABC’s third consecutive year covering the Cavaliers and Warriors will feature a total of 49 cameras for game and studio coverage, as well as multiple sets in both Cleveland and Oakland for onsite studio programming. In addition to producing its own domestic telecast, ESPN will also serve the needs of multiple international rightsholders and streaming feeds.

“Of course, always try to put on the best production, and this is a great platform to be able to showcase some of the new [technology],” says ESPN Operations Manager Patty Mattero. “Our production and operations teams are always trying to find unique new camera positions. We are looking to tweak things to give the viewer something better and a little bit different.”

High-Speed and Robotic Cameras Throughout the Venue
ESPN’s 49-camera complement is headlined by seven Sony HDC-4300 high-speed cameras and a handful of Sony HDC-P43 and Bexel Clarity 800 high-speed cameras.

49 cameras, multiple sets will be deployed for game coverage, studio shows, international broadcasters, ancillary streams

The network will position 11 robotic cameras (primarily provided by Fletcher) above the rim, behind the glass, below the rim, and within the hallways to the locker room. For the finals, the above-the-rim and below-the-rim positions are being upgraded to Grass Valley LDX C86 high-speed box cameras with full robotic controls. In the Western Conference Finals, ESPN had deployed fixed slo-mos with a more limited view.

Also new for the finals will be two Sony HDC-P1 POV cameras looking at both free-throw lines, as well as a roving RF handheld for Games 5, 6, and 7.

With both the Cavs and the Warriors clinching a spot in the Final early on, ESPN’s ops team was afforded plenty of time to get all its ducks in a row.

“It affords us a lot of extra time to be completely buttoned-up and focused,” says Mattero. “We are changing some [camera] placements [for game coverage] coming off the conference finals. And our studio production and operations [crews] will be fine-tuning and tweaking.”

On the audio side, ESPN this season began using a digitally encrypted RF microphone system and an electret wireless lavalier system for all player/coach mics.

In the Compound and on the Set
ESPN will have a strong studio presence in both Cleveland and Oakland. The NBA Countdown pregame show, which was onsite for the conference finals for the first time, will be onsite in both cities (in the Mezzanine Club overlooking the court in Oakland). In addition, SportsCenter will have multiple locations for pregame, halftime, and postgame, including center court at the ABC announce-table area for pregame.

ESPN will also deploy its mobile OLED background monitor, which debuted during the season for NBA on ABC telecasts, on-court during broadcast opens featuring play-by-play caller Mike Breen and analysts Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson. ESPN will also have its virtual backdrop behind the trio coming back from halftime and for postgame.

In addition, ESPN’s The Jump, First Take, and other programming will air live from Lake Chalet in Oakland and from the Hofbrauhaus in Cleveland.

For Game 1 today at Oracle Arena in Oakland, NEP’s EN1 (A, B, and D units) is on hand to support the primary game production. NBA Countdown will be produced out of NEP’s NCP8, and the SportsCenter production will be run out of EN1’s D unit.

At the compound at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, ESPN has married Game Creek Video’s Peacock 1 (A and B units) and Spirit (A and B) to support its primary game production. The NBA Countdown show will handled by Game Creek’s Discovery truck; SportsCenter, by Spirit’s A unit.

This year’s playoffs mark the first time ESPN is relying entirely on file transfer for content exchange between the onsite facilities and its broadcast center in Bristol, CT, as well as with NBA Entertainment in Secaucus, NJ, and Turner Sports in Atlanta. Mattero estimates that ESPN is sending more than 1,500 clips per game via the file-transfer system, which relies on The Switch’s FiveNines J2K transmission network. During the championship series, there will be seven outbound feeds and four inbound feeds for each game, as well a C-band satellite path. For the ESPN3 live stream, ESPN is relying entirely on IP encoders, creating significant cost savings.

Studio and Streaming Feeds Galore
In addition to serving the needs of the ESPN domestic telecast, ESPN’s operations team is supporting ESPN International (serving Latin America, Brazil, the Caribbean, and the Pacific Rim), ESPN Deportes, ESPN Brazil, and China’s Tencent, all of which have their own courtside commentary positions, as well as pregame, halftime, and postgame standups inside the arena.

The ops team is also supporting ESPN3, which will continue to deliver a live pregame and postgame stream. It will feature a look at pregame warm-ups, including layup lines, and natural sound from the arena prior to the game, as well as postgame press conferences and exclusive postgame shows.

This year also marks the first NBA Finals in which ESPN is supporting the NBA Mobile View experience, delivering a dirty feed of the game in addition to the NBA’s dedicated Mobile View camera that comes through ESPN’s switcher.

“To me, it feels like we are almost a [host broadcaster], and it certainly technically seems that way,” says Mattero. “I think the biggest challenge is just to make sure that everyone’s schedule and technical needs are coordinated as a group. We make a huge effort to determine what facilities we can actually support through our game trucks, scheduling, or cabling and what outside support and technical facilities that they need to bring on their own because the game side is completely maxed out.”

The 2017 NBA Finals tip off on ABC today at 9 p.m. ET. This is the 15th consecutive year ESPN has produced the NBA Finals on ABC. The NBA Finals will be available on ABC, ESPN Radio, ESPN Deportes, and the ESPN App.

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