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NBA Returns: ESPN Brings Plenty of Tech Firepower to Wide World of Sports Productions


NBA Returns: ESPN Brings Plenty of Tech Firepower to Wide World of Sports Productions Highlights include RailCam, new robos, embedded mics, virtual graphics, and more By Jason Dachman, Chief Editor

Friday, July 31, 2020 - 2:22 pm

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NBA on ESPN is back in business tonight, with its production team resuming live broadcasts from the NBA bubble inside Disney's Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando. To pull them off safely, the network's operations team has worked with the NBA and fellow rightsholder Turner Sports to build a massive broadcast compound that echoes an Olympics IBC (international broadcast center) to serve the three arenas hosting the NBA games.

It's a tremendous feeling to know that your sport has come back, says ESPN Senior Operations Manager Patty Mattero. With everything going on in the world right now, we're all very happy to just be able to make TV again. There are certainly monumental technical challenges, but we all know the fundamentals of making TV, and we can't wait.

In the Compound: NEP EN3 and EN2, Game Creek Victory Power the Production The sprawling NBA broadcast compound is roughly the size of three football fields.

ESPN, along with the NBA and Turner Sports, spent the better part of two months creating a 94,920-sq.-ft. broadcast compound (equal to roughly three football fields) to house the 13 production trucks, 31 trailers, six mobile-unit cover tents, two catering tents, two field-shop tents, and several cooling stations onsite.

ESPN has rolled out three dedicated twin mobile units to produce the games out of the three venues at WWoS: NEP's EN3 for The Arena (Court 1, the main national-telecast court and site of Conference Finals and NBA Finals), Game Creek Video's Victory for HP Field House (Court 2 for the regular season to Second Round), and NEP's EN2 for Visa Athletic Center (Court 3, primarily for games broadcast exclusively by regional sports networks).

CAT Entertainment Services has rolled out 20 generators to power the compound: 12 500-kVA units, two 300-kVA units, two 400-kVA tow plants, and four 175-kVA tow plants. With the 90 temperatures in Orlando, the compound is also equipped with 32 20 -ton HVAC units (two of them 60-ton units) with redundancy for mobile-unit support.

Three sides of the court have 17-ft. LED videoboards.

ESPN, Turner, and the league have also built a comprehensive NBA fiber ring at WWoS, laying more than 436 miles of fiber throughout the facility. On the transmission side, the NBA compound is sending out 65 transmission paths with 14 paths returning, plus 92 (and counting) NBA HSAN feeds and an additional 190 Gbps in bandwidth for file-sharing and redundancy needs.

Our operations team has done an unbelievable job, ESPN VP, Production, Michael Shiffman said this week. It really represents ingenuity, innovation, technology, and - above all else - a can-do' mentality, which I believe is one of the hallmarks of our company. This is the latest example and has allowed us to hit the ground running with these scrimmages and get us ready to go for Friday night.

GREMI and REMI: At-Home Model Is Out in Full Force ESPN is deploying its GREMI model for the majority of its games (including nearly all games at The Arena and HP Field House), as it has for its NBA coverage for the past two years. Under the GREMI model, EVS replay and Vizrt graphics systems are located onsite in the trucks, but three or four replay operators and all graphics and scorebug operators are at the ESPN facility in Bristol, CT.

The Arena will serve as Court 1, hosting the Conference Finals and NBA Finals.

ESPN and Turner are also creating a neutral world feed that RSNs around the country will use to produce in-market telecasts from their home facilities. In addition to the world-feed line cut, ESPN is delivering a dedicated iso camera feed to each RSN (which has full comms to the camera operator) and access to several other camera feeds to integrate into its telecast.

Although EN2 is on hand to serve some of the RSN-exclusive games at the Visa Athletic Center, the majority of them will be REMI (remote-integration) productions in which feeds are sent to control rooms in Bristol. According to Mattero, this is the first time ESPN has produced NBA games as full REMI productions from control rooms in Bristol.

Because all of our sports are coming back, our control rooms are insanely busy trying to juggle all the events and all content coming back to Bristol, says Mattero. What Bristol can support determines how we're going to cover the games. The majority are REMI, but there are also quite a few of them that will be more of a GREMI setup out of EN2.

Safety Protocols in the Compound: Keeping the Crew Healthy To ensure social distancing, ESPN has doubled the usual distance between trailers/trucks. To limit the number of people in each truck, the network has also reorganized several crew positions, outboarding multiple replay operators, robotic-camera shaders, and audio personnel to other locations in the compound.

HP Field House will serve as Court 2 from the regular season through Round 2 of the NBA Playoffs.

In this environment, we are putting safety first and taking extra steps to ensure health and safety of everyone, says Mattero. We have only six people in the majority of our A units; that's about half of what we would normally have. There is plexiglass separating people, and we've mapped it out so everyone is spaced far enough apart based on ESPN and Disney protocols. And, of course, everyone is wearing masks. We're all trying to get used to a whole new way of doing business, but we know how important it is to do it the right way.

The crew has been divided into functional groups, with the majority of the production and operations
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