How the NBA Slices, Dices Game Night

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Each night of the National Basketball Association season, a team of editors and producers sits inside a Secaucus, N.J., TV studio and makes magic.

Within a matter of hours, the production team takes the feeds from all the games and produces packages for video on demand, Internet and wireless-phone platforms for fans hungry for the latest news and highlights.

Welcome to content-creation 2005: It’s not just about shooting a live telecast, handling post-game interviews and going home. The wide proliferation of consumer-device platforms has prompted content providers — especially in the news and sports fields — to develop quick-turnaround content-creation systems to fulfill the public’s appetite for information.

HELLMUTH AT HELM

The man in charge of all this helter skelter activity is NBA senior vice president of operations and technology Steve Hellmuth.

On a busy night, the league might have 10 games from which to produce separate highlight packages for NBA TV, Comcast Corp.’s VOD platform, Verizon Wireless’s Vcast service, Nokia Corp.’s wireless service and Web site NBA.com.

The task seems daunting, but Hellmuth and company have created a system that allows NBA editors to get packages to those platforms within an hour or two of the final whistle.

“Having been producing video for our league with [out-of-market package NBA League Pass] for some time, when we looked at the Comcast VOD deployment, we said: 'This is something we can do,’ ” he said.

“We can deliver in a timely fashion, directly to them at the Comcast Media Center, and push it to their server that night or the next morning,” he said. “We’re working directly together to take advantage of the speed of delivery and to monitor quality.”

Each night in Secaucus, also home to NBA TV’s studios, the league receives the live feeds of all games from the originating regional sports network, TV station or national network.

Even while games are in progress, editors in 10 editing rooms begin indexing games for highlights: scoring highlights, steals, slam dunks, three-point shots, game-changing fouls and other milestones.

“We have an entire nonlinear digital architecture,” Hellmuth said. “The video is indexed with statistics. Editors can produce packages of varying lengths that meet various needs.”

DIFFERENT CUTS

One package is developed for NBA TV’s short-form and longer-form highlight shows.

A second package — two to two-and-a-half minutes long — is prepared for Comcast’s VOD platform.

A third package, about 30 to 40 seconds in length with three to four plays and the box score, is prepared for Verizon.

The Nokia version is slightly shorter. Producing video content for cell phones isn’t that tricky, Hellmuth said. The 4-by-3 screen ratio used for National Television Standards Committee (NTSC) broadcasts works for cellphones and online video.

With cellphones, though, it’s important to make the graphics as “bold and straightforward” as a scoreboard, he said.

Each package is its own complete story, with separate narration, usually from that nights’s NBA TV host announcer.

“We generally do our own voiceover,” Hellmuth said. “We want to have announcers read to the picture. With what is on the screen, we want your eyes validated.”

Over time, the NBA has found that viewers want highlights packaged in storyline format, rather than just raw video. “We want to produce a story with music, editing and voiceover,” he said.

As the East Coast games end, highlight packages are sent to the various platforms. The last West Coast games are usually uploaded by 3 a.m. Eastern time, he said.

With the playoffs beginning this week, the NBA is looking to juice up its VOD content. The league plans to produce a daily two- to three-minute highlight package for each game, plus a 10- to 18-minute compilation package.

The lineup will also feature a daily “Top 10 Plays of the Day,” a specialty play of the night (perhaps a phenomenal shot or defensive play), “NBA ZAP,” an in-depth look at the top story of the night, post-game news conferences and encore episodes of original series such as NBA TV: Over Time.

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