NBA Dunks Ready for TNT Closeup

Tom Wheeler Watch: Chairman Talks Up IP Close to Home in D.C.
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Where 3DTV has seemingly flopped as a TV-sports enhancement, freeD TV might be ready to help fill the void after adding some new wrinkles to TNT’s presentation of the Sprite Slam Dunk contest at the State Farm NBA All-Star Saturday Night in New Orleans on Feb. 15

The six contestants in the slam-fest — Indiana’s Paul George, Washington’s John Wall, Portland’s Damon Lillard, Golden State’s Harrison Barnes, Sacramento rookie Ben McLemore and the defending champion, Toronto’s Terrence Ross — hope they’ll break out something spectacular.

TNT said it will be ready to provide unique vistas of their best slams through use of freeD — free-dimensional video technology — from Replay Technologies.

Replay’s approach employs 22 “5K” ultra-high-definition cameras hard-installed around the Smoothie King Center court to deliver 360-degree views of the jams.

It has been used by YES Network for New York Yankees home baseball games and for Dallas Cowboys football contests, but this will mark the first time it has been put in play for live basketball action. The technology was tested in the venue during the New Orleans Pelicans-Atlanta Hawks game on Feb. 5.

Images captured from the intertwined cameras are stitched together to furnish the all-encompassing views, which should come within 30 to 45 seconds after the real-time rim rattling.

“FreeD will allows us to zoom in, zoom out and frame the best 360-degree views,” Craig Barry, senior vice president of production and executive creative director at Turner Sports, told The Wire. He’s helming TNT’s coverage from the Crescent City. “It’s going to showcase the athleticism and ferocity, providing creative perspectives of how the players execute the big dunks.”

The technology will also be in action on Sunday (Feb. 16) during the All-Star Game. “The residual beneficiary,” Barry said. He declined to predict how many future sports telecasts would include the freeD feature.

“There are social and digital aspects as well,” he added. “This is short-form content that can be shared by fans on Facebook, Twitter and NBA.com. We think this is going to enhance the excitement socially and digitally.”

Closeups will continue with forays into the East and West locker rooms, with microphones on a “record number” of players during the All-Star Game and with analysts Grant Hill and Chris Webber embedded on the teams’ benches. A Steadicam operator on the court will capture bench conversations and player exchanges during game moments, such as free throw attempts.

“This is how the TV sports business is evolving,” Barry said. “It’s in response to fans demanding that they can get as close to the action as possible. Hopefully, the viewers will enjoy the unprecedented access.”

Barry said he is also jazzed about TNT’s Emmy-winning Inside the NBA studio team of Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith being integrated into State Farm NBA All-Star Saturday Night coverage. The quartet will serve as both the in-arena and on-air broadcast hosts for fans in the venue and at home. Injured Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant also will serve as a guest All-Star Game analyst.

Tom Wheeler Watch: Chairman Talks Up IP Close to Home in D.C.

Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler started his tenure fairly bragging about how he had not had a speaking engagement in Washington, D.C. Instead he has traveled the country — Ohio, Nevada, California — taking his message of network transformation to the people.

He’s been making up for that over the past few weeks, with Washington-area engagements at a minority telecom conference; a Maryland middle school speech by President Obama; a Digital Learning Day address at the Library of Congress; and a National Journal IP Transition forum downtown, to name only a few (OK, to name most).

D.C. audiences got a chance to hear what they had missed — especially after the technical issues with online access to his field trip talks previously recounted in The Wire — from the veteran phrase-turner and former National Cable & Telecommunications Association president, particularly on the subject of Internet protocol networks.

In discussing the IP transition, Wheeler minced no words. “If we sit around and suck eggs like the FCC did when thinking about whether to use spectrum for cellular,” he said, “incredibly adverse consequences” would follow.

Wheeler then invoked a Baby Boomer touchstone, Saturday Night Live’s Emily Litella, for some guidance. “You can’t do a Gilda Radner on this: ‘Oh, never mind.’ [The transition] is happening.”

While the IP transition is principally about voice, Wheeler pointed out that IP creates a “lingua franca,” where formerly network-specific services — voice vs. video — are now one. “It’s just ones and zeroes. There is no difference, technically, between a voice call, Angry Birds and NBC Nightly News.” The Wire can even now envision slinging a plump chicken at Brian Williams.

On the serious side of the ledger, Wheeler provided a quote that his one-time place of employment, the NCTA, might want to clip and save, as the association makes its case for why a proliferation of video inlets to the home argues against a one size fits all, AllVid gateway device.

“There used to be a box in the living room that had video on it, and now we have video everywhere from a myriad of different service providers, thanks to IP,” ” Wheeler said. — John Eggerton

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