The 2020 NBA Restart and the current NBA regular season have proven to be a period of unparalleled ingenuity for ESPN as it continues to reimagine how it broadcasts games and thus serves sports fans.
After the technological triumphs of the “NBA Bubble” at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, the NBA quickly returned with the 2020-21 regular season, and this time its 30 teams were back in their home arenas. Sounds like business as usual, but not quite.
In the shortest NBA offseason to date, ESPN’s best-in-class production, remote operations and production operations teams had little time to celebrate their well-documented “Bubble” achievements before laying the groundwork for the current season.
“Our goal was to devise a comprehensive, flexible strategy that ensured the health and safety of our employees and continued ESPN’s industry-leading presentations for NBA fans,” said Chris Calcinari, ESPN Senior Vice President, Remote Operations.
In the early part of the season, ESPN has utilized two primary production approaches: Enhanced World Feed (EWF) and GREMI (Graphics REMote Integration).
The EWF model is a new approach that relies heavily on collaboration and communication with all 30 NBA Regional Sports Networks (RSNs). ESPN takes the host RSN’s “clean” feed and adds various layers of production on top of the feed, including commentary, graphics and camera angles.
“We worked closely with every RSN heading into the season to learn what they’re able to provide, to communicate our expectations, and to understand each other’s goals and technical capabilities,” said Calcinari, who began with ESPN in 1990.
For EWF broadcasts, ESPN’s full production team, including the game producer, director, audio personnel, graphics and replay teams are located at ESPN’s Bristol or Charlotte studios, fully masked and socially distanced.
The GREMI model is an ESPN staple of recent years that is now being used across sports broadcasting. It’s an evolution of ESPN’s inventive REMI model and features a combination of on-site and remote (or studio) production elements. For a GREMI broadcast, the ESPN graphics team, along with its Enhanced Video Support (EVS) crew, contributes to the telecasts from its Bristol or Charlotte studios by controlling hardware that sits in the on-site mobile units, while the bulk of the production team and the commentators are generally at the arena. This includes the game producer and director.
“These two primary production methods have served us well thus far, and we are constantly evolving our approach,” Calcinari said. “The methods we use to produce games at the end of the season may not look exactly how they do currently, because we’re regularly implementing learnings and strengthening best practices as we continue.”
Jon McLeod produced the video; Photos by Kelly Backus
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Enhanced World Feed (EWF)
• RSN mobile unit facilitates ESPN with three ESPN-controlled on-site cameras, the clean host feed, various isolated camera feeds which are embedded with multiple audio offerings and communication.
• Full production team at ESPN’s Bristol or Charlotte control rooms.
• Producer, director and full teams in Bristol or Charlotte studios.
• Additional production elements from Bristol and Charlotte REMI teams include graphics, clock & score, replay and strategy telestration.
• Commentators at home or hybrid of at home and on site (i.e. both announcers at home with reporter on site).
• No ESPN mobile unit required.
GREMI (Graphic REMote Integration)
• ESPN mobile unit on site producing multiple ESPN discreet productions
• ESPN’s production team, including game producer and director on site.
• Commentators on site or hybrid of at home and on site.
• Bristol-supported production with REMI teams handling operation of graphics, clock and score, replay, strategy telestration and Augmented Reality overlay and insertion that sits inside the mobile unit on location.
• ESPN’s Bristol studios provide production to support “Wired” sound, replay and package building in sync with the NBA Wired production team in Secaucus, N.J.