Time Warner Cable RSN’s Ready for Tip-Off With New State-of-the-Art L.A. Facility
Launching a new regional sports network from scratch in the country’s second-largest media market – let alone two RSNs – is a massive undertaking for any sports outlet. Add in the fact that the creation of the two networks is a direct result of one of the richest rights deals in the history of regional sports television, and it quickly becomes apparent just how much pressure Time Warner Cable SportsNet and Time Warner Cable Deportes are under to deliver on the sky-high expectations put upon them before the ink even dried on the Los Angeles Lakers-TWC 20-year, reportedly $3 billion rights deal in February of last year.
Thankfully, TWC’s English- and Spanish-language Los Angeles-based RSNs, which are set to launch on Oct. 1, will have no shortage of production tools and technical infrastructure at their disposal to deliver on these expectations.
“We have spent the past year building this network out essentially from a white board,” says Larry Meyers, VP of content and executive producer, Time Warner Cable Sports. “There was no existing network infrastructure to build upon here. We truly started from scratch.”
Two Networks Unite in El Segundo
The two networks will operate out of a newly constructed two-building (one for broadcast operations and the other administrative) campus in El Segundo about a mile away from the Lakers practice facility. Diversified Systems Inc. (DSI) served as the primary integrator on the new facility, which includes more than 1,700 pieces of equipment from some 140 vendors.
Although a single facility houses both networks, they will operate largely independent from one another, utilizing two separate studios with accompanying production control rooms and audio control rooms. The production center also features master control that can support up to five outbound channels, a TOC room, a graphics room, two insert studios, two VO rooms, and a central equipment room.
“This is truly two completely separate RSN’s in terms of staff, programming, and the facility itself, but operated as one enterprise,” says Meyers. “The technical build has everything we need to run both channels every day.”
The entire two-network operation is built upon an Evertz 576×576 router and utilizes Dalet’s media asset management system. The studios are equipped with Sony HDC1500R cameras with Canon lenses. Meanwhile the control rooms feature Sony MVS8000X switchers, Chyron Hyper X3.1 graphics systems, Sony OLED monitors, and Calrec Atemis Light audio consoles. The facility also includes eight Final Cut Pro edit suites.
Unlike most other newly created RSN’s, the TWC networks do not have a wide array of sibling regional sports nets to fall back on – as Comcast, FOX, and Root networks can – making the construction of this new facility that much more challenging.
“We don’t have the history and shared resources that a national Fox or Comcast network has,” says Meyers. “While it is always nice to have a big mothership to fall back [on] with established looks and programming to build your network upon, I see this as a true blessing. Building the brand, the look, and the production [model] from scratch is an opportunity that people don’t get very often. Sure it’s challenging to put together a staff and facility from scratch, but it is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I think we’ve really pulled it off nicely.”
Not Your Grandfather’s Dual-Feed Remote
The TWC L.A. networks will also apply the independent-yet-shared mentality deployed at the El Segundo facility to its remote operations once Lakers preseason basketball tips off next month.
Although the English- and Spanish-language telecasts with share camera complements, the two shows will operate out of separate control rooms in A and B units, complete with dedicated production crews for each (including producer, director, graphics and EVS operators, etc.), as well as dedicated announcers and sideline reporters.
“We’ve created a system that is very much like a dual feed but is also very different from the way Spanish NBA TV has been done in the past,” says Meyers. “Instead of just adding a couple announcers and putting the audio in the SAP channel, we are creating an environment where both networks have the personnel, equipment, and resources they need to plan and execute storylines that play to their respective audiences.”
Although TWC has an agreement in place with IMS (Indianapolis Motor Speedway) Productions to provide a new HD mobile unit for all of its Lakers and Galaxy (as part of a 10-year, $55 million deal signed in November 2011) productions, the new truck will not be available until next fall.
In the meantime, TWC worked with IMS and Alliance Productions to secure YES Productions’ HD 2 truck out of New Orleans. HD2 previously covered New Orleans Hornets games, but became available when Fox Sports obtained the team’s rights this summer.
The B-unit, which will house the bulk of the of the Deportes operation, is being supplied by IMS.
This model will hold true for away games when the necessary facilities are available.
“The unique nature of our setup of doing two shows – which is probably a prototype for more to come in the NBA – makes the traditional visiting arrangement challenging in some cities,” says Meyers. “And in those cities, when we can’t get the equipment we need then we will work with the local providers or the Alliance to make sure we can do both of our programs appropriately.”
In addition to producing live Lakers, Galaxy, and Sparks games, TWC SportsNet and Deportes will provide live coverage of Mountain West Conference football and basketball and CIF (California Interscholastic Federation) high school games.
Filling the Programming Slate: Behind-the-Scenes and in the Studio
However, a full-time network is about a lot more than just live games, especially when it has pledged to forgo the litany of infomercials that fill so many RSNs’ late-night and early-morning programming slates. In that vein, both networks will deliver a wealth of live studio shows and original programming.
TWC SportsNet will produce 2 ½ hours of live studio programming seven nights a week. Two one-hour installments of Access SportsNet will air nightly and will take the form of pre- and post-game shows for live games (i.e. Access SportsNet: Lakers). In addition, the social-media-driven half-hour #LakeShow will air 90 minutes prior to tip-off on game days and at 6:30 p.m. on all other days.
In terms of original programming, the networks have already unveiled two new Lakers-driven original unscripted series with five one-hour episodes apiece: Backstage: Lakers (a Hard Knocks-inspired look behind the scenes with the team) and Laker Girls (a first-hand look the making of the dance squad). That is in addition to the usual RSN programming suspects, including classic games, countdown shows, and player profiles.
“We are putting together a robust grouping of original programming,” says Meyers. “We will also be working very closely with our team partners to provide a level of depth and access for live games, live studio, and original programming that goes beyond was is usually expected from [an RSN].”
Carriage or No Carriage, TWC Are Nets Ready to Roll
While the networks have yet to secure carriage deals with satellite and cable providers DirecTV, Dish Network, Cox, Charter, and Verizon, Meyers says the production and programming side of things are more than ready for tip off on Oct. 1. And it doesn’t hurt that their primary bargaining chip – the Lakers – are coming off a monumental offseason in which they acquired NBA superstars Dwight Howard and Steve Nash.
“This was a dream off-season for a network in its initial stages like this. We couldn’t have dreamed up anything better. Our intention right from the start was to hit the ground running starting on Oct. 1 and we are ready to do just that,” says Meyers. “Then you add in this amazing Lakers off-season and we couldn’t have dreamed up anything better.”