Live From Final Four: Interconnected Compound, High-Speed Cameras Take Turner/CBS Productions to New Heights

TeamStream productions mature; postproduction benefits from expanded facilities

Just when you think the joint production of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship by Turner Sports and CBS Sports can’t get any bigger, it does.

Turner Sports' Tom Sahara (left) and CBS Sports' Ken Aagaard where among those that collaborted on this weekend's Final Four.

Turner Sports’ Tom Sahara (left) and CBS Sports’ Ken Aagaard were among those who collaborated on this weekend’s Final Four.

The continued growth of the main production, coupled with the TeamStream productions offering fans more-customized coverage of their favorite team, has the production and operations teams onsite putting on not just three shows this weekend but, really, nine.

And, of course, for the first time, the entire Final Four, including Monday night’s Championship Game moves to cable television, giving Turner Sports its first crowning of a champion in its history.

“As someone who has been around sports for some time, these are the moments you live for,” says Tom Sahara, VP, operations and technology, Turner Sports. “To say that you’re among the first to do it, this will certainly go down as one of the high points of my career.”

Focus on High Speed
Turner Sports and CBS Sports have lined up 13 mobile production units — six from F&F Productions, six from NEP Broadcasting, and one from Bexel — outside NRG Stadium in Houston to support a robust production that includes those three simultaneous linear productions.

Inside F&F Productions' GTX-18, which was home to the main game productions that aired on TBS.

Inside F&F Productions’ GTX-18, which was home to the main game productions that aired on TBS.

It’s another large camera complement this year, with 51 total cameras deployed: 26 working the primary game, eight for TeamStream coverage, and 17 for two studio sets positioned behind each student section.

On the specialty end are the Skycam Wildcat aerial camera system that recently worked Super Bowl 50 for CBS Sports, an RF Steadicam, the Rail Cam, a helicopter outside the building, and a collection of Sony HDC4300 high-speed cameras.

What is not present is a 4K camera of any kind. According to Sahara, Turner’s replay style centers more on stopping motion and giving the moment time to sink in with viewers. “We find that the higher-frame-rate cameras, at least in our opinion, tend to do a better job of that than the 4K,” he says. “Rather than spending on 4K, we have added more higher-frame-rate cameras. Viewers will see more of that.”

TeamStream Productions Mature
Since Turner Sports and CBS debuted the TeamStream concept in 2014 (then called the TeamCast), the productions have found a groove. Introduced as chiefly supplementary programming for fans with a rooting interest in the game, they are now at the level of a truly elite standalone production.

CBS Sports' John McCrae (left) and Turner Sports' Chris Brown played critical roles in the operations of this weekend's Final Four productions.

CBS Sports’ John McCrae (left) and Turner Sports’ Chris Brown played critical roles in the operations of this weekend’s Final Four productions.

“It has definitely been elevated,” says Sahara. “Now that we’ve learned how to work with it, we’ve given them the freedom to provide their own content. They’ve gotten a lot more freedom to build the stories for their teams and capture those big moments from their team’s point of view. We want to give those personal perspectives and give fans what they want to see.”

Although the TeamStream productions still do most of their work leveraging shared camera and replay resources, Sahara says those teams have never received more of their own, dedicated cameras and additional tools.

“Production has a better handle on how to use those shared resources, and the storytelling is becoming much deeper,” says Chris Brown, director of technical operations, Turner Sports. “The viewers are getting a much more complete production in terms of its polished elements, because they are crafting things more specifically for the TeamStream.”

Postproduction Gets Bolstered Support
The TeamStream productions are also elevated by a expanded production compound with resources and facilities dedicated to editing and postproduction content generation. Turner Sports’ Creative Services Sports Unit is onsite editing projects from features to three unique versions of the iconic “One Shining Moment” montage that will close out the broadcast on each channel following Monday night’s Championship Game.

There are 51 cameras deployed inside NRG Stadium by Turner and CBS. Thirty eight of those are dedicated to game coverage, including the return of Rail Cam (lower right).

There are 51 cameras deployed inside NRG Stadium by Turner and CBS. Thirty eight of those are dedicated to game coverage, including the return of Rail Cam (lower right).

Turner has deployed a B unit dedicated solely to After Effects graphics creation and finishing. In addition, Bexel’s 53-ft. BS-1 is home to a large collection of Adobe Premiere edit suites and will be where the “One Shining Moment” pieces will be edited. The edit suites are dialed right into the IP infrastructure of the compound and grants editors instant access to all content on the network of 25 EVS machines (13 working studio and TeamStream, 12 focused on the main game telecast on TBS).

“The expanded edit capabilities that we have here are meant to boost the ability to create more around the TeamStreams,” says Brown. “The creative enhancements around it are going to bring the level of those productions to or just below the level of production that’s on the main game. That’s the biggest win for the TeamStream.”

Playing It Safe (and Green) on Power
Turner and CBS have also placed a strong emphasis on covering all of its bases on power. The operations crew is taking a page from infrastructure partner Filmwerks’ innovative work with ESPN at last summer’s US Open tennis tournament, where the company debuted its new battery UPS system.

In addition to the main game production, there are two studio sets inside the stadium, which feature their own 17 cameras and 13 EVS replay machines.

In addition to the main game production, two studio sets inside the stadium feature their own 17 cameras and 13 EVS replay machines.

Filmwerks has developed a more modular version of its original iteration, with the ability to dial into the land power at the venue and possess a backup battery generation system should something happen to the native power supply.

In the event of a main power failure, the Filmwerks battery system would sustain the load long enough to keep all the trucks online while auto-starting the original generators.

It also allows the power grid in the compound to be broken up into chunks. For example, the main six trucks tied to the game productions are split, with three on one UPS system and the other three on another. Turner and CBS have a plan and system in place so that, if something were to happen to F&F’s GTX-17 — the main game truck — the TeamStream trucks, with their own separate backup generators, would be available to pop right on and take over the broadcast.

“It’s a smaller carbon footprint, and then there’s the fuel savings [because] we’re not just burning diesel all day and all night as we normally would have been,” says Brown. “It’s a real win.”

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