NBA Season Preview: ESPN Continues To Cultivate ‘GREMI’ Hybrid At-Home Production

ESPN graphics, replay operators will be located at Bristol HQ for NBA game productions

ESPN returns to the NBA hardcourt tonight for the tipoff of its 2017-18 season. The broadcaster will continue to push the envelope technologically, deploying high-end tools like the Sony HDC-4800 ultra-slo-mo camera on game coverage and expanding its use of the GREMI (graphics remote integration) hybrid at-home–production workflow first deployed by ESPN’s MLB and NBA Summer League production teams. The GREMI model allows graphics and some replay operators to be located at its broadcast center in Bristol, CT.

“We are constantly evolving at ESPN with our production workflows. and the GREMI workflow is part of that evolution,” says Wendell Grigely, senior director of event operations, ESPN. “NBA is now going to be able to take advantage of that new technology. Obviously, that means [that] a lot more coordination has to happen with our truck setups, but I think, sport by sport, we’re changing and evolving these workflows. It’s exciting to be at the front end of this and see how you can get the same results by doing something a little bit differently.”

Inside the GREMI Model
For NBA coverage, the Vizrt graphics unit will be located in the mobile unit onsite but controlled by an operator in Bristol. In addition, two or more EVS replay systems will be controlled in Bristol — although the lead EVS operators will still be in the truck. The operators at home and the production team in the truck are tied together via an IP Unity comms network.

“The way we look at this is, the plant in Bristol essentially becomes a B unit for us to support our graphics operation and part of our replay operation,” Grigely explains. “With the comms network, everyone is speaking to each other so it appears that these operators could be in a B unit parked right next to your truck in the compound.”

ESPN plans to deploy the GREMI workflow across all its NBA productions this season. The number of EVS replay operators in Bristol will vary depending on the profile of the game.

“It does get a little complicated in the field for our tech specialists, EICs, and operations people since we’re now connecting 14 different transmission paths back to Bristol from the truck,” says Grigely, “but we are lucky to have a great team managing this.”

Having seen the GREMI model in action, ESPN Senior Coordinating Producer Tim Corrigan believes the GREMI workflow will have no major impact on the way the production team operates.

“We’re going to be using our facilities in Bristol more than we ever have and in a really exciting way,” he says. “It’s actually a natural progression, but one that’s taken a little while to figure out. It makes so much sense to start using some of the resources we have at this amazing facility in Connecticut because of the way we’re able to tie things together and communicate seamlessly between [Bristol] and any of our remotes anywhere.”

Plenty of Production Firepower Throughout the Season
ESPN will continue to build on the production complement, workflows, and design look that it has created in recent years for its NBA coverage.

On average, ESPN’s NBA regular-season coverage will feature eight to 12 cameras and as many as 15-16 (primarily additional high-speed systems) for high-profile regular-season games like the NBA Saturday Primetime series.

Most notably, the Sony HDC-4800 ultra-slo-mo camera system, which was reserved for NBA Playoffs/Finals and a handful of regular-season games last year, will be part of the standard complement on the majority of ESPN A games and ABC Saturday Primetime games. ESPN will also continue to deploy Grass Valley LDX C86 high-speed robotic box cameras in above-the-rim and below-the-rim positions on these high-profile games.

NEP and Game Creek Video are once again providing trucks for ESPN’s NBA productions throughout the season. EVS complements on these trucks will fluctuate between four and seven on average regular-season games and as many as nine for ABC games.

“Equipment-wise, we’re pretty consistent with where we’ve been the last few years on the NBA with camera and EVS counts, but, like everybody, we’re always looking for more super-slo-mos, bigger lenses, and things like that. The way people watch sports now — whether it’s on their phone or on their television at home — those are the images that always resonate. So we’re always on the look for new, exciting tools.”

ESPN will continue to produce its signature Mic’ed Up segments, outfitting players and coaches during games to capture unique audio from the court.

After launching a brand-new animation and insert package last year, Corrigan says, ESPN has “gone back and looked at some of the key elements to fine-tune them, but we’re really excited about the branding we came up with last year and how that will ultimately move forward this season.”

As usual, the heart of ESPN’s NBA season kicks into gear on Christmas Day, when the network produces four marquee games. Grigely expects these productions to once again feature a playoffs-level complement, with 20-plus cameras and 10-plus EVS replay systems.

“I think Christmas Day is such a big day for the NBA and for ESPN because it defines the season getting into full swing,” he says. “Technically speaking, we’re going to use every asset that we can to make the games look and sound great.”

Summer Nights: Summer League Is a Tech-Testing Ground
In addition to using the Summer League to test out its GREMI workflow, ESPN also experimented with a rail-cam system with the hope of integrating it into NBA coverage down the road.

“I don’t think we’re there yet with that, and there are a lot of liability and logistical issues to work out, but, down the road, that’s something we are looking at. Regardless, it’s great to have Summer League available to test things like that. I think we are all really proud of what was accomplished this year [at Summer League].

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