NBA TV’s Center Court Experiments With the Limits of Fan Participation in Live Game Broadcasts
Technology and services from The Video Call Center power weekly interactive show
You’d be hard pressed to find a league in U.S. professional sports that is more actively engaged in bringing the viewer closer to the live game broadcast than the NBA, from the betting-focused NBABet Stream to the Influencers stream available on NBA League Pass. The latest example of this effort in experimenting with the live game broadcast is the growth of its NBA Center Court production.
Launched in 2019, Center Court is a weekly live game broadcast that aggressively tries new things, including incorporating more hosts and guests, unique camera angles, and even contributions of fans watching at home.
With hosts and analysts both in studio and in remote setups in their respective homes, the broadcast sometimes grows from a single talking head on screen to five-by-five walls of fans reacting to and participating in the show.
“I think our studio experience is setting the example and scratching the surface for moving fan involvement into a live game,” says Brent Berkman, coordinating director, NBA TV, who finds fan reactions to key moments in games to be particularly captivating content. “The interaction has provided some great moments — all fun, funny, and captivating.”
According to Berkman, the show will program standalone segments in which fan guests on their phones ask questions of the analysts. He notes that the fan integration brings added color and excitement to the production: fans on-air tend to dress very colorfully and are vocal in their support of their team.
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A key driver of this content is a partnership with remote– and production-automation– solutions provider The Video Call Center. VCC’s technology enables NBA TV to send a link to guests, who don’t need to download an app or sign in. The production team can pull in the camera and audio feeds from the guest’s camera, quickly QC the feed, and incorporate them into the live production.
Turner Sports first turned to VCC for this fan-integration technology last fall to build companion programming around the NBA Draft. Since then, this type of programming has expanded beyond Center Court and was even used on NBA TV programming during NBA All-Star festivities last weekend.
Center Court leverages VCC’s CrowdView technology, which, according to VCC CEO Larry Thaler, was born of a request made by The Kelly Clarkson Show. Clarkson’s wish for a wall of audience participants tested the capabilities of what VCC’s technology could handle. The company adapted, offering more quality and maintaining quality in a video wall that allows show producers to dynamically and flexibly change positioning and layout of video feeds in the grid.
“CrowdView lets us take a single endpoint and put multiple people up on screen à la Hollywood Squares or Brady Bunch but at the high quality that the VCC is known for,” says Thaler.
In the case of NBA TV, VCC offers technology support, but much of the control is in the hands of the NBA TV staff, including Senior Director Alisa Deanes, who can call out changes the layout of live fan video feeds in real time at any point in the broadcast.
Growing comfort with the technology has led to increased creativity among the NBA TV staff.
“The partnership with VCC has been a great asset to NBA TV and our Center Court broadcast,” notes Berkman. “VCC is a proactive partner in vetting our production ideas for the broadcast and making great suggestions to capitalize on their technology.”
Says VCC Head of Sales Matthew O’Brien, “There’s fluency that goes along with that, and it wasn’t too robust a preproduction schedule. Within efficient time, we were able to give control back to [NBA TV], as well as flexibility and creativity. When they wanted to bring us into the shot, we were ready to go. That, to me, reflects that this isn’t a vendor relationship, that they could call the shot and depend on us to get it up on screen and do it well.”
The next edition of Center Court airs tonight on NBA TV when the San Antonio Spurs visit the Dallas Mavericks at 8:30 p.m. ET.