Fans who use the ESPN App will be able to access full games with a “rail-cam” view, which lets the streaming audience see the action through a camera lens placed on a mobile table. As the action moves up and down the court, the camera can move with it (a concept not dissimilar from the “Boogermobile,” an elevated chair for former “Monday Night Football” analyst Booger McFarland that ESPN for a time placed on top of a cart that could move with the game up and down the sideline). ESPN tonight will broadcast the Boston Celtics against the Milwaukee Bucks at 6:30 p.m. eastern, followed by Dallas Mavericks taking on the. Houston Rockets at 9 p.m. eastern.
“Railcam will bring to life the incredible athleticism of the NBA game and provide unique access and angles that we’ve always wanted to be part of our coverage,” says Tim Corrigan, senior coordinating producer of NBA broadcasts for ESPN. “This is another example of technology we’ve tested at NBA Summer League in Las Vegas that has turned into a reality for our regular season and playoff productions.” The camera, he says, has a lens height of six feet and sits 10 feet off the court’s apron.
ESPN intends to use the “rail-cam” at various points during the TV broadcast as well.
The non-traditional game angle marks ESPN’s latest experiment in offering its fans “alternative views” of traditional play. In August of last year, ESPN tested a “kidscast” of the annual Little League World Series on ESPN2. The program featured two 16-year-olds offering commentary in the broadcast booth and two 15-year-old sideline reporters. In June of last year, the ESPN App featured a teen-focused stream of an NBA game co-hosted by Katie Nolan, Jay Williams, Gary Striewski and Mike Korzemba, all of whom were superimposed at the bottom of the screen while emoji popped up during game play to call attention to various parts of the action.
App users who tune in the games will also hear the audio from microphones placed underneath the court – the better to pick up the sounds of squeaking shoes and ball bounces.
The NBA has worked with its two primary rights holders – Disney’s ESPN and WarnerMedia’s Turner Sports – to fill the void left by the lack of live crowds at its games, which are playing out in Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports facility near Orlando, Fla. More than 300 fans will be invited to appear live on 17-foot video boards surrounding the court at the games. Their antics are sponsored by Anheuser’s Michelob and coordinated with technology from Microsoft. “We’re really focused on bringing our fans closer to each other and to the action than ever before and creating new ways for them to watch,” said Sara Zuckert, head of next-gen telecast at the NBA, in a recent press conference. “We’re also creating new ways for them to interact with the game since they can’t be there in person.”
Many of the new on-screen features are also being used by Turner.
In an era when streaming services are siphoning viewers away from traditional TV, live sports broadcasts have evolved into a bedrock element of linear networks’ offerings. Tailoring their presentation for younger viewers who are more at home watching video on mobile screens is taking on new importance, as traditional media outlets try to keep the audiences advertisers covet most.
New camera angles could also bring new challenges. The rail-cam is positioned on only one side of the court, which means some of the action on the ESPN App stream could take place further from the camera.