Turner Studios endures its own madness in televising 2013 NCAA basketball tournament

Now that the madness of yet another NCAA men’s college basketball tournament has been televised and all of the cameras, lights and cable has finally been put away, it’s time to reflect on the highly coordinated, multi-site effort accomplished by numerous teams at Turner Studios, based in Atlanta, and its close collaboration with CBS Sports in New York. Looking at the sheer numbers of components and staff collaboration alone, and the coordination it required, is breathtaking in its scope.

When he could catch his breathe — about a week after his part of the tournament was over — Craig Heyl, senior vice president of Turner Studios, a division of Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., sent an internal memo to his staff (and the entire company) that recognized those responsible.

“Everyone involved should feel proud of their accomplishments across Turner Studios,” he wrote to the team. “It’s the sum of the parts that makes this all possible.”

This year marked the third that Turner Studios has worked on an NCAA March Madness event for its parent Turner Broadcasting System (TBS). The effort involved staff from Turner’s Field Operations, Graphics/Compositing and Post Production departments. (That’s aside from Turner’s digital media department and the comprehensive online media effort it staged to bring content to computers and mobile devices.)

For March Madness 2013, Turner Studios worked closely with its Global Technology & Operation teams and Turner Sports to help produce 67 studio shows across 41 games televised, all in high definition.

“To say the least, it was an incredible team collaboration,” Heyl told Broadcast Engineering online.

Production reached across every department in Turner Studios and included studio shows, round-the-clock engineering and technical support, game feeds and highlights editing, remote truck operations, show opens, promotions and teases, and production graphics.

Turner’s TS2 remote production truck, one of two new rigs that will hit the road this year, was on-site to televise the San Jose regional games, where it helped produce a total of six games (or 15 hours of live television). The all-HD truck, designed by Turner Studios Field Operations, includes a 4 M/E Grass Valley production switcher, an Evertz EQX video router, EVS replay servers, a dozen Sony HDC-2500 cameras (with Canon lenses) and a Calrec audio mixing console. Along the way, the TS2’s remote engineers and drivers logged approximately 400 man-hours during the tournament. Turner Studios Remote Camera/Tape operators logged approximately 560 hours capturing game footage over four to six separate live location broadcasts.

Other highlights

The Post Sports Editorial team cut its way through more than 2800 hours on NCAA projects in the weeks and months leading up to and through the tournament. Session hours ranged from a few hours up to 33 straight hours and 90 short turn-arounds. During peak times, more than 17 rooms were in production creating content for the shows. And its Audio Post Sound Designers logged 169 hours, including producing 12 teases, six opens, an updated graphics package, 30 roll-ins/bumps/stingers, 10 sets of topical promos and seven features/recaps. In total, there were some 85,000 clips used in one way or another. While on the road, editors could search and retrieve clips from Turner Studio’s Sports Central content management system in Atlanta (which received an Excellence Award from Broadcast Engineering magazine) as seamlessly as if the library was in the same room. Finished pieces were then all fed back to Turner Studios and the SportsCentral system before going on the air.

Turner’s Studio Operations, Sports Tech Ops and Engineering facilitated 67 separate studio shows (that’s more than 120 hours of live television) and 41 games (televised on Turner networks). Heyl said that things can get crazy when things don't go right, but for this month-long tournament, not a single on-air technical issue was reported.

“This was one of the best years we've ever had, in terms of technical performance,” he said.

The Scenic Services department at Turner Studios logged more than 730 man hours working on NCAA sets, including set prep, set in, graphics fabrication and installation, rehearsals, shoots, and five turnarounds from NCAA to NBA and back. The Studios Lighting Team put in more than 700 man hours lighting up the NCAA sets, including pre-lights, rehearsals, shoots and turnarounds from NCAA to NBA and back.

This effort was completed in conjunction with CBS Sports studios in New York. On-air anchors reported from both Atlanta and New York, with Turner switching between the two locations (and various games) without viewers really ever seeing a difference.

Turner’s Engineering and Sports Tech Ops and Live Audio teams managed audio signals from 10 different venues (10 audio channels per site) an average of 80 channels of audio on fiber and satellite feeds daily, including four intercom coordination lines per location and six miix-minus lines daily. The team managed more than 46 lines of intercom for all partners including CBS.

Heyl said that this year, they completely remodeled the Sports Command Center (in Atlanta), which helps facilitate all of the Turner Sports' operations teams responsible for monitoring Turner's web and new media products. This is where all of the games and related events are monitored on a large multiview display.

Turner Studios Postproduction, using graphics platforms from Orad HiTech Systems, built more than 40 new school logos with five animations per logo, 10 show logos with six animation passes for each logo. Both 3D and composite were on call throughout conference play to build last-minute school logos as they came in.

Heyl added that close collaboration among other internal divisions — including Network Operations, which handles the transmission of all the games, and the Audience and Multiplatform Technology (AMPT) group, who build and operate all Turner’s digital media platforms — was also critical to the overall success of this year’s extensive tournament coverage.

“Usually everyone talks about the ratings and how well our programming did with viewers, but most people never hear about what went on behind the scenes here in our Atlanta studios,” Heyl said. “Every year we keep raising the bar with the quality of the production and what we’re trying to bring to the viewers. The various production teams within Turner deserve a lot of credit for that.”