Inside the NBA Bubble & WNBA ‘Wubble’: How Zoom Plugs Into a ‘Virtual Content Factory’ & Supports Media Distribution
A million things had to happen before the 2019-20 NBA and 2020 WNBA seasons could safely restart in July. The league’s decision to move 22 teams – players, coaches, trainers, and other key personnel – to the NBA campus in Orlando, and put on more than 200 scrimmages, and regular season and playoff games was an unprecedented exercise in logistics and safety. The same can be said for the WNBA, which played an entire regular season and playoff schedule in its Bradenton, Florida, “wubble.”
The NBA and WNBA media relations team also had to solve for the safe delivery of another critical part of the experience – media availability of coaches and players before and after practices, shootarounds, and games, and for awards press conferences.
The media relations team began putting pen to paper in April to determine the best way to capture and deliver press conferences and other media content to the NBA’s global distribution partners. The NBA worked with the Zoom Pro Events team to leverage Zoom as the first-of-its-kind cloud broadcast production platform.
The media challenge
Since a limited amount of media was going to be allowed inside the NBA campus, the NBA had to make the media experience as easy and as self-service as possible for media around the world, including licensees and distributors.
The NBA’s PR team had used Zoom before and found it a comfortable platform to use, but Chris Halton, the NBA’s Senior Vice President, Media Technology and Operations, said they chose Zoom for a few other reasons.
“First, the NBA required control over moderating these virtual press conferences and interviews, and Zoom Webinars was perfect for that,” Halton said. “But we also needed automated delivery of video-on-demand assets into our cloud delivery platform, the NBA Content Network, in addition to the Official Archive of the NBA. The NBA refers to its content ecosystem as the virtual content factory, consisting of multiple integrated platforms for acquiring and delivering content on a global basis. Automation of NBA’s Zoom media availability into this platform was paramount for delivering content to our licensees, press, and regional sports networks in a timely manner.”
To execute on that vision of live delivery of the media assets captured, the NBA had to adapt.
How they did it
The NBA put together 28 Zoom carts in various locations around the Orlando and Bradenton campuses, and each Heckler AV Display Cart was outfitted with a DTEN D7 55-inch touchscreen with integrated mic and speaker and a customized BirdDog Eyes P100 1080p PTZ Camera.
For 13 weeks consisting of a shortened regular season and ultra-competitive playoffs, the NBA used the customized carts to hold more than 3,700 Zoom meetings and webinars, stream over 3 million press minutes, and collect more than 2,100 hours of recordings, making this pandemic-era NBA season one of the largest continual Zoom events on record.
“The cloud-to-cloud delivery of content being captured by Zoom, the real-time streaming to Akamai for regional sports networks and other partners to consume the pressers live out of Orlando – it’s all unprecedented,” Halton said. “We’ve never done something at this scale before, and it was only possible through listening, adapting, and working tirelessly to execute it.”
Halton listed a few specific Zoom aspects that helped make this a successful endeavor for the NBA:
- The self-service nature of the Zoom platform made it easy for anyone to schedule, start, and record media events
- The ability to support custom live streaming of each interview
- The Zoom professional services team that helped manage the overall operation and troubleshoot issues
The flexibility and ease of use of the Zoom cloud platform helped make those 13 successful weeks possible for the NBA. Zoom plugged right into the NBA’s virtual content network to easily acquire and distribute media in a closed, safe environment.
As the NBA looks to the future and continues to expand its use for content acquisition and distribution, this type of operation, one that is highly technical and at massive scale – coupled with the power of AT&T, the official 5G wireless network of the NBA – could very well change how news, media, and other sports leagues deliver their content in the future.
By the numbers
22 NBA teams
12 WNBA teams
200+ games and scrimmages
28 Zoom carts
3,700+ Zoom meetings and webinars
2,100+ hours of recordings
3 million+ press minutes streamed