FIBA, setting a course for the future

As we explore sports broadcasting, TM Broadcast introduces to its readers an exclusive interview with Stephanie Mignot, FIBA Media’s Chief Operating Officer.

During this conversation we delve into the dynamic of FIBA broadcasting processes and cutting-edge technology that bring the thrilling game of basketball to audiences worldwide. As the global governing body for basketball, FIBA continuously strives to enhance the viewer experience, seamlessly blending the excitement of the sport with state-of-the-art broadcasting techniques.

We invite you all to join us in gaining insight from a sport’s broadcast expert who plays a pivotal role in orchestrating the intricate dance between technology and sports, shedding light on the innovative strategies and advancements that make FIBA broadcasts a truly immersive spectacle.

 

What are the peculiarities of FIBA and basketball game transmissions?

We could say that there are many different peculiarities.

Of course, to start with, basketball is a very different sport to football. With international basketball, we are very often playing in general entertainment arenas that are not dedicated to the sport, so they have to be specifically set up for basketball broadcasting.  In terms of the game format, it is also less predictable. For instance, teams can call time outs to discuss strategy, during which there will usually be entertainment for the crowd in the arena, so we have to find ways to deliver a compelling broadcast product during these times.

Amongst other activities, FIBA organises the national team basketball competitions.

National pride brings emotions like nothing else. All basketball fans and followers know how the game of basketball is very fast and spectacular as well. We are working hard around the storytelling with always emphasizing on those three key elements.

 

Also, if you don’t understand how basketball works journalists have to guide the spectator if they don’t know the game. So, everything is about the storytelling, as you said.

Oh, every game is different, and storytelling is key.

Another thing which is still very unique to FIBA is their online Broadcast Academy. We want to keep the coverage as consistent as possible, which is a challenge when working with so many different host broadcasters across the world. This is why the FIBA Broadcast Academy, is so important.  It is a revolutionary, innovative and cutting edge online educational tool, which has been developed in order to guide and educate the users in the best practice production of a basketball game.

Basketball is a truly global game and, as with any global sport, the styles and ways of broadcasting the games vary significantly around the world. The FIBA Broadcast Academy is the destination for basketball directors to visit and understand the basic fundamental principles and skills required for the optimum coverage of the sport of basketball. The site content has been developed through the analysis of the production of basketball games from around the world and the input of basketball directors that have been responsible for FIBA World and Continental Championships, Olympic Games as well as NBA.

 

Right, then it’s something like guidelines for best practices.

Exactly. It is a very practical tool, with a lot of examples and very visual. Directors and production crews around the world can freely access online anywhere anytime.

 

What are the human and technical resources that FIBA usually deploy for covering the games? Could you detail in which solutions FIBA trusts for image and audio capturing and managing? Does FIBA deliver video in HDR 4K?

We have very different production standards depending on the game we have to cover.

We have a basic standard production format, which is five main cameras, two fixed cameras on the backboards, one beauty shot, replays with a minimum of two replay operators and, of course, sound assistance, and sound mixer.

And then we go step-by-step to a premium standard production, which includes as well two super slow-mo cameras and team bench camera.

We finally go up to the FIBA Basketball World Cup, which is the top tier event for FIBA, where we produce the live games with up to 36 cameras.

If readers had the opportunity to watch the last FIBA Basketball World Cup that recently took place last September in Manila, they could see many different and unseen angles using the 36 cameras with 12 replay operators.

 

What kind of cameras?

They are usual broadcast cameras, but as well, a lot of specialty cameras. We have aerial cameras, crane cameras and rail cameras. We have a lot of behind-the-scenes cameras as well as robotic cameras in the corridors. We had a few innovations for the FIBA Basketball World Cup where we had a camera in the backstop unit to have shots from the court level. We have something that I think is now being used more and more but was quite unique at least when we started in 2019: it’s a rail camera on the opposite side to the bench, that is following the game, and it has a very particular inside view of the game. It’s at the same level as the court, so it has a very specific angle. We can show how fast and how precise the flow of the team is coming from one end to the other end of the court. It gives very spectacular super slow-mo clips.

We are using cinematic cameras as well. As we believe the emotion is the one key element of the live coverage, such cinematic camera can definitely add value as well as the ultra-super slow-mo cameras. It adds very emotional shots that you can use as for a replay element.

 

You said the emotion is key. Nowadays, there’s a lot of younger audience that uses TikTok, or other kinds of devices for watching sports competitions. Are FIBA working on developing different formats for attracting younger audiences?

In general, FIBA has an extremely strong presence across the primary social media platforms, which helped deliver record levels of engagement during FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023.  A lot of that short form game content is created and delivered by FIBA Media via WSC’s clipping technology, both during and post-game, to ensure that the best assets are available. In addition, we have a dedicated Digital Marketing team who creates a lot of digital short form content to promote our broadcasters. For instance, there was a specific team in the arenas at FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 who produced tailored highlights packages for star players from unique angles and with an assortment of interesting graphics.  These were provided directly to the individual players via our platform partner Greenfly, who posted them to their significant number of social followers.

 

Does FIBA work in partnership with broadcasters and media groups when covering the games?

Yes, we do. Depending on the competitions and the rights agreements in place, we work with broadcast partners and/or different production companies to cover the games around the world. As there are very many different parties involved, the FIBA Broadcast Academy is still the unique tool to make sure that everyone is briefed and coordinated and has a basic understanding on how we at FIBA like to deliver the games.

 

How is the signal distributed? On which network infrastructure does FIBA rely? Does this change according to the circumstances of what you were saying, according to the place?

Most of the games are still delivered on satellite as it is still offering the widest coverage to our many takers around the world. And because we are as well producing the games from very many different venues that are not always connected to a big fibre pipeline, we are still relying most of the time on a satellite distribution.

Nevertheless, as much as we can, we are also distributing the feeds via SRT, a technology that we have now been using for the last couple of years.

For example, for the FIBA Basketball World Cup, we have, as well as satellite, used the SRT as a main path for distributing the international feed of the games that we are producing, as well as the superfeed, which is a second simultaneous feed that is produced to cover all the backstage and all the elements that are not used during the live coverage.

Because we have so many cameras and so many moments that cannot fit within the live game, we have created this second simultaneous feed for the major FIBA events and this was very successfully delivered via SRT.

 

How do FIBA mostly produce their games? Remotely, locally, hybrid? Which is the best option according to your point of view?

We usually try to produce locally. Whenever we can, we are going remotely as well.  This is because sometimes it is the only possibility we have due to the lack of local activities or local broadcast equipment and knowledge. We are very much agnostic, meaning that we are always trying to find the best solution, the one that warrants the highest quality.

Obviously, we have a budget to manage, so it’s very much an à la carte solution. We don’t have a set way to do things. Whenever and wherever we are, we are always trying to find the best possible solution for the best possible price.

 

So according to your point of view, there’s no better option. It’s just according to the circumstances and the resources and the place.  Which production or achievement in broadcast are FIBA most proud of?

We could say right now, because we have just finished the event, it would be the FIBA Basketball World Cup that was delivered in Japan, Indonesia and the Philippines. We are very proud of having been able to deliver 92 live games very successfully within 16 days of competition and with such a huge production planning. We had four different venues for the group phase with 24 cameras in each of the venues, and then the final one was up to 36 cameras. So, I think we can all be very proud of the final result, which was appreciated by basketball fans all over the world.

 

We suppose the language and different cultures was an issue to coordinate all the broadcasts.

It was sometimes challenging, yes, because we put together a solution per venue, using different production companies with production crews that we had appointed. They were very good international crews with different technical solutions. However, we still have to manage and work with local people as well, because they deliver the event for us. So yes, it is a lot of different challenges. At the end of the day, it is a team effort with great team spirit, and we always manage to finally deliver a very good broadcast production that we can be proud of.

 

Does virtual production play any role in FIBA broadcasting style?

We are not using so much of it. But again, at the recent FIBA Basketball World Cup we developed an opening title that used some virtual production.

We had 92 different opening sequences, one for each game, so everything was totally customised to each game. Thanks to the technology and a big team effort, we could deliver this amazing dedicated opening sequence.

 

So, what kind of solution does FIBA use for managing workflows efficiently?

We are using an auto-clipping system provided by WSC* because, as I mentioned earlier, we are producing a lot of additional non-live content from the games. A top-class auto-clipping solution is absolutely essential for us to deliver all of the required non-live additional content.

The auto-clipping system allows you, once again, to customise the clip to whomever you have to deliver that piece of content. The system is very convenient and helps us a lot.

We are also using virtual production for everything which is non-live content with a solution provided by NEP and the Media Bank. So those are the two technology providers, the two workflows that are helping.

 

What do you think about the cloud? About production in the cloud? Does FIBA work with cloud production?

We are very interested in such a solution but the challenge for us always remains the connectivity from the origin of the event. Because the venues change for every event and there are multiple venues even for one event, it’s very hard for us to guarantee that the appropriate connectivity is in place and at reasonable cost to be able to use a cloud solution.  It’s still a work in progress and we have not yet managed to use it so far but we are obviously very interested and always checking to see what we can use in the future.

 

So how does FIBA treat live graphics? In which solutions are FIBA creating and managing them?

The graphics are a very big element to the game, and they have to represent the brand as well.  The branding has to be consistent and also the information displayed has to be clear, concise and relevant to the viewer.  We centrally create and manage the graphics.  The creativity is usually through a tender process when we select a creative agency and develop a complete graphics package for all elements required. We then look after the onsite technical solution, which implements the graphics into the live game. Although we are delegating the production to some broadcast partners from time to time in different events around the world, the graphics solution is always something that we aim to control centrally. We can then ensure that all the templates are implemented correctly and that we are connected to the live stats information in order to display the graphics in the correct way with the correct information. It’s very much centrally created and managed. Specifically for the recent FIBA Basketball World Cup, we developed some of our own statistics-based graphics in-house.

 

When you can, you manage it locally. It depends on the game. Okay, so… it’s very much more centrally than locally, I would say, right?

If it is local we will appoint different providers, but we still try to make sure that we are always in control.

 

That makes sense. If you could ask for a wish to a genie in a lamp for overcoming a recurring issue when covering basket games. What would you ask for? What do you think technologies and manufacturers can do to make better the coverage?

We are always working on the best solution to access the accurate on-site scoreboard data in real time to make it immediately available throughout the world. That’s one that could be helped by future development and technology.

Lighting is obviously a key element to basketball production. Or actually to any production. But particularly in the venues that we have our events. The lighting setup is still very much a key element to have a successful broadcast because it has such a massive impact on the coverage quality. If we had a wish the first would probably be to have all the basketball venues around the world with a top-quality basketball friendly lighting system.

This would improve the coverage massively. With the best lighting you could have a really good production with maybe only five cameras. But without a good lighting, a really good production will still not look good to the viewer.

 

What technological developments are you planning to deploy in the near future? Maybe you gave us a side with AI and managed data.

Yes, AI would be one. Also using some form of player tracking system for the viewers to get closer to understand what the players are doing on the court. For the last FIBA Basketball World Cup, we had access to statistical graphics that were derived from the StatsPerform player tracking system.

The players are the stars of the game, so getting closer to them, to their emotion, to their audio, to whatever they do on the court would always be interesting to the viewers.

 

So, the last question, from your point of view, what will be the evolution of broadcast technologies and production models linked to best basketball game productions?

We recently tested an LED basketball court at a Junior event in Madrid   It is a great innovation and opens up enormous opportunities for the future all of which will lead to a more enhanced basketball broadcast production for the fans to enjoy even more. Watch this space!!!

 

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