The NBL announced in late September, that with the exception of New Zealand games, courtside commentators would be replaced by a remote Melbourne-based team in the 2019/20 season, with courtside hosts working in tandem to bridge the gap.
With the exception of NZ games, all games during the 2019/20 Hungry Jack’s NBL Season will be broadcast from a new centralised hub in Melbourne. The hub will enable the NBL and new production partner IMG to deliver an enhanced production and better broadcast experience for all NBL fans.
On Thursday night, when Melbourne's two teams faced off against each other for the first time, the concept was finally seen in the flesh - and it's obvious there's more work to be done.
Technical challenges like broadcast video quality and the scoreboard graphic updating before the ball had gone in, made for a dampener on what was otherwise a very competitive season opener, where Mitch Creek displayed tremendous leadership and grit, taking his South East Melbourne Phoenix to their first franchise win.
Via TV Blackbox's Kevin Perry: "TV Blackbox understands the bulk of the issues were caused due to difficulties in sending the vision from the stadium to a new off-site Melbourne production base, where all production including commentary and graphics are being added to the broadcast."
Sending data (high definition video, in this case) across a physical medium over distances (from arena to remote studio) can be quick, but it isn't instantaneous - there will always be a lag, no matter how slight, compared to the experience of watching it live. That's before we add post-processing pieces into the equation, which further complicates the technical challenges involved.
Just to be clear, it's not impossible to deliver a good user experience. It just requires more adjustments on the technical end - be it reducing trunk latency, rolling out more robust hardware for processing, among other options.
But even if the result's perfect, can it really replace the human interaction aspect of having courtside commentators? Let's not forget this timeless moment between Bryce Cotton and Corey "Homicide" Williams in the 2018/19 season, when Cotton made a four-point play and proceeded with a verbal smackdown.
The technical difficulties continued on Friday night, when the Sydney Kings played the Cairns Taipans. The distance between Cairns Convention Centre --where the game was played-- and the Melbourne remote hub, where commentators Seb Costello and Corey "Homicide" Williams were based in, likely did not help.
Immersion in the game atmosphere makes a difference, and it's one reason why fans travel to watch games live. We can only imagine it has a similar effect on commentators to be able to observe a game up close, versus being physically insulated from the action, and watching it on a screen.
The commentary quality was pointed out repeatedly on social during the Kings-Taipans game, made more obvious when the remote commentators had issues getting clarification on a late game foul review. The negative feedback detracted from what was an honestly enjoyable debut performance by the entertaining, run and gun offence the Taipans put on show, that eventually ended with a Sydney win, courtesy of a dominant fourth quarter run.