NBA to create huge digital archive

Pro basketball league turns to SGI to create searchable digital repository of every filmed minute in its history. Photos: Full-court press for NBA video

Daniel Terdiman Former Senior Writer / News
Daniel Terdiman is a senior writer at CNET News covering Twitter, Net culture, and everything in between.
Daniel Terdiman
3 min read
MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.--If you're a rabid basketball fan who's wished you could get your hands on video of that one memorable shot by Michael Jordan from the Chicago Bulls play-off game you went to in 1989, the National Basketball Association may soon be able to help you out.

The league, working with Silicon Graphics, is setting out to create a digital archive of the entire filmed history of its games, from legendary contests between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers to seemingly meaningless late-season games between out-of-contention teams. The archive will be available at NBA.com. The league unveiled the project Thursday night at SGI's offices here.

NBA video

If the project, which could take as long as six years to complete, goes as planned, fans should be able to get their hands on clips of just about any hoops moment they want, and even create their own personalized video reels.

"We're thinking of making the video available to (fans) so they could edit their own highlight videos and hopefully make them available (in turn) to NBA.com," said Stephen Hellmuth, senior vice president of operations and technology for NBA Entertainment.

The program involves archiving all new footage on a sophisticated digital storage system as well as the painstaking transfer to digital media of nearly 60 years of footage currently stored on aging videotape. It's aimed at making any filmed moment in the league's history accessible to anyone, from coaches to fantasy-league fans.

The NBA won't wait until the whole thing is done, and could start rolling out bits of the project as early as next year, but it's not yet clear how the league will charge for it. Hellmuth speculated that NBA fans could pay for the right to compete to create the best custom highlight reels, which they would upload to NBA.com. He said it was also possible that fans could pay for the right to sift through the archives and create personalized content that they could then burn onto DVDs on their own computers.

Hellmuth said he thinks the NBA is following a technological path that will be of great interest to Major League Baseball and the National Football League.

"This is a migration that all sports leagues are going to have to make," he said. "We're at the center, so we're going to get there first."

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A video slam-dunk

NBA uses SGI system for "replays"

According to Greg Estes, SGI vice president for global marketing, the NBA will be leveraging a system that includes SGI storage systems, its computers and its software.

"They have hard problems to solve. They have 30 satellite feeds coming every day (to manipulate and archive, and our technology) is at the heart and soul of that," Estes said. "We're excited about the NBA saying it out loud."

The NBA plans to employ an unspecified but large number of people to review every minute of its footage, both new and old, in order to time stamp and review plays. The idea, said Hellmuth, is to create a giant searchable database of plays that would note the players involved, their exact location on the court, at what point in the game the play happened, the outcome of the play and a rating for it.

Then, he continued, anyone could search the database for, say, all 3-point shots with less than two minutes on the game clock by the Golden State Warriors' Baron Davis.

Hellmuth also said the archiving project is being done in a "burning the candle at both ends" manner in which all new game footage and the oldest footage--which must be dealt with before old tapes deteriorate--will be handled and made available first. Then the league will work toward the middle.

And though the project is about making any of the footage available to anyone who needs it, the league is clearly most excited about the revenue potential such an extensive library could bring.

"I (might) want to see the three times (Milwaukee Bucks Hall of Famer) Oscar Robertson fouled out with less than 10 seconds left," said SGI's Estes. "Just as a fan, to bring fans into the game, it's just amazing. And from a business standpoint, this allows the NBA to monetize" its archive.