MLB’s New Facility Sounds Great

By Dan Daley

MLB Network’s new production and post facility in Secaucus, NJ, will be the nerve center for broadcasting baseball, with the network handling at least 26 games this season in 720p HD. The studios in the 140,000-sq.-ft. space will also handle original programming produced in-house by MLB Network and MLB Productions.

MLB’s new digs are in the space once used as a production facility for MSNBC, which left behind a decade-old digital infrastructure that MLB happily used as a foundation for its own multilayer file-based infrastructure, tying all the production and post spaces together internally and connecting via fiber to all 30 major-league ballparks around the U.S. and Canada.

This sophisticated integration of picture and sound in a file-based environment makes talking about audio as a standalone proposition a bit challenging, says Mark Haden, VP of engineering and IT for MLB: “The audio and video are fully embedded, and we want to keep it that way as much as possible.”

There are two large audio-production spaces” respectively dubbed Studio 42 for Jackie Robinson’s famously retired number and Studio 3 for Babe Ruth’s” with the largest big enough to hold a half-size regulation infield as a set and spread out enough that wireless microphones and IFB are the norm for talent.

Two audio-control rooms can interface with either production space. Each is equipped with a 56-fader Calrec Omega production console linked via Calrec Hydra networking. Monitoring is done with Genelec speakers and subs, with five of 14 Final Cut Pro-equipped edit suites configured for both stereo and 5.1. Two audio-sweetening rooms will be fitted with Fairlight systems in the very near future.

The facility hit the ground running, handling live work on the Caribbean Series, The World Baseball Classic series, and spring-training games, as well as 30 Clubs in 30 Days, a series of one-hour spring-training specials previewing each MLB club. “That was a challenge, considering we only opened up the first of the year,” says Haden.

Since the facility’s huge storage/server system” 36 K2 media servers in a RAID-protected storage area network” can handle massive amounts of data, the network can juggle 15 games simultaneously. Regular-season plans call for a game of the week, live look-ins on other games, and full highlights of all the games combined for highlight shows like MLB Tonight.

With the ability to do live interviews at any park at any time and feed them throughout the broadcast networks, the facility is highly automated.

“We’re careful about our dialnorm levels,” Haden points out. “Our traffic systems talk to our on-air automation, and that’s how we handle that modulation.”

There are also no plans to upmix stereo audio to 5.1 surround sound, he adds.

Each stadium will eventually have remotely operated BallParkCams, with a microphone attached through which interviews can be conducted from Secaucus with players at stadiums here and abroad before, during, and after games. The interviews are all on VoIP, which controls not only the audio but also the cameras and sends 48 channels of discrete audio (effects, TV audio, radio calls, and foreign-language commentary) live via MPEG-4 4:2:2 AVC-encoded streams back to the facility to be edited for highlights. Six stadiums are fitted with this capability thus far. Haden expects them all to be operational by the end of the season.