SMT’s GOTO Board Wears Many Hats for MLB Network

MLB Network has come a long way in its two short years on the air, but the cable channel continues to enhance its studio programming, which makes up the bulk of its primetime lineup. In that vein, MLB Network has deployed SMT’s GOTO Board, a custom 103-in. interactive touchscreen used by on-air talent to break down games, analyze players, and connect with fans during each of its three primary studio shows: MLB Tonight, the offseason-focused Hot Stove, and the social-media–driven Front Burner.

“[MLB Network] was looking for an interesting way to analyze upcoming and completed games, individual players, as well as connect with fans,” says Don Tupper, VP of business development, SMT. “This technology gives them a good opportunity to get up from behind the desk and interact with a tool on their set.”

The massive video screen, which debuted last June, displays a full grid of live MLB games during the season and is wired directly into MLB Network’s EVS system, allowing on-air talent to control the video playout just like a traditional EVS operator. In addition, analysts can zoom in on video and draw on the screen using a telestrator.

“This is very unique,” says Tupper. “In a traditional telestrator situation, a talent can talk on a talkback or an IFB by hitting a button. But these guys are on-camera, so they can’t do that. They need to have control of that playback source. In this case, the talent can do pretty much anything that an EVS operator can do. The playback controls are built into the screen.”

A supporting data engine enables the GOTO Board to deliver a profusion of statistics about the game, including scores, pitching matchups, in-game box scores, standings, schedules, league leaders, and historical stats. IMT’s Launch Pad technology also allows talent to communicate with fans on the GOTO Board via Twitter, Facebook, and phone.

MLB Tonight
MLB Tonight, the network’s signature primetime show during baseball season, provides live analysis and in-game look-ins of action taking place around the league. The GOTO Board can display a grid of video feeds for up to 15 live games simultaneously. Each game on the grid can be enlarged to the entire screen, allowing analysts to break down specific games in real time.

“MLB Network is the perfect outlet for this because MLB Tonight is on the air from 6 p.m. all the way until the last game ends, which is sometimes 1 or 2 a.m.,” says Tupper.

The GOTO Board automatically detects when each game feed (usually taken from the team’s regional sports network, or RSN) begins, goes to a commercial, and ends. When the game is not in action, the system automatically pulls up a full-page scoreboard in that window.

“MLB Network obviously doesn’t want to show the commercial inventory of the RSNs. It clutters up the screen and just wouldn’t make sense,” says Tupper. “So we auto-detect when the RSN is going to commercial.”

Hot Stove

The GOTO Board has taken on a very different role in the offseason, when MLB Network does not have the benefit of actual games to prop up its studio programming. As a result, the display is used during Hot Stove to breakdown the flurry of offseason moves around baseball.

For example, the Board displays a nine-window grid listing the top free agents at each position. The analyst can click on a window to pull up the full list of those free agents and can select individual players from there.

“If you click on pitchers and then click on Cliff Lee, it will pull up a screen with tabs for biographical information, 2010 statistics, career statistics, and a link to the EVS for full video [highlights],” says Tupper.  “So they can pull up B roll of Cliff Lee, and the talent has playback control of the EVS source. ”

Front Burner
The GOTO Board comes into play for Front Burner, which serves as a social-media–driven segment within MLB Tonight during the season and is blown out into an hour-long program during the offseason.

Fans can submit questions and comments during the live telecast via Facebook and Twitter. SMT’s Launch Pad system instantly feeds these messages to the production staff, which selects the posts that are funneled to the GOTO Board. The host can then click on the Twitter or Facebook tabs to pull up these messages.

“The talent can open up a fully interactive Twitter or Facebook window, and it will automatically display any tweets, posts, or comments,” says Tupper. “Then, they will click on individual messages, and they will blow up so you can read the full message.”

Line Drive, the voicemail system used on Front Burner, is not currently a live application like the social-media components. When the Line Drive icon is selected, dynamic animation plays on the GOTO Board, and the production staff plays the audio clip off a separate device. However, there are plans to implement a voice-over-IP aspect to the Launch Pad system that will incorporate fans’ voicemails.

“Voice-over-IP allows fans to leave a message on the voicemail, and then, producers can pull it up as [text],” says Tupper. “We’re simulating that in the application now, and we’re looking to integrate it, but we’re probably about three months away from that.”

Just the Beginning
The GOTO Board has been deployed for a variety tasks at the network thus far, and more plans are already in the works. SMT is building an application focused on MLB Network’s 30 Teams in 30 Days season-preview series during the month of March.

“There will be a scene in GOTO with each team’s outlook for 2011: their lineups, rotations, farm system, etc.,” says Tupper. “We see this as an evolution. This is a great foundation for us to evolve with the production staff as they develop programming.”