MLB Network’s Innovative Production Model Shines at World Series

Since being launched nearly three years ago, MLB Network has lived by the mantra of doing more with less. Today, even with its profile and ratings on the rise, MLB Network has continued this philosophy during this year’s World Series. Instead of rolling out an entire remote production for its live pre- and post-game programming, the network is sending 10 discrete camera feeds and two Ballpark Cam signals back to its headquarters in Secaucus, NJ, where the show is cut and graphics are added.

“This is a way for us to give our viewers as much live coverage as we possibly can,” says Susan Stone, SVP of operations and engineering. “Considering how much live programming we have on the air on a continual basis throughout the year, for us to uproot half of our production and technical studio crew and bring it out would create a major shortage [back in Secaucus].”

This is essentially the same approach used by MLB Network during last year’s World Series. The method’s roots date back to the 2009 Series, when Yankee Stadium’s television compound did not have enough space for an additional mobile unit, forcing MLB Network to improvise. However, the network has upped the ante this year, boosting its pregame programming from three to five hours (four hours of MLB Tonight and one hour of Intentional Talk) and expanding its postgame coverage.

“We are on the air for five hours every day from the ballpark, which is a very high volume of programming,” says Stone. “To do that in the traditional sense would have involved multiple crews and a huge amount of resources. This is a way we can give our viewers exactly what they’re looking for in a cost-effective manner.”

Home and Abroad: Splitting the Production
NEP Supershooter 18 will be on hand for MLB Network throughout the Series, but it is being used as a TV operations center (TOC), rather than as a traditional production unit. For example, there is no technical director on-site, and the A1 is in charge of the communications system rather than mixing the show audio. All the switching, audio mixing, and graphics insertion is performed in Secaucus. However, an on-site director is on hand to assist the primary New Jersey-based director.

“We are using the truck’s on-board router to get feeds in and out,” says Engineering Manager Curt Bose. “We are also using one or more of our transmission paths to feed video back to Secaucus for packages, [including] isos, bumper shots, and beauty shots. We’re basically using the infrastructure of the truck for input and output, but not in a traditional sense.”

To facilitate seamless communication between the on-site and home-based crews, MLB Network has fully integrated its Riedel Communications intercom system with Secaucus.

MLB Network’s Innovative Production Model Shines at World Series

On the Set and in the Stadium
The 10 dedicated cameras comprise four at the MLB Tonight set, four throughout the ballpark, and two handhelds with reporters (the camera complement jumps to 11 with the blimp cam, which was grounded by weather at the first two games).

The set features three cameras in the traditional studio configuration plus a jib, which is new to the show this year.

In the past, the network has shared its four hard stadium cameras with MLB International, but, this year, it has sole possession of all four positions: high first, high third, centerfield, and high home.

Ballpark Cam Caps Off MVP Season
Much of this would not be possible without the Cisco Ballpark Cam system, which allows MLB Network to control and receive video from robotic cameras at every MLB ballpark via fiber network. Both Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, TX, and Busch Stadium in St. Louis feature two POV cameras: one in centerfield and one in the home- or away-team dugout.

The centerfield camera is a Panasonic AKHC1500G box camera with a Canon KJ-16ex7.7BITS-RE lens; a Canon BU-45H remote-control pan-tilt HD camera covers the dugout. Both are mounted on Telemetrics Televator robotic systems.

MLB Network is using the Ballpark Cam system’s fiber connectivity in conjunction with Level 3 Vyvx fiber circuits to handle all its transmission needs during the Series.

“We are using our on-site encoders and Ballpark Cam to do spots with analysts, reporters, and players. That gives us a second presence here to expand our coverage,” says Cisco Ballpark Cam engineer Rob Brotzman, “We are utilizing the encoders we have in our existing [Ballpark Cam] transmission infrastructure here, but we also added a whole rack of encoders to that for the additional camera feeds.”

MLB Network’s live coverage of the World Series continues this weekend during Games 3 and 4. MLB Tonight begins at 3 p.m. ET, followed by Intentional Talk at 5 p.m. and another live edition of MLB Tonight at 6 p.m. MLB Tonight will return for postgame coverage following each game.