From San Fran to Philly, Comcast Sports Group RSNs Step Up to the Plate

Less than two weeks remain until Major League Baseball’s Opening Day, and, as managers trim their rosters to 25 and players begin to look northward, Comcast Sports Group’s family of regional sports networks is prepared for the first pitch of the 2012 regular season and beyond.

Once again, CSN Bay Area, CSN California, CSN Chicago, CSN Philadelphia, and SportsNet New York (SNY) will serve as the primary television homes for their respective regional teams. While each caters to a unique and storied franchise (in Chicago, two franchises), the RSNs are linked by a shared emphasis on storytelling.

“Our backbone is telling the story of our teams better than anyone,” says Jon Slobotkin, VP/executive producer, Comcast Sports Group. “That means, to do it everyday in multiplatform coverage and what I would think is unrivaled in scope and detail and the attention that we give to our teams.”

Carrying the Baseball Banner for the NBC Sports Group
The 2012 season marks Comcast SportsNet’s second as the regional arm of the NBC Sports Group. In addition to continuing its tradition of storytelling —  long a Peacock hallmark —  Comcast SportsNet will increase its brand identification with the NBC Sports Group.

“We’re very proud of the fact that, while our national network does not have the rights to Major League Baseball because we do regionally, we have some very strong, compelling markets,” says Slobotkin. “[The Comcast Sports Group RSNs] carry the baseball banner for NBC and Comcast, and we try to do that in the tradition of NBC and do it to the best of our abilities every day.”

X-Mo Delivers High-Speed Image Capture
This season, the network will ramp up its use of super-slow-motion with an Inertia Unlimited X-Mo in each market’s home-game telecast. CSN Bay Area, CSN California, CSN Philadelphia, and SNY will feature the X-Mo for the first time in their camera complements.

“We have had various platforms of super-slo-mo in the past, but [the X-Mo] is, we feel, the best one we’ve had access to,” says David Koppett, senior executive producer, CSN Bay Area. “It has a big impact in all sports, but I think the impact is biggest in baseball.”

Koppett, who oversees both San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s broadcasts (CSN California, though owned separately, is managed by CSN Bay Area), is particularly excited to showcase the pitching-rich Giants with the high-speed technology. He plans primarily to place the X-Mo at high first on both sides of the Bay and experiment with positions in center field, low home, low first, and low third.

“To be able to see, for instance, the rotation of the pitches is a big deal so we [will] try to move the X-Mo around the ballpark to be able to see that,” says Koppett. “We have analysts on both sides —  [former pitcher] Mike Krukow on the Giants side, [former catcher] Ray Fosse on the A’s side — where their strength is really analyzing pitching, so that’s what they like to talk about.”

Shawn Oleksiak, senior executive producer of CSN Philadelphia, echoes Koppett’s enthusiasm for the super-slow-motion technology.

“Adjusted frame rate is really an opportunity to generate some incredible replay visuals,” says Oleksiak. “It’s an opportunity to capture anything from a tremendous swing to a turning of a double play to a pitcher’s delivery to a facial reaction. When you have a production as important to our network as our Phillies production is, the opportunity to use technologies, especially something as visually stimulating as an [X-Mo], is really something special.”

In the Windy City, CSN Chicago will be featuring the X-Mo for the second season on both its Cubs and White Sox telecasts.

“That technology has been a huge win for us in all our coverage,” says Jim Corno Jr., senior executive producer, live events, CSN Chicago. “Hockey, basketball, [and] baseball really enjoy the crystal clarity that you get from [the X-Mo] in all the replays. In baseball, seeing each seam as it spins around in a curve ball approaching the plate is something that even high-definition [cameras] don’t bring you.”

Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, California
Comcast SportsNet Bay Area will broadcast 138 Giants regular-season games, and Comcast SportsNet California will broadcast 144 A’s games.

Koppett deploys a similar complement on both sides of the Bay, with one exception. In San Francisco, an HD RF roving camera is used to capture the Giants’ atmosphere at AT&T Park, which Koppett calls “picturesque.” In Oakland, an additional hard camera is used.

Both ballparks will feature several on-location pregame shows throughout the season. Currently, 16 ballpark pregame shows are scheduled for AT&T Park’s Willie Mays Plaza, and 11 are scheduled for O.Co Coliseum, with the possibility to add more.

“On both sides [of the Bay], we’ve been able to develop the technology where we can fiber back our camera signals and fiber back to the ballpark a return pass from the studio,” explains Koppett. “That allows us to produce those shows in the studio.”

Comcast SportsNet Chicago
The regular season on Comcast SportsNet Chicago includes 80 Cubs’ live games and 101 White Sox games. Both sides of town are welcoming new managers this season: Dale Sveum on the north side, and Robin Venture on the south side.

“We’re very excited,” says Corno of the upcoming season. “Any time there’s a change in regime, there’s a refreshing of hope and [an] enthusiasm for the development of the younger players.”

In addition to the X-Mo, CSN Chicago will  return its PitchTrax technology, which Corno sees as primarily a conversation tool, rather than an instrument for questioning umpires.

“Baseball has a lot of opportunity for conversations and for the announcers to break down and relate to situations when they were playing,” says Corno. “In baseball, there’s more time to tell stories and to relate to pitchers from the past or from other teams, and the PitchTrax technology is just another way to demonstrate the skills of both pitchers —  our pitcher, the opponent’s pitcher, the closers — and to help our announcers communicate what their agendas are and how they execute them.”

Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia
Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia and The Comcast Network will air a total of 109 regular-season games. CSN Philadelpiha, which was named the highest-rated RSN of 2011, will introduce a roving reporter this season. Gregg Murphy will take the broadcast out of the booth, down on the field, and around the ballpark for every Phillies telecast.

“[Gregg] will be located wherever the story and the game and the day and the situation warrant,” says Oleksiak. “Between himself and our quality production team led by [producer] Jeff Halikman, director Ray Tipton, and associate producer John DiSangro, they’ll really plot that from day to day, inning to inning, pitch to pitch. That’s the beauty of this opportunity.”

Statistical analytics will play a greater role through enhanced graphics and visual data. In addition to the X-Mo, CSN Philadelphia will use multiple robotic and point-of-view cameras.

Pursuing the Digital Space
In each market, Comcast SportsNet will deploy dedicated digital reporters known as Insiders, who will contribute to the RSN’s digital space as well as the linear broadcast.

The network plans to upgrade its second-screen experience as well, increasing the depth of statistical information available and capability for social interaction. According to Slobotkin, social media will play a larger role in the linear broadcast. The network plans to incorporate Twitter handles and pertinent tweets into the on-air graphics presentation.

Consistence Across the Country
Comcast SportsNet will broadcast all regular-season games, pre- and post-game shows, and shoulder programming in HD.

“There’s a very consistent approach in terms of talent, look, and feel for all these shows,” says Slobotkin. “So, if you’re in New York or Philadelphia or San Francisco, when you tune in to watch the games, whether it’s over the air or on Comcast SportsNet or SNY, you’re going to see a very consistent quality approach to [the broadcast].”