Baseball Coverage: Yesterday & Today
By Michael Silbergleid
We’ll start with today (or at least this season). As first reported by Ken Kerschbaumer, Editorial Director for the Sports Video Group’s website late last month, TBS has given the postseason play a new look with “Truss Cam,” a camera mounted on a trolley that will run on a track located just outside the outfield wall, bringing to America’s national pastime a perspective most often associated with Olympic track and field events.
“Right now, we’re looking at using at Dodger Stadium and Turner Field, and, hopefully, we will be able to move it into the NLCS,” says Craig Barry, SVP of production, Turner Sports. “The track initially will be between 125 and 250 ft. in length, and the camera can go up to 25 mph and is, essentially, a Wescam Cineflex system.”
Barry says just how the system will be deployed during game action remains to be seen.
“It can offer some interesting play-by-play shots from center field or shots of outfielders running,” he explains. “We’ve been testing it, and it has been very dynamic. With wide shots and movement, it will enhance the ambiance of the entire park just by the way it moves, zooms, and pans left and right.”
Getting others sold on the Truss Cam concept took some doing.
“We couldn’t be too close to the spectators or wall, and we needed to get it set up and then have the teams and MLB sign off on it,” says Barry. “But we’re very excited about the application of this camera.”
Use of systems like the Truss Cam, he adds, is the result of a year-long R&D rehearsal, with the postseason a time for new technologies, innovations, and graphics. “We figure out what the top additions are that help extend storylines and bring viewers closer to the game.”
Viewers can also expect more-intense slow-motion replays: a Phantom camera (branded TBS Total Motion) has been added to every series, capturing action at 3,000 frames per second.
“That makes for a long replay, but we will use it to analyze the release of the ball or contact with the bat,” says Barry. “And, with Pedro [Martinez] on board in the studio and a lot of ex-pitchers in the booth, they will break down releases and spins.”
One Phantom camera will be at each of the League Division Series games and two at the National League Championship Series.
From a graphics standpoint, the PitchTrax will have additional information, with a green dot representing a ball, a red circle a called strike, and a solid dot a swinging strike. TBS will also use stats from Bloomberg Sports to incorporate comprehensive statistical information at selected moments in the telecast, such as a hitter’s performance in key situations (for example, facing a particular pitcher with a 3-2 count and two outs). Game and studio analysts will also use the data to examine every pitch of every game as they identify patterns and tendencies. A ChyronHego Paint system will provide a telestrator on steroids (in this case, a good thing), adding a new dimension to analysis.
“You have to toe the line between the hardcore fans and then alienating the casual fan or getting too casual and alienating the hardcore fan,” says Barry. “So we strike a balance between enhancements that make it more entertaining for the casual fan and give more info for the hardcore fan.”
Finding that balance is a constant evolution of evaluating the production style, the budgets, and, of course, the technology.
“Technology for technology’s sake is not the right approach,” he explains. “We always do a battery of tests that involve management, producer, directors, and everyone involved. How can we do something that brings something new to the broadcast that creates a difference for the viewer? And it’s not just hardware and cameras. How do you let fans access it, or how do you use social media? Technology is moving so fast you just need to learn to be able to pivot.”
An additional example of the technology evolution this postseason will be a streaming first: baseball fans in the U.S. will be able to stream the actual broadcast feed to their mobile devices via the Watch TBS app. Previously, fans in the U.S. were able to access only alternate camera angles streamed through MLB.com and the MLB at Bat app.
Like the other networks standing by for postseason coverage, TBS has daily meetings to sort through the logistics of which teams will be playing, where they will be playing, and what crews will cover the action.
Notes Barry, “We have four primary crews ready to be dispatched to whatever city for the wildcard games and additional preparations in case there is a tiebreaker.”
We’ve seen all sorts of advances on how baseball and other sports are covered—due to digital technology—but the most amazing technological achievements took place in the days of analog. Have a look…