Root Sports’ Four Pillars of MLB Coverage: Ultra-Mos, RF Cams, Pop Music, and Live Studios

DIRECTV’s Root Sports RSNs enter their fourth season of MLB coverage this week with a focus on four primary production elements: ultra-slow-motion cameras, wireless RF cameras, the use of popular music within telecasts, and live studio desks at the ballparks. With these tools in use by all three of its MLB-rights–holding RSNs — Colorado (Rockies), Midwest (Pittsburgh Pirates), and Northwest (Seattle Mariners) — Root Sports is looking forward to a big season on the diamond.

“Those are the four killer apps for us,” says Root Sports SVP Bill Roberts. “We feel like, if we have all four of those things in play, we will be able to tell the best story possible and put fans in the front row of the ballpark, where they can experience the sights and sounds of the ballpark experience.”

Root Gets Xtreme With Mile-High Slo-Mos
Root Sports has committed to deploy two high-speed cameras at every home-game production with a different system at each ballpark: Vision Research Phantom v642 cameras in Pittsburgh, two I-MOVIX SprintCam Vvs HD systems (provided by Fletcher Sports) in Seattle, and two of the brand-new Grass Valley LDX XtremeSpeed 6X slow-motion cameras (integrated with a Grass Valley K2 Dyno Replay System) in Denver.

“In working with our EPs,” says Roberts, “we think that slo-mo is the most impactful thing we can do to create a better game-day production.”

Root Sports Rocky Mountain and truck provider Mobile TV Group experimented with the new Xtreme systems during spring training in Arizona. MTVG was so impressed with the 6X camera that it immediately purchased two of the systems for its 29HDX truck in Denver, becoming the first broadcaster to deploy it.

The Grass Valley LDX XtremeSpeed operates at up to 360 fps (six times the normal 60 fps) with solid low-light sensitivity and provides flicker-free operation via a function that Grass Valley calls AnyLightXtreme. The output is SMPTE or single-mode fiber with three 3G feeds to the truck, combined to achieve 1080i or 720p images at 360 fps. The XCU XtremeSpeed XF fiber CCU outputs for both a regular 1X single-speed live feed, on a single HD-SDI cable, and three 3G feeds, which can be fed directly to the K2 Summit 3G media server.

“We were so impressed with the system that, as new as it is, we deployed it immediately,” says Roberts. “We are excited about not only the ability to match the cameras to the rest of the complement but also about the workflow, which is a lot smoother than a lot of other systems. It puts our operators back in control and allows camera operators to be camera operators. We think it’s a huge step forward.”

RF Makes the Difference
For the third consecutive year, Root Sports RSNs will deploy wireless RF cameras at every home game. In addition to pre/post-game coverage, behind-the-scenes coverage at the ballpark, and shots of the crowd in the stands, Root has also begun using the camera for game coverage in certain scenarios.

“It really changes the way we produce the game. It becomes your roll-out replay shot, when you have a home run and you have an RF camera embedded in the stands. You can see the crowd stand up as the ball leaves the park. It’s been an interesting evolution in our thinking and gives our games a little more flavor.”

Music to the Ears
Root has also reestablished its commitment to the use of popular music within its live game telecasts for this season. Working with POC Media, Root has secured licensing for a large library of current popular music to work into its regular-season MLB telecasts.

“We found [that] the ability to work popular music into our ballgame coverage helps make the game feel very contemporary and adds to the enthusiasm of the overall telecast.”

Studios All Around — At Home and at the Ballpark
With the launch of a brand-new studio at Root Sports Rocky Mountain’s facility in Denver, each of three RSNs now has a live studio desk at its broadcast center and at all ballparks.

“We have really ideal locations for our desks at the stadium, and now we now also have the studio support back at the [primary] facility for all three networks,” says Roberts. “That is a first for us.”

Bloomberg Sports, PITCHf/x Return
Bloomberg Sports’ analytics-drive graphics platform is deployed at all three RSNs. The Duet Lyric plug-in ties the company’s advanced statistical data directly into Root’s ChyronHego Duet graphics system, allowing the graphics team in the truck to create on-air graphics featuring advanced analytics at the click of a button. Roberts says Bloomberg’s system has evolved significantly in just the first year Root has used it, especially in making the interface more producer-friendly.

“We have been very pleased with the progress Bloomberg has made turning that infinite database of information into something practical and usable on the air,” says Roberts. “We have really focused on how to use some of those predictive stats that the system can generate depending on the game situation.”

Sportvision’s PITCHf/x pitch-tracking system will also be back in action at all three RSNs.

City-by-City Cinematic Scenics
Another of Root’s key priority this baseball season has been to produce a series of cinematic shoots in each MLB city, beginning with their three home cities, for use in teasers, bumpers, and other in-game and promotional elements. Root purchased a Canon EOS C-300 and EOS 5D, a Sony NEX-FS700, and a Zeiss cinema prime lens kit to shoot content at various ballparks.

“When we had our EP meetings in October last year, our EPs identified this [series of cinematic shoots] in each of the baseball cities as real difference-makers,” says Roberts. “We have used a lot of the same new camera technology in our award-winning on-air promotions, and we are starting to try to apply that same level of cinematic photography to our … interstitial content in and around our ballgame coverage.”