CP Communications Balances RF, Production Priorities at the 2011 MLB All-Star Game

From ESPN’s Baseball Tonight and MLB Network’s Red Carpet Show to FOX’s live broadcast of the National League’s victory, CP Communications was on hand at the 2011 MLB All-Star Game in Phoenix, dispatching HDRF5 to provide RF video, RF audio, communications, fiber distribution, and production support to all three networks.

HDRF5, an all-in-one audio/video-routing and -distribution ESU truck that originally rolled out in June, provided a central location for each network to base their RF operations.  In addition to handling the fiber infrastructure, CP coordinated frequencies and deployed over 40 wireless microphones, a wireless IFB system, high power Motorola PL systems, low power BTR800 PL systems, RF cameras, POV camera systems, return monitors, 35-42 in. video monitors, a full production digital sub-mix, and technicians to run the equipment.

“Everything comes back to one point of QC,” Kurt Heitmann, SVP, sales and marketing for CP, says of the HDRF5. “You can look at everything at the same time – all the distribution, testing, and QC are right there in front of you in a controlled environment. Then, we turn around and we distribute those signals to our RF audio QC board and to the production sub-mix room and out to our clients.”

For the 2011 MLB All-Star Game, those clients included ESPN, MLB Network, and FOX. To handle the demands for each network, the truck was split three ways and staffed with a devoted crew. In addition, each network was assigned an individual field technician, RF video technician, RF audio technician, and fiber technician to address the priorities of each network’s broadcast.

Set days allow the individual crews assigned to each network ample opportunity to work with the distribution truck’s core crew to ensure all network needs were met.

“If [a network says, on a set day], ‘Can we have this camera? Can we add that? Can we have another POV? Can we get fiber from point A to point B?,’” says Heitmann, “We can patch the fiber, we can rout the video, we can rout the audio.”

In order to address both their Red Carpet Show and game broadcast, MLB Network required a system that could seamlessly switch between an outdoor and indoor venue.  CP combined antennas for the outdoor and indoor productions, and used a 1.4-GB frequency on two RF transmitters attached to two cameras that broadcast the outdoor Red Carpet Show before moving into Chase Field for the game. Four discrete paths were given to MLB Network, but after checking the signals both outdoors and indoors on set days, the crew determined that they would only require two.

For ESPN, CP supplied a Steadicam rig mounted with a Sony P1 box camera and RF transmitter, and seven Thompson Viper handheld cameras, each mounted with an RF transmitter.

The ESPN 3D broadcast was treated differently; while CP managed the fiber optics, ran the fiber, and provided a fiber tech for the broadcast, ESPN 3D provided its own truck and tech manger.

“They take care of everything that they need,” says Heitmann. “They bring in some of their own radios and RF, and basically, we just coordinate it within our own usages and make sure that their stuff is clean and sits in the plan.”

Overall, concludes Heitmann, the MLB All-Star Game is a balance – not only of spectrum and RF, but of personalities and production priorities. CP addresses the RF video and audio needs of each client, provides the equipment, staffs the HDRF5, and works with stadium operations to ensure that each network is satisfied with their broadcast.

“We’re a utility player,” he says, “a pitcher, a catcher, and a manager all in one.”

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