MLB Network’s Social-Media Set Gives Fans a Voice

While wintry gusts blow through empty stadiums and players scatter to warmer climates, MLB Network shows no signs of slowing down. Regardless of how far the temperature plummets, baseball is never far from the minds of its fans: Winter Meeting coverage, Hot Stove rumors, and venue discussions continually dominate headlines and, as a result, the social-media universe. Tapping into fans’ insatiable need to talk baseball even in the offseason, MLB Network has unveiled a set in its Secaucus, NJ-based studio dedicated to interacting with fans through social media.

MLB Network’s Sam Ryan stands in front of an 11-ft. 2-in. video wall featuring a 108-in. touchscreen display and LCD panels. Photo courtesy of MLB Network.

“Over the last year and a half, we’ve focused on bringing social media more to the forefront of our programming and integrating it,” says Mary Beck, SVP of marketing and promotion, MLB Network. “We started in the offseason of 2010 with a segment within Hot Stove called Front Burner, where we would let fans ask questions of our talent, and we saw that really start to take off: how fans really enjoyed engaging with our talent [and also having] their voices heard on TV.”

Construction on MLB Network’s social-media area, located in the balcony area of Studio 3, began on Nov. 19. Since it was planned to coincide with the Thanksgiving holiday and Winter Meetings, when the studio would be dark, Studio 3 lost a total of only nine production days during the month-long building process.

“As with everything, we did it on quite a tight timeframe,” says Susan Stone, SVP of operations and engineering. “The first thing we did, we contacted Bryan Higgason of Clickspring Design. Bryan was the set designer with Jack Morton/PDG, who designed our original set. We thought it was important to work with the designer who had so successfully executed our original set, so that any new area would still fit in with the general feel and theme of our existing set. Bryan gave us design plans, and it was pretty much a home run from the get-go.”

MLB Network's social media set prior to its on-air debut. Photo courtesy of MLB Network.

In addition to Clickspring Design, MLB Network worked with original lighting designer Bruce Ferri, of Ferri Lighting Design Associates, and fabricator Black Walnut to create the social-media area. Video Visions provided the electronics, and SportsMEDIA Technology (SMT) supplied the touchscreen interface for the set’s displays.

“It’s always helpful to work with vendors who know your plan, who know your systems, who know your codes, who know that we can’t hang anything from the ceiling because of certain weight-bearing issues,” says Stone. “That’s always very helpful, [and] we’ve had great success there.”

Previously, the social-media component of MLB Network’s studio shows was relegated to one 103-in. touchscreen. With the new set, each studio show will have an entire social-media area at its disposal. The area will also serve as the unofficial set of Clubhouse Confidential with Brian Kenny.

The new set features a 108-in. touchscreen repurposed from the previous balcony set and nine Primeview 46-in. ultra-narrow–bezel LCD video wall panels, making a 11-ft. 2-in. video wall, plus Primeview 70-in. LCD panel and five 32-in. LCD panels. A Sony HDC-P1 camera on a Telemetrics Televator will provide an additional view into the set.

“It’s a very dynamic area,” says Stone. “Just from an aesthetic point of view, it’s very visually dynamic and interesting. It offers the viewer a way to view a lot of different forms of content in one cohesive manner. For example, we have a stack of five Primeview 32-in. LCD panels, where you can have one tweet in each panel; it’s just a way of cataloging and presenting our graphical and video content in a dynamic, cohesive way.”

MLB Network’s Ken Rosenthal and Ahmed Fareed using the new set and touchscreen during Hot Stove. Photo courtesy of MLB Network.

MLB Network will continue to post questions to viewers and display selected responses in each studio show, but with a noticeable increase in the level of real-time fan interaction. Using the SMT touchscreen interface, talent will be able to access Twitter feeds, check the Facebook page, answer fan e-mails, and track poll results, all in real time. The social-media area will also feature a “ticker” displaying fan comments; tweets from players, baseball executives, and media; key hashtags during games and events; and breaking news.

“The talent interacts with the touchscreens, so they can see various topics that come up through our Twitter feed or Facebook page,” Stone explains. “It gives them a little more independence and freedom to [incorporate] whatever catches their eye or whatever fits within the conversation they’re having.”

MLB Network continues to expand and enhance its social-media presence, nearly doubling its Facebook fans and tripling its Twitter followers in 2011. With the new social-media area, its 359,000+ Facebook fans and 108,000+ Twitter now have an active voice in the conversation.

“[The social-media area] gives us the opportunity to use the studio in different ways and incorporate different looks, so that you’re not seeing the same thing over and over,” says Beck. “It also gives us the opportunity to integrate different audiences within our social-media following, whether it’s [with] a poll question or hearing their comments on the trending topic of the hour.”

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