MLB Network Strike Zone Takes Fans Around the League at a Breakneck Pace
In the 1980s, sports broadcasters began bouncing among NCAA Tournament games, having caught on to the fact that sports fans were at the forefront of America’s channel-surfing culture. Today, the advent of NFL RedZone and ESPN’s Goal Line and Buzzer Beater channels allows viewers to satisfy their thirst for content and their short attention spans.
Jumping around the league for live in-game look-ins and updates is nothing new for the MLB Network crew accustomed to the quick pace of MLB Tonight, which airs nearly every night during the regular season. Strike Zone offers an even more rapid trip through the ballparks, free of studio analysts, commercials, and on-camera hosts.
The channel, which will be on-air Tuesday and Friday nights during the regular season — when live game telecasts air on MLB Network — will take fans to every game across the league, with up-to-the-minute highlights, live look-ins, and updates, all commercial-free.
“That’s to give baseball fans another option for viewing,” says Susan Stone, SVP of operations and engineering at MLB Network. “If they like the fast pace of MLB Tonight and maybe aren’t as interested in watching a particular game, they have the option to go around the league using Strike Zone.”
According to Patti Falick, director of broadcast operations for MLB Network, the backbone of Strike Zone is a new transmission scheme. The network struck a deal with Encompass Digital Media, which installed dedicated HD-SDI fiber that established direct connectivity from MLB Network to Encompass. There, encryption is inserted via a Motorola DC2 system, and the integrated receiver/decoder (IRD) is authorized for all of the affiliates, via Argo Media (MLB Network’s affiliate authorizing service).
MLB Network added more channels of EVS servers to assist in production of Strike Zone, boosting the number of playout channels per operator to two. Newly installed Vizrt engines, which were included in a global rebuild of the network’s graphics-control room this winter, also supplement Strike Zone. Stone noted that the network also added a downstream keyer in order to incorporate Baseline, MLB Network’s score and news ticker, on Strike Zone.
MLB Network Strike Zone launched on Bright House Networks, DIRECTV, Dish Network, and Time Warner Cable on April 10. Stone confirms that the network is still in talks with all of its distribution partners in an attempt to expand the channel’s availability. For now, it is available in the following locations:
- Bright House Networks: Bakersfield, CA, Ch. 1124; Birmingham, AL, Ch. 464; Detroit, Ch. 698; Indianapolis, Ch. 425; Orlando and Tampa, FL, Ch. 1143
- DIRECTV SPORTS PACK and MLB EXTRA INNINGS package: Ch. 719
- Dish Network, Multi-Sport Pack: Ch. 153
- Time Warner Cable: Albany, NY; Austin, TX; Buffalo, NY; Cincinnati; Charlotte, NC; Cleveland; Columbia, SC; Columbus, OH; Corpus Christi, TX; Dallas; El Paso, TX; Kansas City, MO; Los Angeles; Milwaukee/Green Bay; New York City; Palm Springs, CA; Portland, OR; Raleigh, NC; Rochester, MN; San Antonio, TX; San Diego; Syracuse, NY; and Waco, TX