Super-High-Speed, RF Cameras To Play Increasing Role on Fox Sports Regional MLB Telecasts
Whether it’s a broken bat, a bang-bang play at first base, or just Dog Day at the Park, Fox Sports’ regional networks will have the tools to capture it all this Major League Baseball season, with camera technology a major focus across the Fox Sports baseball family.
Looking to bring the truest stadium experience home to the viewer, networks will see a slow rollout of RF cameras and ultra-high-speed cameras throughout the year.
“Our whole goal is to sell the in-[stadium] experience for these ball clubs because ballparks become so elaborate in trying to attract new fans and kids and I think we miss that [on-air],” says Mike Connelly, SVP/executive producer, Fox Sports Networks. “So I think you will see a lot of shots that will capture what’s actually happening in the ballpark through our RF camera integrated into the show.”
Prior to the start of this season, Fox has upgraded its high-speed-camera arsenal with Mobile TV Group’s latest Ultra-Mo high-speed cameras systems featuring Vision Research’s Phantom v642, which was rolled out a year ago. The plan going forward is to have these Ultra-Mo cameras at every Fox-affiliated home game. Fox is starting the season with five cameras and hopes to have 12 in place by season end.
Although Connelly and other network execs have biweekly conference calls with producer/director teams to discuss best practices, Fox allows its production teams to be independent and creative with their use of ultra-slow motion.
“We let the directors decide where they want to use it,” says Connelly. “Camera locations in every building are different. Some will use it on a mid camera level, some will use it on low home or first, some will use it at tight center. I think we even have a guy who tries it on high third. So we let them determine and move it around. We have some directors that are very aggressive and may move it every series. We have some who are more consistent, and they like have it in a similar spot. And we compare.”
With the addition of SportsTime Ohio at the very end of last year, Fox Sports-owned RSNs now account for 16 of MLB’s 30 teams. According to Connelly, the networks will be very aggressive with their shoulder programming and presence at their respective home ballparks this season. New staging and on-site studio sets will be implemented across the board.
A large majority of Fox RSN baseball events are serviced by Mobile TV Group. St. Louis gets a new truck this year, and Arizona welcomes back a truck it debuted last season. MTVG is also set to launch a truck in Los Angeles and is moving its 27HDX to Minnesota.
Shows will be seven- or eight-camera shoots from the truck, including ultra-slo-mo. Those will be supplemented with one or two robotic cameras, bullpen cameras, talent/booth cameras, and various static POV or GoPro cameras in various stadium locations to capture establishing shots and scenics.
Fox Sports’ regional graphics will see an overhaul this year, with the locals using the package rolled out by Fox Broadcasting during last year’s World Series. All graphics are run from a Chyron Duet with HyperX3 software.
For replay, a majority of Fox’s MTVG trucks will run with the following EVS setup:
- One four-channel HD XT2 full-editing unit (two in/two out)
- Two six-channel HD XT2 full-editing units (four in/two out, etc.)
- Two four-channel HD XT2 replay-only units (two in/two out)
- Two XFiles with removable hard drives.
Connelly also adds that Fox will be testing virtual signage this year.
“It’s really nice of [Major League] Baseball,” he says. “They are acknowledging the value of it and taking that technology to each team, which I think will be a nice addition.”
Cleveland Rejoins the Bunch
Just before New Year’s, News Corp. announced the acquisition of SportsTime Ohio (STO), a network launched by team owner Larry Dolan in March 2006 to broadcast Cleveland Indians games. Now, with FS Ohio — which held the Indians rights from 2002 to ’06 — and SportsTime Ohio united, both Cleveland RSNs are under the Fox banner.
With the exception of Fox branding (graphics, music, etc.), Indians fans will notice few differences, at least at first. The on-air team of Matt Underwood, Rick Manning, and dugout reporter Katie Witham (who will now travel with the team on the road) remains intact. As does the producer/director tandem of Jim Murphy and Pat Murray.
On the production side, Fox has to honor many of the technology partnerships that were in place prior to the acquisition, including producing Indians home games out of a production facility at the local NBC affiliate. STO has a multiyear deal with the NBC studio, and the Fox production team will continue to mux all the cameras at the stadium and fiber them over to the NBC studio.
“We will slowly incorporate a lot of what they do into our systems, but it’s going to take time because they have a lot of existing contracts,” says Connelly. “We will probably add a few bells and whistles to their show with FoxTrax and ultra-slo-mo cameras, but that’ll be a transition. We technically have to figure out how to integrate new equipment into the broadcasts on home games.”
On the road, Indians games will get the full Fox treatment as it is common for Fox crews to share resources (robotics, ultra-slow-mo) with the visiting production team. Although Fox Sports typically uses MTVG for its MLB coverage across the board, STO’s existing contract with Game Creek Video will be honored in the coming season for Indians road games.
San Diego Continues To Grow
After 2012 saw Fox Sports San Diego successfully pull off one of the quickest RSN launches in television history, the network enters its sophomore season of Padres baseball with its production facilities vastly upgraded.
“You’re going to see some big changes this year,” says Connelly. “It’ll be a completely different season. Although last year was extremely successful, considering how fast we launched it, this year, they are just taking it to another level.”
For away pregame and postgame coverage, Fox Sports San Diego boasts new permanent office space with a brand-new studio overlooking Petco Park from the fourth floor of a building in centerfield.
It’s a tremendous step up from Opening Day a year ago, when — without a rights deal officially in place — FS San Diego was run with no studio, no editing facilities, and no home offices. In its early days, the entire network was run out of MTVG’s 23HDX with assistance from Fox Sports affiliates in Los Angeles.