Sports Asset Management Committee Profile: Tab Butler, MLB Network
By Juliane Pettorossi, Editorial Assistant
Earlier this year, SVG launched the Sports Asset Management (SAM) Committee, dedicated to advancing the sports-media industry’s content-management and storage capabilities and tools. This group, composed of asset-management leaders from each of the major U.S. professional leagues and college-sports entities, spearheaded this week’s Sports Asset Management Forum and will contribute in-depth content to the upcoming online SVG Sports Asset Management Playbook (to be unveiled later this year). SVG is profiling the careers of all eight SAM Committee members.
Tab Butler, director of media management and post production at MLB Network, always craved a career in television. Throughout his high school years, he interned at WNEP-TV Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, PA, working in public relations and visiting local cable companies across northeastern Pennsylvania.
After a while, he was able to trade the Monday-Friday portion of his job for what he really wanted to work in: news. He worked on a small team of three as a film photographer and writer for the station’s weekend news.
Butler continued his path in the television industry into college. While at Ithaca College, he received his 1st Class FCC License and worked a summer job for PBS station WVIA-TV Scranton, PA, as a broadcast-operations engineer. During his junior year, he interned at NBC New York and was trained as a video engineer to work in sports and news, assigned to the 1980 NBC News Conventions unit.
After graduating, he joined NBC and was assigned to work on news, sports, and entertainment shows. He was senior video engineer on Late Night With David Letterman when it started in 1982.
He subsequently became senior video engineer on NBC’s N-1 mobile unit, focusing on sports and entertainment field production, and was promoted to technical director of NBC Nightly News in ’84. Over the next four years, he also served as TD for sports events with Teddy Nathanson and Harry Coyle.
“They were the two that really gave me a shot at sports video and TD’ing, and I did a tremendous number of shows with both of them,” says Butler. “I absolutely loved working them. They were incredible.”
Over the next 13 years, Butler worked as technical director, sports and news technical manager, and the director of NBC Brooklyn Studios before joining Grass Valley as a strategic account sales manager covering the CBS Network, moving from broadcast to sales.
“During the 1996 Olympics,” he says. “I had the opportunity to work with the Grass Valley video-server technology, as it was being introduced to the sports world. I was so impressed with the technology; I wanted to play a part in advancing the technology in the marketplace.”
Over the next 11 years, Butler worked for various technology companies in the area of sales and marketing. Among them: EMC’s Media Solutions Group, VideoBank, SeaChange International, and IBRIX.
In 2008, Butler was recruited to work on the launch of MLB Network as director of media management, overseeing the design of media-management workflows, helping take the network on-air on January 1, 2009, and keeping the media-management component running.
Butler has been tasked with the challenge of managing MLB Network’s content with its continued explosive growth balanced with now aging technology. The media-asset–management team developed specific tools to meet the needs of baseball production, such as the DIAMOND asset-management system.
“DIAMOND has captured and cataloged every pitch from every game since Opening Day 2009,” he says. “We have over 400,000 hours of content now indexed within the MLB Archives, all managed by DIAMOND.”
Currently, Butler and his team are in the middle of redesigning and upgrading the now five-year-old technology. “If your computer is five years old,” he says, “you’re probably complaining about how slow it runs.”
He adds that “it is getting more difficult to get parts, pieces, and support for hardware and software which is no longer in development — such as Final Cut Pro and other platforms like our Aurora 7.1 platform. Software is supported, but just in a maintenance mode.”
When it comes to overcoming today’s challenges, Butler understands the need to design a system that is going to last longer than five years. MLB Network is currently working with partner companies to build an architecture that will buy infrastructure longevity, working to provide a fault-tolerant environment that has no service disruption. MLB Network is attempting to build a modular system, so that key components can get upgraded enabling a seven- to 10-year lifespan out of the new platform.
Butler was a fan of Major League Baseball long before he began working for MLB Network. During his early career at NBC, he had the opportunity to work on All-Star Games and World Series. He was technical director on a number of NBC Sports Game of the Week telecasts, and his first NBC Sports remote was a Mets game at Shea Stadium in 1980.
“I had a lot of exposure and a lot of fun with baseball as well as other sports,” he says.
Television is in his family’s blood. Butler’s wife, Pamela, is currently an associate director on NBC’s Today. When not managing media at MLB Network, he enjoys playing and watching golf, which also reminds him of memorable times spent with his father.
“It is so exiting to work in a business where our technology and tools are changing in leaps and bounds,” he says. “It seems like our broadcast tools are only limited by our imaginations. We are blessed to live in interesting times.”