MLB on RSNs, Part 1: NBC Sports Regionals, Root Sports Ramp Up During Busy Spring

More than 30 regional sports networks from across the country are in their second week of Major League Baseball coverage, and many of them have added to their growing arsenal of technology and production elements in the offseason. Here is a look at what NBC Sports Regional Networks’ eight RSNs and ROOT Sports’ (now part of AT&T Sports Networks) five have in store for this baseball season.

Peacock Has Busy Spring Ahead
Speaking of busy Aprils, NBC Sports Regional Networks has its hands full with live coverage of more than 200 events this month in advance of the NBA and NHL Playoffs. Depending on which teams advance to the playoffs, that number could reach more than 250 — an average of eight games per day.

nbcsports-regional-networks-logo“April is a monster month across the NBC RSN landscape,” says Jon Slobotkin, VP/executive producer, live events, NBC Sports Regional Networks. “It is always the busiest and most important month of the year. Those responsible for the editorial content and operational workflow know this is an ‘all hands on deck’ time of year to make sure our fans don’t miss a minute. In addition to our game productions, we support the cause with a full primetime schedule of studio programming that offers in-depth news coverage, pre- and post-game shows, and around-the-clock coverage on our networks’ websites.”

NBC has rolled out a redesigned graphics package for its MLB coverage across all its RSNs this year. The new package features revamped animation, insert, and scorebug graphics.

“The look draws inspiration from our teams’ colors and the textures and objects of the game of baseball,” notes Slobotkin. “Much of the design was done internally.

ROOT Sports Revamps Studios at Pair of Networks
As part of AT&T’s acquisition of DirecTV last year, the parent company of ROOT Sports RSNs officially transitioned from DirecTV Sports Networks to AT&T Sports Networks during MLB telecasts this week.

Root_sports_logo“We’ll use the ROOT Sports brand as it is used today in marketing,” says Bill Roberts VP, content, AT&T Sports Networks, “except that we will also communicate to viewers that ROOT Sports is now part of AT&T Sports Networks. This will be done via the scorebug and network IDs.”

Although its parent company may have changed, ROOT Sports will continue many of the MLB initiatives already under way at its five RSNs, including redesigned studios, increased automation at the broadcast center, and enhanced connectivity to its teams’ ballparks.

ROOT started its studio-redesign project in 2015 to overhaul the sets in both its Southwest and Northwest RSNs by Opening Day of this season. Studio 1 Group’s Wayne Elliott provided design, and ABC3i’s Adam Leberge was responsible for set fabrication and installation.

“One of our goals was to create a strong visual impact and continuity across our markets while still drawing from regional cues that would link these sets to the distinct markets,” says Roberts. “Wayne did a terrific job of incorporating local materials and architecture that give a sense of ‘belonging’ to the Southwest or Northwest while maintaining the overall contemporary aesthetic. For instance, in Southwest, he used limestone textured pillars and familiar archways that are consistent with the venues in Houston. Similarly, we were able to replicate aspects of the ironwork of Safeco Field in Seattle to create a strong link between the studio and stadium.”

ROOT also wanted visual flexibility for new sets so the RSN could accommodate a variety of sports in a way that “customized” the set for each. Using an array of monitors as true set-design elements rather than just live-video windows helped ROOT achieve that goal. LED lighting in the grid and in the set has also given each RSN the ability to match its respective team’s colors at a touch of a button.

“[The flexible LED lighting grid] supports our goal of ‘wearing our team’s colors’ when we are televising those games,” says Roberts. “Additionally, we wanted to get our talent out from behind the desk and into motion, so we developed multiple stand-up areas and an expansive demo space, all of which have made a huge visual impact on our air.”

Graphics and video on the new sets are controlled by the Octopus Newsroom computer system using a ChyronHego Camio LUCI plug-in to drive ChyronHego Graffiti playout servers via MOS integration.

Connectivity, Master-Control Ops Rebuilt in Time for First Pitch
Prior to Opening Day this season, ROOT completely rebuilt the air-chains and physical layout in its master-control site at Encompass Digital Media in Atlanta. Encompass accomplished the large effort on a very tight timeline to make the start of the season, allowing ROOT to bring Southwest into the same master-control facility with its other stations. Roberts adds that ROOT also greatly improved its live and on-air control/capability by moving to Imagine Communications’ ADC automation system and Versio integrated playout.

ROOT Sports also continues to increase the use of fiber between its home venues and studios. Deploying a combination of Evertz and Lynx Technik gear, ROOT Sports Pittsburgh now has 16 uncompressed HD-SDI camera feeds coming from PNC Park to its studio and four return feeds to PNC over two fiber strands. Additionally, the fiber pipes provide data connectivity, which allows the production team to move graphics and video clips, interconnect Calrec audio systems, and remotely manage equipment at the venue from the studio.

Other highlights for ROOT this season will be deployment of Vidpresso’s on-air social-media platform across all four regions and expanding the range of RF cameras at ROOT’s respective ballparks by running fiber and using RF fiber converters to allow operators to cover even more aspects of the fan experience outside the ballpark.

More SVG coverage on what RSNs around the country have in store this baseball season:

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