Live From MLB All-Star: Fox Sports Takes Flight With SkyCam, Most High-Speed Cameras Ever
Other cameras include C360 hemispherical, ActionStreamer systems
As Fox Sports’ biggest summer ever closes with this week’s MLB All-Star Game, Fox certainly shows no sign of fatigue technologically. Not only is the network rolling out a SkyCam system for actual game coverage for the first time in MLB history, Fox will also deploy its largest high-speed–camera complement (including all 12 primary game cameras), two C360 360-degree camera systems, and ActionStreamer POV-style HelmetCams on the bullpen catcher, first-base coach, and Minnesota Twins pitcher José Berríos at Washington’s Nationals Park.
“People always used to say Fox owned the fall with NFL and MLB Postseason, but, this year, we owned May through July, too, with the U.S. Open, World Cup, and now All-Star,” says Brad Cheney, VP, field operations and engineering, Fox Sports. “The capabilities of our [operations] team here are just unsurpassed. It’s mind-blowing. For big events, we used to throw everything we had at it, and it was all hands on deck. That’s the still the case, but now, when we have big events, everybody’s [scattered] across the globe. Yet we’re still figuring out ways to raise the bar with every show.”
SkyCam Takes the Field: Adding a New Angle to the Diamond
Although Fox deployed a Spidercam system at the 2016 All-Star Game in San Diego, this year marks the first time a point-to-point aerial system has been used for in-game coverage, according to Fox Sports and SkyCam execs. Two years ago, the system was used primarily for commercial bumpers and beauty shots, but the SkyCam system at Nationals Park is going to see plenty of action during the game itself.
“It’s going to give us some really great shots that are unique for baseball because it really hasn’t been done before,” says Francisco Contreras, director, field operations, Fox Sports. “You’re definitely going to see it for live game [coverage], and it sounds like [director Matt Gangle] is going to use it a lot. Plus, the bullpen is right there, so we’re going to get a lot of shots as pitchers walk out there. And then, for [non-game] shots, it can also capture both the Washington Monument and the Capitol in the beauty shot. So it’s really the best of both worlds.”
The introduction of SkyCam on MLB coverage is a long time coming (although ESPN has deployed SkyCam on the College World Series in the past). Nationals Park’s vast open area in left field and left center field provided an ideal environment visually and also allowed the system to be installed (mounted on the center-field scoreboard and light towers in far left field) so that it would not interfere with action on the field.
“For the last 10 years or so, anyone that does baseball has been trying to figure out how to get SkyCam into the game,” says Cheney. “When we started looking at Nationals Park, we could see there was the potential to do it here and it wouldn’t get in the way of the play of game. Plus, it has that great open area in the outfield that opens up into the city. Obviously, it’s going to be phenomenal as a scene-setter, but what we’re really excited about is how useful it will be in the game.”
Camera Spotlight: C360, ActionStreamer, and All the High-Speed You Can Handle
Having made its first All-Star appearance in Miami last year, the team at C360 is back for Fox Sports. Two C360 6K+ (25X HD), 60p camera systems are onsite providing 360-degree outputs: one at low home, one attached to the SkyCam system in left field.
Fox has the ability to integrate the low-home PTZ position live into the telecast, as well as for replays with full stop-action and zoom capabilities. Meanwhile, the SkyCam system is providing an immersive live stream to a YouTube 4K channel delivered to an offsite Fox VIP event. This stream will allow the viewer to virtually navigate the entire field with a touchscreen tablet, as well as integrate Fox Sports’ linear feed and ticker as well.
“C360 gives you a lot better coverage of the area at low home,” says Cheney. “It gives you a nice wide shot of what’s going on, and we can zoom in and extract out of that if we want. The other thing it gives us is the opportunity to provide our multi-platform [outlets] like Fox Sports Go with more data and content for people to take a look at and to complement the broadcast.”
Fox has also brought out several ActionStreamer wearable POV camera systems, which it plans to deploy on the bullpen catcher and the first-base coach. (UPDATE 7/17/18 10 p.m. ET: the HelmetCam also appeared in Fox’s telecast on Minnesota Twins pitcher José Berríos as he took the mound for the fifth inning) The technology was recently used by Monumental Sports Network, which live-streamed HelmetCam feeds from two players during an AFL game between the Washington Valor and the Philadelphia Soul.
“Our partnership with MLB brought this to us,” says Cheney. “Any time the league and MLB Network try things out, we’re happy to be a part of it. The team at ActionStreamer has been great to work with, and the image looks great on the system. It’s also been very adaptable to our needs — whether it’s a cap or helmet or something else.”
Between game coverage and studio shows, Fox Sports has deployed a total of 36 cameras (up from 33 last year) at Nationals Park, highlighted by its largest high-speed–camera complement yet for an All-Star Game. Building on the efforts of Fox-owned RSN YES Network, all 12 of Fox’s Sony HDC-4300 primary game cameras are licensed for high-speed — six at 6X slo-mo and six at 2X slo-mo. This is made possible by the ultra-robust infrastructure of Game Creek Video’s Encore mobile unit, which is making its All-Star debut.
“Encore has allowed us to have 12 main game-coverage cameras in super-motion, which is a huge step for us,” Cheney says. “We worked closely with YES Network and [VP, Broadcast Operations,] Mike Webb’s team when they launched, and now we’re just taking that knowledge and concept and bringing it onto the biggest stage available.”
Fox will also have two Phantom cameras running at roughly 2,000 fps (at low first and low third) provided by Inertia Unlimited and a pair of Sony P43 6X-slo-mo robos at low-home left and low-home right provided by Fletcher. Fletcher is providing nine robos in all — including low-home Pan Bar robo systems that debuted at last year’s World Series — and Inertia Unlimited is providing a Marshall POV in both teams’ bullpen and batting cage.
CP Communications is supplying a pair of wireless RF cameras: a Sony P1r mounted on a MōVI three-axis gimbal and a Sony HDC-2500 handheld. An aerial camera provided by AVS will be used for beauty shots — no easy task in security-conscious Washington.
All-Star Rookie: Plenty of Tech Firepower on Game Creek Encore
Inside the compound, a reshuffling of USGA golf events allowed Game Creek Video’s Encore mobile unit (A, B, and C units), home to Fox’s U.S. Open and NFL A-game productions, to make its first All-Star appearance.
“Encore really is the perfect truck for this,” Cheney explains. “We’ve got it scheduled for the next couple years, so this is our new home. [Game Creek’s] Yogi was great last year, but we’re looking forward to having Encore with us going forward just because of the horsepower that it offers us.”
The primary control room inside the Encore B unit will handle the game production, and a second production area has been created in the B unit to serve the onsite studio shows.
“The production rooms are tied into one another and using the same resources of the one big switcher system and audio console,” Cheney notes. “Being able to share that stuff with separate [workstations] has been great. Once resources come into that truck, like the shared cameras, they’re automatically in both switchers and everybody’s replay machine. Being able to do that because you have such a big powerful truck makes things more efficient and gives everybody all the resources. You’re not playing games during setup and testing and faxing. It’s there in one spot, it’s in all of them, and that’s a real big bonus.”
Game Creek Video’s Edit 1 and Edit 2 are also on hand, housing a variety of Fox operations and vendors.
In terms of transmission, Fox has established tri-diverse contribution paths: a fiber circuit via Century Link, its own internal network, and a satellite uplink from PSSI. The operation in Washington is fully linked to Fox Sports’ broadcast center in Los Angeles and continues to expand its use of multi-site file transfer, especially following the monumental effort for the World Cup in Russia.
“It’s kind of seamless at this point, and [our remotes] are really just an extension of L.A.,” says Cheney. “Even on Sunday, during the World Cup Final, we were tied directly into Russia so that our executive producers and production people could be talking back and forth to teams in Russia about what was going on. That’s been great for us as we connect across the globe.”
Set Synergy: Pre/Postgame Share Space, With First Things First
Fox Sports has deployed a slick 24- x 20-ft. set in center field for live editions of First Things First on Monday and Tuesday and the MLB All-Star Pregame and Postgame shows on Tuesday. For the past two All-Star efforts, shoulder programming like The Herd and Undisputed had an onsite set of its own, but the 6:30 a.m. start time of First Things First allowed plenty of time to turn the studio over for the primary studio shows.
Fox worked with Filmwerks to powder-coat the set’s ModTruss infrastructure with “Fox Sports Blue.”
“The blue ModTruss pops now, and I think it adds a lot to the look,” says Contreras. “My vision is, when we get to postseason and it’s dark at night games, we can really light it up. When we do this for UFC, everything is lit up. That’s what we’re hoping for.”
For MLB All-Star Media Day on Monday, Fox erected a separate set in Section 214 to host an MLB All-Star Preview Show. The set was located just outside the Media Day interview pods, allowing Fox to easily bring in players throughout the telecast.
“Last year in Miami, Media Day was on the field, which made it tough to get players to the set,” says Contreras. “This year, it’s up on the media level, so we have a set right there, and we will bring players right from Media Day to the set. It’s important to have the players as part of our show, so we’re excited to have that this year.”
Fox also has a third standup position down in the belly of Nationals Park, where former All-Star and Fox Sports analyst Nick Swisher is providing exclusive digital videos and interacting with players, fans, and others.
For more of SVG’s on-site coverage from Washington D.C., visit the SportsTechLive Blog: On Site at MLB All-Star 2018.