MLB Returns: MASN Tested Early With Back-to-Back-to-Back World Feeds for National Broadcasts

The network maintains broadcast quality for player, manager interviews done via Zoom

In an effort to reduce production crew and facilities onsite for safety this MLB season, regional sports networks have been tasked with producing a neutral world feed for all MLB teams home games to be distributed to the away-team RSNs and national broadcasters. SVG is delving into how each RSN group is handling this new production model as part of its MLB Returns series to open the 2020 season.

When it comes to the new MLB world-feed model, no RSN was tested as quickly as MASN: it produced three world-feed telecasts for three national broadcasts to start off the season. After an awfully wet Opening Night Nationals home game against the Yankees on ESPN Thursday, the RSN’s world-feed production will serve national broadcasts on Fox on Saturday and TBS on Sunday.

MASN has ensured that all positions inside its trucks are socially distanced for this season’s MLB productions.

“We definitely got thrown right into the deep end with these [first three games],” says Ken Stiver, VP, engineering, MASN. “Everything’s just a little bit different this year. With Yankees-Nats, we’re starting with ESPN on Thursday night, then Fox on Saturday, and then, when we actually get to broadcast the game on Sunday, it will be a three-way [with Turner]. Definitely a lot to do for everyone right at the start, but it is a great feeling just to be back and get our crews back to work.”

Inside Game Creek Video’s Justice unit during Thursday’s Opening Night Nationals-Yankees production in D.C.

MASN will produce the world feed for all Nationals and Orioles home games out of its normal Game Creek Video mobile units: Justice and Chesapeake, respectively. This “50-50” unbiased feed will serve both MASN’s in-market telecast and that of the visiting RSN, which adds in its own graphics, commentary, studio/shoulder content, and commercials back home. In addition to this clean feed, the away RSN is provided one dedicated iso camera, allowing the away director to weave in team-specific shots to help customize the telecast.

The truck compound at National Park for Thursday’s Season-Opening Nats-Yankees game.

In the case of exclusive national broadcasts, such as ESPN’s Opening Night Yankees-Nationals telecast on Thursday, MASN muxes together iso feeds of its 14 cameras down three fiber paths (via The Switch) to the national broadcasters’ NOC (in Bristol, CT, in the case of ESPN), where the feeds will be decoded and the final show cut.

MASN will continue to deploy 14 cameras for its home-game productions at both Nationals Park and for the Orioles at Camden Yards, but several positions have been transitioned from manned cameras to lock-offs or robos in order to limit the number of people near the field. In addition, MASN has deployed several POVs throughout both ballparks.

“We’ll have extra fixed cameras this season all over – like the bullpens – at Nats Park and Camden Yards, so you’ll get some new looks this year. That will be particularly helpful this year for other teams since [announcers] won’t be able to see everything that’s going on. They will be able to pull up the bullpen cameras in their multiviewer and see what’s going on so they are ready for it ahead of time.”

MASN announcers will be calling both home and away games onsite at their respective ballparks with away games being called off-monitor.

MASN sent iso feeds of all 14 cameras from Nationals Park to ESPN’s Bristol, CT, HQ as part of its role as world-feed provider for the Yankees-Nationals telecast.

“We’ve got our [talent] 6 ft. apart and have installed a big piece of plexiglass that runs from floor to ceiling and slides in and out between them,” says Stiver. “It’s a great way to separate them while still letting them see each other.”

On the audio side, MASN is taking the crowd noise pumped into Nationals Park and Camden Yards by the teams into its nat sound, rather than directly into its broadcast-audio mix — as is the case for nearly all the RSNs.

Although all pre/postgame player/manager interviews are being done remotely via Zoom, MASN is looking to maintain broadcast quality for interviews. The RSN has installed Sony robos in each of the Nationals’ and Orioles’ Zoom interview rooms above the computer.

“We should have a really nice camera shot of the interview that doesn’t look Zoom-ish,” says Stiver.

He and his team also set up a laptop in both clubhouses, outfitting them with a U-TAP 3G-SDI USB 3.0 capture device tied directly to the truck to enable talent to speak directly to players and managers in the locker room when possible.

“If our talent wants to talk to someone,” says Stiver, “you’re going to see two real cameras with real audio, which I think will be a real added benefit.”

Check out all of SVG’s ‘MLB Returns’ coverage: