2021 Executive Reflections: MLB Network’s Susan Stone on Driving the Runs Home With Passion and Innovation
When the pandemic hit the U.S. full force in March 2020, sports production was forced to accelerate technology changes that were already in motion but not expected to happen for several years. Health and safety came to the forefront of production concerns at the same time as engineers were racing to enable talent and tech to work from their homes. As always, the production industry came together as a family to deliver sports television to a public that was hungry for live entertainment. This editorial by Susan Stone, SVP, Engineering and Operations, MLB Network, is the latest in a series of “2021 Reflections” from SVG’s 2021 Sports Production Yearbook in which sports-production leaders look back on a year unlike any other and offer projections for the year ahead.
As we look back at the 2020 Major League Baseball season, I am proud to reflect on the creativity, adaptability, and resiliency of the MLB Network team this year. On March 16, MLB Network produced its last shows from our Secaucus, NJ, studios and control rooms for, unbeknownst to us, what would ultimately end up being 100 days. At the time, we hoped it would be a brief hiatus. Our extraordinary tech team thrives on a challenge and started brainstorming ways to produce studio programming remotely. On March 18, Steve Mellace, one of MLB Network’s lead technical directors, developed an idea for a turnkey production-from- home solution. Steve had been volunteering in the media department of a local school district during which time he had worked with vMix. Gauntlet thrown.
Within days, Jake Soto, Dan Stillwell, and the NTT Ballpark Cam team quickly deployed at-home camera kits for our on-air talent. Tony Giner, our lead tech manager, spent hours on end working talent through the technical setup via Zoom and FaceTime. Curt Bose and Kyle Arrowsmith from studio engineering spooled up a Unity solution for comms and figured out how to pass the vMix NDI signal through a Newtek Tricaster to get an HD-SDI output. The Tricaster had fortuitously just been purchased for a separate project pre–COVID-19. Brian Perkins and his IT Production Systems team had serendipitously introduced Singular (cloud-based) graphics earlier this year for set-content purposes and was able to leverage that technology for graphics insertion. Gregg Bishop, Josh Lee, and the postproduction team introduced us to the concept of TGX licenses, which allowed our producers to VPN into their Secaucus-based edit machines remotely. We purchased 10 licenses at the time and now have 60 in our arsenal. Working alongside SVP of Production Dave Patterson, Senior Coordinating Producer Rich Ciancimino, and the production team, we successfully executed our goal to produce MLB Tonight remotely on March 25 for “Opening Day at Home.” As 2020 comes to a close, our dedicated team continues to provide comprehensive baseball coverage by confronting every challenge with passion and innovation.