MLB Network Gears Up For Jan. 1 Launch; Overhauls Former MSNBC Facility

By Ken Kerschbaumer

The MLB Network has begun the hard work of turning MSNBC’s old facility in Secaucus, NJ into a 144,000 sq. ft. facility that will be the HD home for the network set to launch on January 1, 2009. “The skeleton of a building infrastructure is here,” says Mark Haden, MLB Network, vice president, engineering and IT. “Now we’re just tweaking the engine.”

The use of a currently existing infrastructure makes it possible for the network to be built and launched in a very tight window. The facility, slated to be home to the network and MLB Productions (which moves into the facility in December) for at least two years, includes two large studios, two control control room, and has room for additional expansion. The current plan calls for the MLB operations to eventually move to a business tower in Harlem that is currently in the planning stages.

“The use of a previously built facility, especially one built by people who know engineering, has given us a big boost,” says Haden. “Running wires and power is a piece of cake because of the raised floor and we walked into a great situation that only required some minor building modifications.”

The heart of the facility will be a Thomson Grass Valley K2 server SAN system that will record incoming feeds of MLB games and related events. Approximately 25 Thomson Grass Valley Aurora HD editing systems with Aurora Browse will also be installed. The workstations, tied into an AP ENPS newsroom system for production and scripting, will allow users to tap into the SAN and access both proxy and high-res nearline storage and an archive that will be based on LTO4 drives. MLB Productions will use 13 Apple Final Cut Pro systems for long-form content creation.

“The K2 servers and the Aurora systems have all the applications we’ll need, like browsing, logging, and library functions, as well as a plug-in that allows for HD editing, offline editing, and use of thirteen Apple Final Cut Pro editing systems,” says Haden.

Home and away backhaul feeds from each game will be brought into the facility and recorded onto the SAN. “The network, to some degree, is going to be a highlights factory with feeds coming in dirty and being edited for air with a ticker providing scoring updates,” adds Haden.

The control rooms will include Sony MVS-8000G production switchers and HDC-1500 cameras with Canon XJ27 lenses will be used in the studio. Vizrt gear will be used to build most of the graphics with an Inferno and HAL system on hand for additional work. An NVision router and Miranda KX multiviewer will also be installed.

For Haden, who, previously worked in ABC broadcast operations and engineering, the project taps into the skill set he acquired while helping Times Square Studios make the conversion to HD.

“There is a sense of burden and pride in building something like this but projects like this don’t come along very often,” he says. “It’s great to get back into sports which, like news, is immediate and topical. So now it’s about making this place work ergonomically for the staff.”

The systems integrator on the project is The Systems Group, based in Hoboken, NJ and CBT Systems is the consultant on the project. The facility will open for testing and rehearsing beginning on November 1.

Along with getting the network up and running there is the secondary challenge of building out an archive for MLB Productions. With more than 100,000 hours of assets, a long-term, scaleable archiving solution is on the to-do list. The initial step will include 17,000 hours of storage on LTO4 drives with Storagetek cabinets added as needed.

In terms of staffing Haden says MLB is still seeking enthusiastic people who want to help build the network and its brand. “It’s like building a house and being able to one day take a step back and have a sense of pride of accomplishment,” he says. “It’s fun, challenging, and, ultimately, satisfying.”

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