MLB International ensures nuances of game aren’t lost in translation on Chinese viewers

By Ken Kerschbaumer

The team at Major League Baseball International is used to working through international cultural (not to mention technical) differences but the trip to China and Japan, which culminates in the first game of the season tomorrow morning when the Boston Red Sox play the Oakland Athletics at the Tokyo Dome, has the team working extra hard to ensure the nuances of the game aren’t lost in translation.

For Russell Gabay, MLB International VP and executive producer, and the rest of the crew the 12-hour time change and seemingly endless technical and production conversations over vast time zones has made the production a challenge. Fortunately, because MLB International has been in Japan before, much of the logistics, like hotel and transportation are a known commodity and the solid working relationships with Nippon TV and other Japanese broadcasters are in place.

China, however, introduced a whole new slew of changes. “The big challenge there was helping the Chinese understand how baseball is played, let alone televised, because it is still a new sport,” says Gabay.

MLB International supplied CCTV with a director and high-home camera to get things started. The entire production was down out of flight packs with the exception of audio, intercoms, and transmission that were all operated out of small production trucks. Gabay says the tech manager was a U.S. ex-pat who acted on behalf of the production crew in China and dealt with a crew that was 75% Chinese freelancers and 25% CCTV professionals.

Transmission, says Gabay, was unusual in China. The games were aired on CCTV, requiring the signal to be down linked from the venue into the CCTV. Getting it back to the U.S. results in a one-minute delay as it went back up via an Asia satellite uplink/downlink.

In addition, the Chinese had no graphics in the telecast. “Once we got the signal in the U.S. we had to take the dirty feed and add graphics and a natural sound channel so MLB rights holders in Korea, Japan, Singapore and Taiwan could have a complete package,” adds Gabay. Gabay says Transmission Co-coordinator Bob McNamara of AAA telecom along with Eurovision and Coastal Satellite did a great job handling the live window and two days of news feeds.

The production in China involved seven Sony cameras shooting in 16:9 PAL. A two-channel EVS system was also along for the ride. “Big lenses are not the easiest thing to find [in China] but we were able to secure two 75x, three 55x, and two 44x lenses,” says Gabay.

Challenges aside, the efforts in China came off well and helped MLB take another step towards establishing a brand in China. Last year the World Series was broadcast in China and a Chinese national team will once again compete in the 2009 World Baseball tournament. “We’ve opened an office and have a number of grass root programs and stores that are thriving,” says Gabay.

“Looking back, Japan was a tough market when we first started to operate there,” says Gabay. “And we’re encouraged that the results in China will be the same.”

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