Coastal Media Hybrid Truck Helps Fox Sports Boost Spring-Training Coverage, Cut Costs
There is a noticeable difference in Fox Sports West’s coverage of Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim spring training this season: There’s a lot more of it.
After broadcasting just a handful of live spring-training games in seasons past, Fox Sports West is producing a dozen home games this year live from Tempe, AZ. The challenge comes with producing that many baseball games on a shoestring budget, which is why Fox Sports West brought in Coastal Media Group and its hybrid production/SNG truck.
“In the words of one [Fox Sports] director, the Angels wanted Fox Sports to do all their home games for the same price as they did three traditional [regular-season] games,” says Bob Adler, president/CEO of Coastal Media. “That’s where we came in.”
Coastal Media’s Truck 1 is being used to produce the games as well as provide Ku-band transmission for Fox Sports West. Using a hybrid truck for baseball is nothing new (MLB Advanced Media has produced several games in this fashion dating back to 2007), but this marks the first time in Adler’s memory that a regional sports network has used a single hybrid truck for a production on the level of a Major League Baseball game.
“I don’t think any [RSNs] have done baseball with a hybrid truck before,” he says. “There are only four or five trucks in the country that can do this — that are small hybrid HD production trucks but can still do a show like this. The truck costs about a third of what they spend on a traditional game. This way, you can still do the games and not bust your wallet.”
A Look Inside Truck 1
The truck, which is HD-capable but delivering the Angels games in standard definition, is manned by a Fox Sports West production crew and runs on a FOR-A 12 input HD/SD HVS-300HS switcher. A FoxBox is used for the basic graphics needed in the production. Rather than a traditional EVS server, Coastal Media’s truck uses an Abekas Mira four-channel server, which represents substantial budgetary savings.
“It’s not an EVS; however, it does have a number of the functionalities of an EVS, such as instant replay,” says Adler. “The Abekas-Mira, including the controller, is about a $40,000 box; an EVS is about a $230,000 box.”
Making Four Cameras Look Like Eight
Each of the dozen games produced is a four-camera shoot (although the truck is capable of five) using JVC GY-HD250 camcorders dummied down for SD, with cameras positioned at low first base, high third base, high home plate, and in the outfield. This represents a considerable drop from a typical MLB production, but Adler is confident that the effect on the viewer is minimal.
“When you watch one of these games, I challenge you to tell me that the viewer at home really notices much of a difference,” says Adler. “If I sit there with you and remind you that you haven’t, for example, seen the announcers all game, then yes, you’ll realize it. But if you watch the games as a layman, you won’t be able to tell.”
The Effects of Simulcasting
Instead of deploying the Angels’ regular TV team in the announcers booth, Fox Sports West uses the KLAA radio broadcast, featuring Terry Smith and Jose Mota. Any director who has worked a simulcast game knows that this creates a whole new dynamic in the truck.
“It’s simulcast. That means the director has to really pay attention to what the radio guys are doing,” says Adler. “The radio announcers are playing to radio, not video, so the director has to try to make the show look like what the radio guys are talking about rather than the other way around.”
The truck is also equipped with 4,000 ft. of fiber-optic cable, which came in handy at the Angels spring-training ballpark, Tempe Diablo Stadium, where there is no fiber infrastructure to speak of.
“Tempe is not equipped, so we had to run pretty much everything,” says Adler. “The truck is located behind center field. To get to the third-base [camera], we couldn’t run fiber around the left-field side because there is a grass general-admission area out there. So we had to run cable the long way around to get to third base.”
Perfect for Spring Training
Although Coastal Media’s hybrid truck may not be handling regular-season MLB games anytime soon, Adler believes it provides the perfect solution for second-tier shows, ranging from spring-training baseball to college volleyball and high school sports.
“There will be some people that won’t be satisfied because there aren’t enough bells and whistles on the truck,” Adler says. “But, for this kind of project, you couldn’t get anything better.”