Turner Sports MLB Playoff Coverage Goes Widescreen, Embraces Liberovision Replay

There are three absolutes for Turner Sports’ MLB Playoffs coverage: all the games will be shot and produced for 16:9; Liberovision’s 3D replay technology will make its diamond debut, as will deeper statistical data courtesy of Bloomberg Sports. The non-absolutes? Whether Turner Sports will first have to air a couple of one-game playoffs in each league, who exactly will be playing, and what production trucks will be used where.

“We’re sweating out the tiebreaker,” Tom Sahara, vice president of operations and technology, Turner Sports, says of the potential for Boston Red Sox-Tampa Rays and St. Louis Cardinals-Atlanta Braves one-game playoffs. “It will take the middle travel day out [of the first round], and we’re having to get people out and gear in place for tiebreakers as well as the American League and National League Division series. It does complicate the planning quite a bit.”

During daily meetings, staffers run through different scenarios (today’s meetings will be a little less stressful, with the Anaheim Angels out of the running after last night’s loss) and are also on the phone with crewers in the relevant cities to make sure crew is available. Regional networks have also been contacted to see if technical resources are available.

“In New York and Philadelphia, we have a pretty good idea of which trucks are in the mix,” adds Sahara. “Our standard complement for baseball is NEP, Game Creek, Corplex, and the Turner trucks.”

Once the games start, the biggest difference that fans will notice is new graphics designed for the widescreen format. Turner Sports has made 4:3-safe productions a thing of the past.

“The graphics are moved out to the edges of the 16:9 frame, and it has a really nice look,” Sahara says. “It opens the screen up, and there is a lot more space in the middle of the screen.”

With Turner going widescreen and Fox having done widescreen since last season, this year’s playoffs will make some history: the first professional-sports playoffs  completely shot and produced in widescreen.

“Fox gave us an example we could point to. We always wanted to do it because 4:3 handicaps the HD viewer,” says Sahara. “But now we are able to give the HD viewer the value they purchased when they bought the HD set. It really does improve the experience.”

Replays in 3D
In terms of new bells and whistles, the Liberovision 3D replay system is the big news. The system brings together different camera angles and allows analysts to virtually spin around the replay to see the same play from different angles.

“We’re really excited about this, as it’s a real value-add,” says Sahara, “A couple of tests we did showed that we can show a play from different angles and show the viewer at home whether or not the right call was made.”

An example of how the system could be used is a stolen-base attempt. If the analysts want to see how much space there was between the glove and the runner, the system pulls in clips of various angles from EVS servers, quickly renders out one that can be frozen in a moment and time, and then spins around the play.

Historically, systems like Liberovision have been used during the halftime of football (the non-American version) to analyze plays and formations. Sahara says the speed of the rendering has been improved so that it can be turned around for the next break in the action or during the review process for a questionable call.

“We don’t want to set the expectation that this will be used on every replay because we don’t have the time to do that,” Sahara notes. “We will start with plays where there is a need for a decisive view.”

While Liberovision brings some visual sizzle to the broadcasts, Bloomberg Sports will bring some statistical punch. Bloomberg Sports has a service that provides in-depth analysis of nearly any scenario that may occur.

“You can break down the play to whatever degree you want, including individual pitches,” says Sahara. “It’s a very powerful tool that allows us to do data mining of a situation and match it to regular-season performance. For example, it could be late in the game, and we can bring up data showing what pitches are thrown. It’s the absolute best treasure trove of information for the hardcore baseball fan.”

Enhanced Audio Effort
Viewers’ ears are also in for a treat compared with the regular-season coverage.

“In the playoffs, we want to focus the audio more on what is happening on the field,” says Sahara. “We’ll beef it up with more microphones on the field, although, with baseball, it’s difficult because you can’t put mics into the middle of the field. You need the right pieces, and each mixer has their own philosophy. No one size fits all.”

One thing viewers won’t hear is microphones on the bases.

“We do the walls, not the bases, because of the hardware and gear,” he adds. “In the division series games, there is a lot of hardware out there, so we try to make good economic decisions based on what really matters, and we don’t want to put one series over the other. It’s a balancing act of resources, schedules, and gear.”

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