On the Verge of Transition, MLB on Fox Puts Focus on Primetime

Fox Sports Media Group’s efforts on the diamond are well under way, having already broadcast the first two weeks of its 24-week MLB Saturday Game of the Week schedule. But expect the scale of MLB on Fox productions to grow as the network moves into eight consecutive weeks of primetime coverage prior to the MLB All-Star festivities at Citi Field on July 16.

“All eight primetime games will get bumped up with extra equipment to provide that feel of a big, compelling game,” says Fox Sports Director of Field Operations Francisco Contreras. “A lot of those shows are going to get more [ultra-slow-motion cameras] as well as more audio [enhancements]. The sound has been outstanding these past two weeks, and we expect it to get even better as we lead into the primetime games.”

No Holding Back
Fox finds itself on the brink of a major transition in its MLB coverage. In 2014, Fox’s new, eight-year MLB media-rights agreement will go into effect, resulting in the soon-to-launch FS1 cable network’s taking on 26 regular-season Saturday games and Fox broadcast network’s MLB slate’s being cut to 12 weeks. However, that transition remains 11 months away. In the meantime, MLB on Fox is not holding anything back when it comes to its Saturday Game of the Week.

The average camera count for Fox’s MLB coverage will jump from seven to nine during Saturday primetime telecasts. The additional cameras will include Inertia Unlimited X-Mo high-speed systems (featuring Vision Research Phantom v642 cam), robotic POV cams, and — when available — wireless RF cameras. Contreras says Fox will also deploy robos on the backstop for as many telecasts as possible, since it has proved a favorite of MLB on Fox directors in recent years.

In certain cases, Fox will also look to deploy the even-higher-speed Phantom v1610 ultra-slo-mo cameras (capable of a stunning 20,000 fps), which were tested to positive reviews during the network’s MLB postseason coverage last year.

Teaming Up With MLB Network
Fox Sports is now in Year Two of its partnership with MLB Network that is centered on the Fox Saturday Baseball Pregame Show, a weekly 30-minute pregame show produced out of MLB Network’s Studio 3 in Secaucus, NJ. The partnership also gives Fox freedom to use the MLB Ballpark Cam system throughout the season.

“The integration with MLB Network has gone very smooth,” says Contreras. “Last year, in the first week of the season, we had a lot of hiccups, but, this year, it was very smooth sailing right from the first week.

“And with Ballpark Cam,” he continues, “we can do the interview for the pregame show with a player, and we use that camera for every interview rather than having an RF cam. It’s a great tool to have.”

All-Star Game Ahead
This year, the All-Star Game hits New York City, with the New York Mets’ Citi Field hosting the highest-profile event of the season. As always, Fox will roll out plenty of production brawn for the game, with a 16-camera complement that includes several robos and X-Mos, a Steadicam, and at least one, possibly two Phantom v1610s.

Fox also plans to integrate ChyronHego’s Paint advanced telestration software and Super Zoom 4K technology into its All-Star and postseason coverage. Paint provides a built-in chroma keyer, a vision-based tracking engine, and dozens of customizable telestration tools (arrows, magnifiers, highlighters, and so forth) for more in-depth replay analysis. Meanwhile, Fox’s use of 4K cameras as a way to extract an up-close HD image on replays is quickly becoming standard for its high-profile telecasts.

“I’m already working on All-Star, and it’s going to be massive,” says Contreras. “We don’t know if we are going to have a podium like we did last year or if we are going to be integrating MLB and using that as our full set on the field. And I know we want to record a couple hits from the parade in Manhattan. I think it’s going to be pretty impressive.”

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