MTV, MLB Put New Spin on Baseball Coverage

Anyone curious as to how MTV would bring its unique sensibilities to Major League Baseball coverage now has an answer. No, it’s not the return of Rock & Jock Softball; it’s MTV2’s new variety show, Off the Bat From the MLB Fan Cave.

Co-produced by MTV2 and MLB, the weekly 30-minute program (which has a 30-episode order this season) is produced out of the MLB Fan Cave in New York City and features pop-culture–focused interviews, in-studio gaming segments, and lifestyle features with MLB All-Stars and celebrity fans. Executive-produced by Boston Red Sox All-Star David Ortiz and hosted by rapper Fat Joe and MTV personalities Sway, Chris Distefano, and Melanie Iglesias, Off the Bat is the league’s latest effort to boost interest in the sport among MTV’s younger demographic (the average World Series viewer last year was 54.4 years old).

Off the Bat From the MLB Fan Cave spotlights MLB’s most exciting players in a way fans have never seen before,” says Darin Byrne, VP of original series development for MTV2 and the show’s executive producer. “There are enough programs out there that focus on what’s happening on the field, but that’s not what we’re looking to do. We cover baseball through a uniquely MTV lens.”

Off the Bat Takes Over the Fan Cave
Originally constructed in 2011, the MLB Fan Cave (located at 4th Street and Broadway in Manhattan) is a souped-up sprawling Greenwich Village apartment that mixes music, pop culture, media, interactive technology, and art elements. The multi-use space serves as the home of eight “cave dwellers” this season as they attempt to watch every single MLB game while chronicling their experience via blog posts, videos, and social media. In addition, this season, the Fan Cave is hosting a series of live concerts and fan events — all in the name of growing the gospel of baseball among a younger base of fans.

The MLB Advanced Media technical and MTV production teams combined to integrate a fully functioning studio set into the Cave for the needs of Off the Bat this season.

“MLB has been an amazing partner in this endeavor, and it was an incredible opportunity for us to utilize the wonderful MLB Fan Cave, a state-of-the-art space that was already built with TV production in mind,” says James Cohan, VP of post production for MTV2. “MLB Advanced Media has provided key technical guidance on how best to integrate with the in-house playback systems that feed the 30-plus video displays that are part of the Fan Cave and our set. While the full technical package is an MTV-owned asset, this show is a true collaborative effort between MTV and MLB.”

The Off the Bat equipment complement at the Fan Cave includes a NewTek Tricaster 8000 (for live program switching and backup-package playback), a Blackmagic Design ATEM Production Studio 4K 1M/E switcher (for the Fan Cave Screens vision mixing and alternate multiview display), and a Blackmagic Design Compact VideoHub 40×40 3G-SDI 2RU router (with Blackmagic Design Smart Control panels and iPad Videohub app for router control), and a 27-in. iMac with Thunderbolt-connected Blackmagic Design Ultrastudio 4K (for individual-show-element playback in conjunction with two Blackmagic Design Hyperdeck Studio decks that serve up dedicated monitor loops).

In terms of cameras, Off the Bat in-studio segments use five Sony PMW-300K1 cameras (three handheld, a jib, and a Steadicam) with Fujinon lenses.

On the audio side are eight Sennheiser wireless lavalier mics, a Behringer X32 digital mixing console, and Genelec speakers for control-room audio monitoring.

Other gear includes Blackmagic Design Smartview and Sony Bravia monitors, a ClearCom four-channel intercom, and Autoscript teleprompter.

For local record and live Ingest, the production team uses six Blackmagic Design Hyperdeck Studio Pros with AJA HD-SDI audio embedders for discrete audio-channel recorders, which record five iso feeds and one program mix. Those feeds are looped out to six Mac Minis running Movie Recorder, recording growing files over 10-Gb dark fiber to MTV’s rental Avid ISIS storage at 345 Hudson St. Editors use Apple Final Cut Pro 7 on MacPro 5,1 towers to assemble the show live and trim for time. The audio mix is temporarily laid down in the timeline and cleaned up in Apple Soundtrack Pro prior to air.

Turnaround time from a segment’s taping to air varies based on player and talent availability, but tapings are usually scheduled on Monday afternoons, and the episode airs Tuesdays at 11 p.m. ET on MTV2. The premiere episode on April 1, however, was taped on Tuesday morning and turned around same day for air that evening.

MLB All-Stars Hit the Streets
Each week’s episode includes several preproduced feature segments shot on Sony NEX-FS700 and Canon EOS 5D Mark III DSLR cameras using Sennheiser microphones. The production team is given an average of five days to produce each feature for approval and sends AVCHD and H.264 footage to the MTV’s editorial team in New York.

Segments have included such pieces as Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia asking random New Yorkers if they know what CC stands for, Mariners shortstop Robinson Cano catching fish at Seattle’s famous Pike Place Fish Market, and Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton taking a destructive batting-practice session in the middle of a junkyard.

“With social media, fans have access to athletes in a way they didn’t in the past. This partnership will take that to the next level, giving athletes a chance to showcase their personalities and to connect with fans,” says Byrne. “That has been evident in many of our segments this season, from having [Baltimore Orioles outfielder] Adam Jones give us a personal tour of his favorite restaurants in Baltimore to having Sabathia drop bars from his favorite rapper.”

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