Comcast SportsNet Bay Area/California Sets High Standard For RSNs
Life is good for Bay Area sports fans these days, and, as a result, one of the nation’s top regional sports networks is flourishing.
Comcast SportsNet (CSN), which owns and operates both CSN Bay Area and CSN California from its San Francisco-based studios, has enjoyed successful runs by many of its teams (notably, the World Champion San Francisco Giants and the red-hot Golden State Warriors), and that has led to a boom in programming and a notable surge in ratings.
“We hate to say it’s the ‘golden age’ because we want it to continue,” laughs Peter Schofield, VP, operations and engineering, for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area and Comcast SportsNet California, “but it’s been pretty cool.”
CSN’s 40,000-sq.-ft. facility in San Francisco’s SOMA District is buzzing. Holding local rights to the MLB’s Giants and Oakland A’s, the NBA’s Warriors and Sacramento Kings, the NHL’s San Jose Sharks, and MLS’s San Jose Earthquakes and also providing surrounding coverage of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders, the network rarely has a quiet time. However, few times of the year are busier than the spring.
In an intense six-week stretch spanning April and early May, the network produced 104 live games, 333 live studio shows, and more than 180 hours of additional live sports news and analysis. During that stretch, many of those events overlapped. It got as extreme as five games airing live simultaneously on the two networks and their related overflow channels.
According to Schofield, a major infrastructure change seven years ago enabled the busy program days like those seen in the past month. In 2008, the network moved its entire master control to parent NBC facilities in Englewood Cliffs, NJ, streamlining production.
“Before that, our master controls were split up between Rainbow’s facility on Long Island [Bay Area’s master control] and the Comcast Media Center in Denver [California’s master control],” says Schofield. “So two different master-control facilities, two different satellite uplinks. It was crazy to try to do all of our events in April when we’re flopping things back and forth and still trying to be efficient.”
With those technological shackles removed and the Bay Area sports scene booming, CSN’s studios and facilities have been expanding. Since 2008, CSN has tripled its storage capacity, doubled its number of edit systems, and nearly doubled the number of ingest servers. It is also on the verge of making a massive upgrade to its main storage system, which, over the next two years, will quadruple the facility’s Avid ISIS shared-storage system.
CSN is very much an Avid house for editing and newsroom infrastructure; the initial installation of the system was Avid’s largest greenfield installation in 2008, according to Schofield. The facility centers on an Evertz routing core.
Two full studio sets with accompanying control rooms are built around Sony MVS8000 production switchers. LED lighting and light-color–changing capabilities make each set highly flexible to suit general or team-specific programming.
Taking on More Responsibilities
One unique role that CSN fills is serving as the de facto sports department for local NBC affiliate KNTV. The local-news program’s sports reports originate from a studio at CSN Bay Area with dedicated fiber lines between the two facilities. It’s NBC synergy at its finest. Most local-news sports departments are lucky to have five or six bodies. By partnering up with CSN, KNTV has essentially a 100+-person sports staff. CSN Bay Area/California was the first CSN regional to partner with the local NBC affiliate in this capacity.
In addition to traditional live event and studio-hosted programming, CSN has put a strong emphasis on digital-specific content. The network’s Web department has been integrated into the network’s sprawling newsroom. It also live-streams such events as press conferences and news updates.
“We’ve worked really hard here to break down the barriers between the different departments within the facility,” says Schofield. “Our Web department is one of the fastest-growing parts of our business. They had their own area, but we have brought them right here in the newsroom and embedded them. We want them fully integrated with the news department.”
Playing Traffic Cop
With no master control onsite in San Francisco, CSN had to get creative in sending, receiving, and monitoring feeds.
There are four paths between San Francisco and Englewood Cliffs. A multiview desk and monitoring station built in the CSN newsroom enables engineers to troubleshoot all the points along the transmission lines and quickly remedy any issues. Final master control and ad insertion are handled in Englewood Cliffs.
“We are emulating an affiliate here. We are downlinking our signal. It’s now the same signal that Comcast Cable, DirecTV, and Dish would tune to, and we are monitoring the blackout groups.”
Team success is key, of course, but CSN has established itself as the dominant regional sports power in the Bay Area on its technological innovation and its comprehensive event coverage. During its recent chaotic six-week stretch, the numbers showed the network’s value.
In April, Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, specifically, was the highest-rated cable network in primetime in households and every key adult demo. More than 5 million TV households (5,060,634) watched the Warriors, Giants, A’s, Kings, Sharks, Earthquakes, and the CIF Boys and Girls High School Basketball Championships on Comcast SportsNet. More than 3.2 million households (3,297,184) watched Warriors, Giants, A’s, Kings and Sharks live pregame and postgame shows on Comcast SportsNet;
The Warriors’ popularity is at an all-time high. CSN Bay Area scored its highest-rated Warriors telecast in the history of the network on April 20: a 7.45 for its coverage of Pelicans-Warriors Game 2 in the first round of the 2015 NBA Western Conference Playoffs. The telecast averaged 184,528 households for the entire game and posted an 8.52 peak rating (211,098 households). Plus, the game outdelivered the simulcast on TNT head-to-head by 24% in TV households.
The defending World Champion Giants are also off to a strong start on TV. Of the 20 Giants games on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area in April, 12 were No. 1 in households, and six were No. 2. Also, Giants coverage was up 11% in households from last year.