Category Archives: Technology

Here’s Your Bullet Point Guide to the Garber v. MLB Broadcast Lawsuit Settlement

"There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. ..."
“There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. …”

A lot of pixels have been spilled about the settlement in the lawsuit named Garber et al v. MLB et al, aka, the lawsuit to strike down too high prices for baseball packages and those ridiculous blackout restrictions to boot.

There are a lot of facts about what the settlement means to us, the regular fans, flying around in multiples stories, so I thought it might be helpful summarize everything in a handy-dandy series of bullet points.

So, without further ado, here is what the settlement in Garber v MLB means to us fans as of today:

  • Single-team packages will be made available at a cost of $84.99 for the 2016 season.  These single-team packages will be available to out-of-market viewers only, e.g., Tigers games for fans in Tampa; Cubs games for fans in Phoenix; Cardinals games for fans in Chicago; you get the idea. If you’re a Tigers fan living in Detroit, the Tiger team package will still not be available to you. You will not need to authenticate your credentials with your cable or satellite provider to get this package.  So, cord cutters welcome here.
  • The cost of the MLB.TV Premium will also be lowered as part of the settlement, from $129.99 to $109.99.  What Premium gives you over MLB.TV Basic is away radio audio overlay; a free MLB At Bat app (worth ~$20); and access to games on devices other than just computers and laptops, including smartphones and “over the top” devices such as Xbox, Roku, Apple TV, etc. Click here for a current device list.
  • For the next five years, the price for the single-team and MLB.TV packages can rise each year by only the greater of (a) 3%, or (b) the annual national cost-of-living adjustment.  That means the most the package will cost in 2020 is $95.99 for the single-team, and $123.99 overall.  (This part in particular is how you can tell that it was lawyers who worked out this settlement.)
  • In addition to the MLB.tv streaming service, satellite and cable providers may also elect to offer single-team packages for out-of-market teams as well.  However, at least in the case of national providers, they would have to offer packages for all 30 teams and not just, say, the Yankees, Red Sox and Cubs only.  Price of this is still TBD.
  • Extra Innings packages, available through DirecTV, Comcast Xfinity and several other providers, will reduce their prices from 2015 levels by 12.5% for the 2016 and 2017 seasons.  Actual prices are yet to be determined and should be available to DirecTV customers in early February.
  • If you are a fan living in an area that is “unserved” by any satellite or cable service at all, you will be able to get an exemption to the in-market blackout rule and buy packages that include your market’s team, based on your (billing?) address.
  • By the All-Star break, MLB.tv will offer an additional option called “Follow Your Team”.  This is completely different from the single-team package above.  FYT will allow you to watch the out-of market broadcast (only) of your in-market team when they are playing out of town. For example, if you’re a Tigers fan and they’re playing the Twins at Target Field, with this option you will be able to tune into the Twins telecast (but not the Tigers telecast) if you are physically in the Tigers market at the time.  This option will cost $10 on top of your MLB.tv subscription. Understand four things, though: (1) Your local RSN has to give consent for fans in their area to participate in this offer; (2) even if they do consent, to get this, you will need to authenticate your credentials through your cable or satellite provider—cord cutters not welcome here; (3) you can’t just get the FYT as a $10 standalone. It’s available only an add-on to a full MLB.tv subscription; and (4) you will still not be able to see any of a in-market team’s home games on MLB.tv at all while physically in that market.
  • Blackout rules are not affected by this settlement at all.  They still apply in the same way they always have. So if you live in Iowa, Las Vegas or Hawaii, you will still not be able to watch those six blacked-out teams’ telecasts on your MLB.tv, same as before, except if you subscribe to their “Follow Your Team” feed, and then only their away games, and even then only the away team’s telecasts, and even even then except if they’re playing another team that also happens to be blacked out in your area!

Separately from (although likely spurred by) this case, last November, Commissioner Rob Manfred announced a three-year deal in which the fifteen regional sports networks controlled by FOX Sports would begin offering in-market streaming of games during the 2016 season, provided FOX regional sports network viewers authenticate with their cable or satellite provider.  Last Tuesday’s settlement extends this deal to Subscribers of DirecTV and Comcast’s sports nets as well. The only teams now not covered by this separate agreement are the Dodgers, Mets, Nationals, Orioles and Red Sox.

You can read the entire case settlement here:

Garber et al v. MLB et al

The $64 question at hand: Is this settlement a win for the fans? That depends on your point of view. If you believe that any loosening of the labyrinthine MLB broadcast restrictions counts as a positive, and it would for many fans, then yes, this is a win for them.  If your definition of “win” is complete freedom to watch any team in any market on any device you choose, then there is a long way to go before you will be able to claim that level of victory.

Nevertheless, many industry observers believe this settlement is a key step toward positioning MLB’s digital arm, BAM Tech, for a future of viewing untethered to expensive cable, in which BAM Tech will be able compete with Netflix, Hulu and other like content providers in delivering original content.  This future would have to include the erosion of the blackout restrictions still in place for it to be a serious contender among those original content providers, but given the rate at which people have been cutting the cord of late, it seems to be a pretty good bet that Baseball and its affiliate clubs will find a way to rework its Luddite restrictions sooner than later to achieve this end.

 

Mets Radio Producer Chris Majkowski, Backbone of the Broadcast, Loves his Job

Regular readers may remember that the “Working The Game” was a series of interview articles with working members of the media that we have published during this past year. (And for those of you who don’t remember, “Working The Game” was a series of interview articles with working members of the media that we have published during this past year.)

On the electronic media side, those articles typically featured only broadcasters, but as we all know, there is an entire team of dedicated professionals whose jobs are just as important in putting together a baseball broadcast as the jobs of those we hear on the microphones. Producer Chris Majkowski is one of those people. Already fairly well known among loyal listeners of Mets radio broadcasts, notably for his Twitter feed @MetsBooth, Majkowski has been working as a producer on Mets radio broadcasts for a couple of decades now.

The article below, which was first published on SB Nation’s Amazin’ Avenue blog, provides a rare glimpse into the kinds of things producers have to do not only to ensure that the radio broadcast we listen to goes off without a hitch, but also to maintain the thinly-veiled illusion that the broadcasters themselves are merely just showing up and speaking off the cuff when relaying the details of the unfolding game to us. Again, we all understand that’s not how it really works, but a successful execution of that illusion is the sign of a good broadcast. After all, just as with umpires, the best baseball radio broadcast producers do their job so seamlessly that we do not realize they are there, even though we really know they are.


Mets radio producer Chris Majkowski, backbone of the broadcast, loves his job

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Majkowski-1Mets fans haven’t always had a great team to root for, but they have been treated to outstanding broadcasts of the team’s games on the radio and television for decades. The current incarnations of those booths are beloved: Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez, and Ron Darling in the SNY booth for TV, and Howie Rose and Josh Lewin in the WOR booth for radio.

Chris Majkowski, the producer and engineer who operates behind the scenes in the radio booth, isn’t exactly an unknown among die-hard Mets fans. He hasn’t taken a day off in over twenty years, a streak that has had Howie Rose calling him “‘The Immortal’ Chris Majkowski” on broadcasts for years. And his Twitter feed, @MetsBooth, is popular.

Majkowski doesn’t really think of what he does as work. He considers his seat the best one in the house, or at least the next-best to Rose’s seat. He clearly appreciates that he gets to do what he does for a living and thoroughly enjoys it.

A lifelong Mets fan, Majkowski who grew up in Albertson, New York, a town in Nassau County, and graduated from Fordham University in The Bronx, where he got the radio bug while working at WFUV, the school’s well-regarded radio station. He remembers the first game he attended as a child, sitting in the back rows of the field boxes at Shea Stadium for a double-header between the Mets and Reds on a sweltering day. But it was tough to see much of anything from those seats, and they only stayed for the first game.

His first vivid memories of sports came in 1973: the Mets’ playoff push late in the regular season, Rusty Staub dislocating his shoulder against the A’s in the World Series, and literally running home from school to catch playoff games—which were all played during the day—on the black-and-white television in the basement at home.

Majkowski got his start in the radio business about a year after he graduated college when Bob Jewell, who was the chief engineer at WFUV, told him he knew a couple of guys that were looking for someone who could handle radio equipment and had an understanding of sports, someone who could keep a scorecard and know when timeouts were coming up to assist the broadcasters.

“Oh, well that sounds like something that would be up my alley,” Majkowski thought.

So he started with those guys: Joel Blumberg and Brian Ferguson. Some of the first games he worked were Hofstra football and Islanders hockey. And he worked his first baseball games at Shea for visiting broadcasting legends Harry Caray of the Cubs and Harry Kalas of the Phillies.

“Harry Caray was funny because I had to go and find him to record the manager’s show. Harry didn’t do anything when he recorded the manager’s shows, except he took a hold of the microphone. You had to go with a tape deck at the time, hand Harry the microphone, tell him, ‘okay, we’re recording,’ hit a stop watch, and signal,” he says as he holds up one finger at a time, “one minute, two minutes—because you’re supposed to do four minutes—three minutes, four minutes, and then he knew we had to wrap it up.”

Majkowski-2

The technology in the booth at the time wasn’t nearly as advanced or useful as what’s available today. Majkowski filled out lineup cards for Murphy with home run and RBI totals. He laughs a bit and says, “We didn’t get into the on-base and the slugging and everything else that we pull in today.”

Out-of-town scores, which can be tracked easily in real time in a number of ways now, were a bit of a production.

He did some work at Madison Square Garden, too, and the Mets’ gig opened up in 1993. He went to work with Bob Murphy, the Mets’ own legendary broadcaster, and Gary Cohen in the radio booth.

“We used to have this sports ticker and this roll of paper that would keep spitting out. And at that time, it made a bit of a racket, but if you were doing it long enough—it was a dot-matrix printer,” he says as he mimics the sound of it. “If you did it long enough and you were sitting next to this thing for hours upon end like I was, a home run had a certain rhythm to it. You know somebody hit a home run, not even by looking at it, just by hearing how that thing was going—’oh, that’s a home run, I better check that out.’”

Majkowski-3

A couple of decades later, he might not feel like he’s at work, but Majkowski says the longest days are the first days of a road series or a home stand. He sets up the booth on those days—running cables and checking mics—and is naturally fond of long home stands.

There isn’t quite as much work to do before the following games of a series, but there are still things that need to be done. There’s research for ‘This Date in Mets History’ and the compilation of clips from MLB.com and the piecing together of the pre- and post-game shows.

My conversation with ‘Maj’ took place during the next-to-last game of the Mets’ regular season. It’s late in the game, and Max Scherzer is in the midst of pitching a no-hitter against the playoff-bound Mets. Jerry Seinfeld has just departed the booth after an impromptu guest appearance on radio following his appearance in the SNY booth.

Majkowski-4

The game is zipping along, but Majkowksi, Rose, and Wayne Randazzo, who handles the pre- and post-game shows but is filling in for Rose’s regular partner, Josh Lewin, as co-host, have to make up for lost time. The regular mix of promotions went out the window while Seinfeld was visiting, but they all still have to be worked into the broadcast.

So Majkowski rapidly exchanges sheets of paper with both Rose and Randazzo, making it all look seamless as he tends to all of his other regular duties. His left hand operates the sound board, which has microphones all over the place, while his right mostly works on his laptop. To the right of the laptop, there’s a small, portable printer, which spits out the parts of the broadcast that Majkowski writes and passes up to the broadcasters.

To the left of the laptop, there’s a stopwatch, which he still uses to time commercial breaks, even though he has a finely-tuned mental clock for such things. And there’s a small recording device, too, for saving things on the fly and piecing them back together later.

Majkowski is essentially the drummer of the band that is the Mets’ radio broadcast. Constantly doing multiple things at once, his desk—on which his rig fits perfectly—is slightly elevated and a sits a couple of feet behind the broadcast’s front-men. He’s the backbone of the production, keeping everything in order and working with the broadcasters in front of him to maximize everyone’s collective talent.

And like any good drummer, Majkowski has a great sense of humor. He has, on at least a couple of occasions, worked pranks into the scripts he writes. And at least one of those jokes once made it on the air a couple of years ago, even if that wasn’t necessarily the intention.

“Let’s just say we laugh a lot,” says Howie Rose. “He keeps the place loose.”

How Audio Mixers Make Sports Sound Great on TV

You may already know about the website Vox.com.  It is a feature content website that typifies a genre that has come to be called “Explanatory Journalism“, the kind also engaged in by Upshot, FiveThirtyEight, and a few others.  They take issues both significant and inconsequential and fashion their stories in such a way as to explain how the subject works.  Sometimes the overture will be obvious (“El Niño, explained“), sometimes a bit more subtle (“Bryce Harper Should Have Made $73 Million More“), but either way, the style will be pedantic, didactic. and quite often both exhaustive and exhausting. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Personally, I like explainer articles, particularly for subject I am ignorant of or otherwise insufficiently knowledgeable about. It’s also not always everyone’s bag.

When the subject at hand is one you do have an interest in, such as the way baseball covers the media, having a key aspect of it that you didn’t know much about, or thought much of, explained to you is a pleasure. That’s how I felt when I came across this Vox article about how the people who mix the audio for the sports broadcasts we all enjoy actually do their jobs.  This article is very much in the vein of the “Working The Game” series we’ve been featuring occasionally on this here site, sans the interview part of it.  The author of the Vox piece, Phil Edwards, did interview The Toronto Blue Jays audio mixer, Andrew Stoakley, for the article, but You will see this is not an interview piece. It’s an explainer.  And Edwards does a bang on job of explaining the art and science of audio mixing.

The full article is reprinted below.  You can also read the piece in its native habitat here.


How audio mixers make sports sound great on TV

Can you hear a home run when you see it? If so, there's a reason.
Can you hear a home run when you see it? If so, there’s a reason. | Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

When you watch a baseball game, you’re also listening for the hum of the crowd and the crack of a baseball bat. People like Andrew Stoakley make that happen.

He mixes audio for teams like the Toronto Blue Jays, which means he combines a tangle of audio feeds to create the soundscape you hear when you watch the game at home. And he’s done it for a long time, too, with experience including hockey, NBA, lacrosse, and almost every other game that needs sound. Oh, and he’s very Canadian — in the winter months, he mixes curling.

He was nice enough to guide me through how he helps sports sound amazing, answering some questions I’d never thought to ask before: How do they keep the crowd from cursing into the microphones? What makes a baseball bat sound so good? And what’s it really like making all that noise into an incredible show?

1) Mixers show up six hours before game time

The Rogers Centre while empty. | Shutterstock
The Rogers Centre while empty. | Shutterstock

Stoakley walked me through a typical Blue Jays game. He’s worked a lot of them this year, and as an “A1,” he leads their sound mixing.

When the TV truck arrives, he and his assistants get to work. They’ll show up at 1 for a 7 pm game, since they have a lot of work to do.

Stoakley runs audio lines from the TV truck to the “patch room,” which serves as a clearinghouse for connections to the stadium’s audio lines. As Stoakley patches in, his assistants are busy placing the TV station’s mics on the field, which will stay there during a home series.

A large stadium like the Rogers Centre (where the Blue Jays play) has an audio and visual system built into it, plus a circulatory system for TV. Though audio mixers might need to improvise more at other venues, big stadiums are made for mixing a broadcast as easily as possible.

2) Hidden mics capture home plate excitement

The sound of a baseball bat cracking a home run is instantly recognizable, but for home viewers, that’s only because of a careful audio mix.

Look at the two square Blue Jay images in the photo below. Those birds hide the microphones Stoakley uses to record the sound for home games:

These two logos hide the mics that capture home runs. | YouTube
These two logos hide the mics that capture home runs. | YouTube

You can hear the result in a typical highlight reel, where the sound of the ball hitting the glove is incredibly clear and the sound of a bat hitting the ball is even better:

It takes more than luck to get a sound like that. Stoakley uses two parabolic dishes with lavalier mics that, together, mix for stereo sound (you can read more about them here). Imagine a tiny mic in a handheld satellite dish, and you get the idea.

“You want to hear that ball,” Stoakley says. “My mix tends to be a little sharper, and when you hit a ball on a bat, you have a deeper sound, and that’s characteristic of the dish with the lav.”

That sound — which defines a baseball game for the home viewer — can vary wildly by A1 and by the mic type used by the stadium.

3) Each key sound needs its own special mic

 

“I have a parabolic dish at first base and third base for pick-off mics,” Stoakley says. “I have two microphones in the bullpens, so you’ll hear the pitcher and catcher’s mitts. I might put mics on cameras that can get into the dugouts.”

That arsenal of microphones gives the team a veritable soundscape of gameplay to select from. And when it comes to players, that requires discretion.

4) Players need to be mixed carefully … especially when they’re angry

The players are a wild card that mixers like Stoakley need to interpret on the fly. If somebody’s made a bad play, Stoakley might not track the audio for a player who’s upset (and likely to curse). But if they’re celebrating, he’ll throw in some of their cheers.

In curling, a huge sport in Canada, the expectations for hearing players are a lot different. Players’ grunts, chants, and shouts are a huge part of the broadcast mix. In a featured game, mixers will put a mic on every team member and mix that in with the game’s announcers. You end up with sound like this, from an epic shot in the 2014 Grand Slam of Curling:

But some of the most important sounds aren’t from the players at all.

5) A great mix captures the crowd — but not the drunk fan swearing

This Blue Jays fan might not be rowdy. But if she is, she could screw up a mix. | Steve Russell/Toronto Star/Getty Images
This Blue Jays fan might not be rowdy. But if she is, she could screw up a mix. | Steve Russell/Toronto Star/Getty Images

“I have a series of six microphones that I use to pick up crowd noise,” Stoakley says. From those, he composes the ambient sound that most of us take for granted.

Translating the crowd’s roar is harder than it might seem. Sometimes that means noticing that a drunk guy is shouting into one of your mics. Mixers have to quickly fade him out so he doesn’t overwhelm the sound.

“Baseball is not like hockey,” Stoakley says (he mixes those games as well). Hockey is noisy both on and off the ice, which can mask one or two unruly fans. But baseball has more silences, so mixers need to be vigilant to fade out that one person “who will sit and scream, and no matter what you do you’re gonna hear them.”

Mixers also have to deal with the blaring public announcement system, which TV listeners at home don’t want to hear. “The PA is the bane of every audio person’s existence. You can’t eliminate it — you just try to minimize it.”

Even the building itself can change the sound. “My bat cracks sound different when the roof is closed versus open,” Stoakley says. “You have a giant dome that acts as a reflective surface, but when the roof’s open, the sound escapes.” He prefers the open roof: “It allows the sound and the city to come in.”

6) Mixing all that together happens live in a very noisy truck

A Blue Jays game in early September. | Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images
A Blue Jays game in early September. | Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

There’s a ton of raw audio coming into Stoakley’s truck parked outside.

“I have the director, producer, color commentator, play-by-play person, host, on-air talk back, master control, and studio mix on,” he says — and that’s in addition to the many mics in stadium. That means he’s listening to all of those feeds on speakers as he creates a mix for both the TV broadcast’s play-by-play announcers and the audience at home.

The art of the job is mixing it all together.

When Stoakley described what it’s like inside the truck, I couldn’t help but think of a bizarre, slightly dated reference: a scene in 2006’s Superman Returns, where Superman hovers above the Earth, listening to millions of voices and trying to make sense of them all.

“There is a din,” he says, and the truck’s audio room becomes its own mini-stadium as he creates his mix. That’s necessary to hear everything going on, from the guy yelling, “You suck!” over and over to the cues coming from a broadcast announcer. To whip to a third-base speaker in time for a tag, he has to pay close attention.

7) This sound mixer appreciates the quiet, too

Stoakley’s been mixing sports since 2008 (after decades of audio TV work prior to that), and it’s a loud environment even in the trucks. Part of the reason he moved from Toronto to Niagara Falls was to get a little more quiet when he came home from work. After a long Blue Jays season and more gigs, from curling to hockey, on the horizon, he told me he’s taking a week off soon for the very quiet sport of golf.

He appreciates that an audio mix is subjective and intense. The setup is long and hard, but his work affects how we feel a game. That’s because everyone at home, whether they know about audio mixing or not, can appreciate the perfect sound of a home run.

Tonight’s Mariner-Yankee Game Will Be the First Game Broadcast in 8K. What Does That Even Mean?

You may have run across this story a couple weeks ago: tonight’s game between the Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium will be broadcast in 8K.

“8K” is a short name for something that might seem somewhat big and confusing to understand, but I will try to explain it in simple terms.

If you already have a standard HD TV, its maximum resolution in pixels is 1920 (in width) x 1080 (in height).  This is the same kind of screen resolution terminology used for your laptop or computer monitor, and you can see what that is right now by going to WhatIsMyScreenResolution.com.  Maybe your computer already uses 1920 x 1080, which would match an HD TV. My laptop comes in at 1600 x 900. The most common computer screen resolution is 1366 x 768.

The next big advancement in screen resolution for TVs is 4K, which has a max resolution of 3840 x 2160. How did they come up with the name “4K”? Because 3840 is close to 4,000; thus, “4K”.  If you like the resolution you get on your current HD TV, you will love the resolution of a 4K TV, which you can see for yourself by going to any store that has an electronics department.

So, you can get a 4K TV today if you want, but you won’t be able to see much 4K content on it. Even though top providers like DirecTV and Comcast’s Xfinity already have 4K boxes customers can obtain, only a few odd movie titles and TV series even offer true 4K, and none of that content includes major networks like ESPN, HBO, USA … or, sadly, anything MLB.  That should change within the next few years, but for now, unless you have too much money sitting around or you crave cutting edge technology, you probably want to wait before buying a 4K TV set.

OK, so, what about 8K? The screen resolution for 8K is 7680 x 4320, which is four times sharper than a 4K resolution, and even though 4K as a technology has fairly recently been released and is probably within a couple of years of widespread adoption, 8K is already nipping on its heels.  In fact, some industry insiders are predicting that 8K is coming on so fast that it won’t even make sense for consumers to get a 4K set, because by the time 4K is ready to become commonplace, something four times as good will be ready to go. (That prediction doesn’t take into account the possibility of a coordinated controlled rollout strategy by electronics manufacturers so they can maximize revenue from 4K technology before they start an 8K rollout, but this isn’t a forum for the discussion on the nature of free markets versus corporate collusion.)

All of which brings us full circle back to tonight’s Mariners-Yankees game: it’s going to be broadcast in 8K. But you and I and everybody else aren’t going to be able to see it, so why bother? They are bothering because they want to gauge the feasibility of broadcasting the game in higher-than-today’s high definition, which includes both 8K and 4K.  Eventually, the new technology will be taken advantage of, so they want to start that evaluation process tonight by viewing an 8K-resolution game in the one Yankee Stadium suite in which it will be available in order to answer the question, “Can this actually be a thing?”

Major League Baseball probably does have a while to think about and work on it, though. Current estimates call for 22 million 4K TV shipments by 2017 and 1 million 8K TV shipments by 2019.  That might sound like a lot, but considering we live in a world with 1.5 billion TV households, including about 116 million in the US, you can see that there is a long way to go before most households will have either one, and most likely not until 2020-something.

So, it will probably be a while before you and I shell out the bucks for something better than the HD sets we have today.  But it’s also good to know what’s coming down the pike, too.

(NOTE: I had to do a significant edit to change the explanation how they arrived at 4K and 8K as an explanation.  As the kids of 1995 like to say, “my bad”.)