MLB picture gets clearer

Aug 6, 2001  •  Post A Comment

On Tuesday, Tribune-owned WB affiliate WGN-TV, Chicago, will broadcast a Cubs-Rockies game in high-definition television on digital channel WGN-DT.
It is the first live, locally produced HDTV broadcast in the market and the third Tribune station to air sports programming in high definition.
The Tribune Co. owns both the Chicago Cubs and the Tribune Television station group, which includes WGN. Tribune Television is the first station group to broadcast some of its baseball games in HDTV, starting with WB affiliate KTLA-TV, Los Angeles, which in 1999 produced and aired two Dodgers-Mets games in HDTV.
KTLA has also produced its highly rated Tournament of Roses parade in HDTV since 1999. On June 15, WB affiliate WPIX-TV, New York, carried a Yankees-Mets game in HDTV. That game was produced by Madison Square Garden, which now produces all Mets and Yankees home games in HDTV. MSG is owned by Cablevision, which also owns The Wiz consumer electronics stores, so that move is seen as a way to boost consumer interest in buying HDTV television sets.
In Chicago, the Cubs game will be produced by WGN, which will be using two crews and renting an HDTV truck for the event. It will combine Trio Video’s digital truck X2 and HD Net’s HDTV truck.
“Baseball is one of the ideal sports in HDTV,” said Tribune Television President Patrick Mullen. “We’re doing our first one in Chicago because we have confidence in the HDTV signal, and as more people get HDTV, we’ll have to expand the number of games we do.”
Mr. Mullen said the WGN production is a way to evaluate HDTV.
“We think there’s a value to HDTV, and this is an opportunity for us to test it here in the marketplace to see what the quality is and what the opportunity is long-term,” Mr. Mullen said. “It’s a pure cost at this point. There’s no dual revenue streams, but it’s a first step to see what it’s like, what the quality is. It may well lead down the road to that as a standard production form.”
In July, Major League Baseball produced and aired the 2001 All-Star Game in high definition for the first time, using 11 cameras.
Russell Gabay, Major League Baseball’s executive producer in charge of national television, said that game aired in Japan.
Mr. Gabay said while producing HDTV games does not bring an additional revenue stream, what might bring more revenue is virtual signage in broadcasts for international markets.
Major League Baseball had virtual signage for the first time in an international broadcast at the recent All-Star Game. Tokyo Broadcasting System aired the game in HDTV, and NHK aired it in standard definition. The virtual advertising was seen only on the Tokyo Broadcasting System, since NHK is a public television network. “What adds [to] the revenue stream is we sold virtual signage to the Japanese market,” Mr. Gabay said. “We experimented with virtual signage at the All-Star Game, and it was very successful.”
With more foreign interest in baseball, especially from the lucrative Japanese market, viewers may benefit as more games air in HDTV. Mr. Gabay said more foreign countries are interested in obtaining rights, because 26 percent of the game’s players are foreign born. Also, broadcasters overseas have been paying greater rights fees in recent years. Japan’s NHK is broadcasting 81 Seattle Mariners games in Japan this season because viewers want to see the Mariners’ Ichiro Suzuki play.
This year, with the infusion of such popular Japanese players as Mr. Suzuki, more American teams are looking to Japan for players. That translates into better business for stations, with more local viewership and better business for teams.
“We think as soon as more players come in from Japan, Latin America and other countries, that will increase revenue streams, because they will want to be seen in home countries,” he said.