YES Network’s First 3D MLB Telecasts a Technical Success

John Filippelli, president of programming and production at YES, says 3D baseball telecasts will not take as long as HD did to become a television staple

YES Network threw a party in New York on Sunday to unveil its 3D telecast of the New York Yankees vs. Seattle Mariners game. After a two-inning fiber optic glitch in the production truck outside Safeco Field in Seattle, which had viewers wondering what all the fuss about 3D was, the technology finally kicked in and got party guests nodding their heads and saying that's more like it.

But the test run by YES and its partners DirecTV, Panasonic and Fox Sports Northwest was done exactly for that reason — to televise a live baseball game in 3D and work out all the glitches.

YES on Saturday night had televised the first Major League Baseball game in 3D when the Mariners hosted the Yankees — a game that was carried on DirecTV along with seven of YES Network's cable affiliates. YES gathered a group of reporters and other invited guests on Sunday for a repeat performance at the Helen Mills Theater, where it had several Panasonic 3D sets and gave out 3D glasses to all those in attendance.

One YES executive told TheWrap that if a couple thousand people saw the games in the New York and Seattle markets, the only places they were televised, it would be a lot. But, that individual added, the production experience gleaned from the telecast will be invaluable to eventually making 3D baseball a staple much like high definition has become.

John Filippelli, president of programming and production for YES, confirmed that thinking.

Filippelli told TheWrap the two telecasts were "an overwhelming success for what is a nascent technology. This was always deemed to be an experiment. Right now we are shooting a 3D game like we do a regular baseball game with the same basic camera positions. We have to find ways as we go along to accentuate the benefits of 3D in shooting baseball. These telecasts will allow us to start finding the best camera angles, determine how many cameras we need, things like that. To learn the nuances of shooting a game in 3D."

Filippelli said the best 3D camera shot is one level with the players from behind home plate, but in most stadiums that camera position has been eliminated with the addition of high-priced luxury seats. He said with overhead 3D cameras behind home plate, the shots are more flat and less dimensional. In Seattle, the production crew got permission to put in a special temporary 3D camera area in the seats behind home plate.

"These are things that have to be worked out," he said.

As clear a picture as high definition offers, there can still be a greater crispness in certain closeups with 3D cameras, Filippelli said. "The little shots that don't resonate on regular TV or HD really pop in 3D."

Then, of course, there are the 3D commercials, which pop out of the screen. The special telecast only had a few and they were basically DirecTV promotions for programming from their 3D offerings.

One fun part of the game was when the grounds crew watering the field before the game aimed their hoses at toward the camera, making it seem that water was spraying out into the audience, just like in the movies.

But 3D sports telecasts aren't like 3D movies. There generally aren't many things popping out of the screen, although from that level-behind-home-plate shot, it does look like the green grass field is flowing out of the screen.

This weekend test by YES and its three collaborators was not cheap. Filippelli told TheWrap the cost of 3D production of one baseball game is between six and eight times as much as the production of a high-definition game.

Ray Hopkins, YES' chief operating officer, told TheWrap that ultimately the cost for paying for regular 3D baseball telecasts will be covered by ad revenue and affiliate fees. But that is several years away.

Before that can happen, the price of 3D sets has to come down, more people have to buy the 3D sets, and more 3D content must be developed outside of live sports.

Much like when high definition began, people would not start buying sets until there was enough content. And advertisers wouldn't spend the money to make separate commercials until there were enough viewers watching.

It took high definition about 10 years from the time the first content started to appear to today, when high-definition sets, once priced at $5,000 or more, came down under to $1,000. Hopkins and Filippelli both don't believe it is going to take 3D technology as long to catch on in television. "It will be an evolutionary process over the next several years," Hopkins said.

"3D sports is definitely the future, and it will not take as long as it did for HD to catch on," Filippelli told TheWrap. "It is imminent. Maybe in another two or three years."

Until then, Hopkins is hoping that all those who have a stake in the future of 3D, particularly the TV set manufacturers, will continue to partner with YES in additional game telecasts.

"If it makes sense for our subscribers and from a financial standpoint, we're all ears," Hopkins said.