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Live Since '69: MSG Networks Reflects on 50 Years of RSN Success

08/11/2019

Live Since '69: MSG Networks Reflects on 50 Years of RSN Success Linear content, digital series, refreshed logo get top billing in 2019 By Kristian Hernandez, Associate Editor

Friday, November 8, 2019 - 11:48 am

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1969 was chock-full of impactful events in American history, including, most notably, Apollo 11's mission to the moon and the four-day-long Woodstock music festival. On Oct. 15 of that year, Manhattan Cable Television ushered in the first-ever regional sports network, covering a nighttime matchup between the New York Rangers and Minnesota North Stars. Fifty years later, MSG Networks continues to forge a legacy of debuting new technologies on live air.

In 1969, we were the first RSN to launch and started with 125 events, including some Knicks and Ranger games, says Jerry Passaro, SVP, network and technical operations, MSG Networks. We continue to stay on the forefront of technology, and, as things make sense for us, we will evaluate and implement them.

In 2009, virtual signage became a new wrinkle on MSG Networks' telecasts of New York Rangers games.

Yesterday's Feats (1990-2009): Network Dips Toe Into HD, Virtual Signage

After nearly three decades in the linear space, the network began feeling the effects rippling through the industry near the turn of the 21st century. As concepts for viewing live games and shoulder programming in HD neared reality, MSG Networks was on the doorstep of its first major transition.

Around 1998, the industry started to change. Before that, it was standard-definition television, says Passaro. It was the first big change, in a sense: MSG was one of the first regular providers of programming in HD. I was on the programming side at that point. Cablevision owned and managed MSG at the time. They were constantly pushing innovation, and HD was piloted by MSG and Cablevision together.

Since MSG's daring decision to transition to HD when it was still just a novelty, higher resolutions have become the norm.

Once we embraced HD, there was no turning back, says Passaro. We built another HD truck when we switched vendors to Game Creek in 2009, another one in 2016, and we're rolling out another 4K-capable, 1080p truck next year in 2020.

Toward the end of the first decade of the new millennium, MSG enhanced its broadcasts again with an implementation that would propel the company deeper into the digital age. Deployed for sports coverage around the globe today, virtual signage on any of the hockey rink's playing surface had never been seen on an RSN broadcast. In 2009, MSG saw that glass ceiling and exploded right through it.

Fans inside The Theater at Madison Square Garden on March 24, 2010, watched the Rangers defeat the New York Islanders in the first-ever NHL game in 3D.

Basically, virtual signage was an opportunity to increase revenue opportunities, says Passaro. We had done some experimenting with PVI [Virtual Media Services] and rolled it out in the 2008-09 season with the whole sensor system. It was very labor-intensive. There were two operators, and there was a lot of setup time involved with that. In 2016, we changed the technology from the sensor system to the image-based system, so it's a lot less labor-intensive.

Digital World (2010-18): 3D, Fantasy Sports Intro New Era of Viewership

With the calendar flipping into the 2010s, digital-centric applications crept toward the center of the production universe. Making headway in movie theaters, 3D was a major technological trend reserved for the big screen. For an inner-city rivalry, though, on March 24, 2010, a selected number of Rangers fans watched their beloved Blue Shirts cruise to a 5-0 win in 3D for the first time.

We basically [shot 3D] right to the home, Passaro explains. We also did a theatrical presentation at MSG and actually filled the entire theater. We had rented a full movie silver screen and had all kinds of officials and dignitaries from other leagues that were interested in it. It was viewed as a very positive type of event.

MSG teamed up with Overtime for a social-media-heavy broadcast of Knicks vs. Cavs on March 17, 2019.

Like virtual signage, 3D has opened the door for other non-traditional viewing options, such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR).

The past three years have been marked by huge strides in fan interaction and real-time data. A year before the advent of legalized sports betting, MSG Networks was the first to offer an alternative viewing option catering to fantasy sports, during a New York Knicks-Cleveland Cavaliers contest on Nov. 13, 2017. Even prior to the fantasy-infused showing, the company had waded into the waters of simulcasts.

The prior season, in 2016-17, we did a test in hockey called The Power Play, says Kevin Marotta, SVP, marketing and content strategy, MSG Networks. We had the three hockey teams [Devils, Rangers, and Islanders] playing, and we showed every time each one was on a power play. We just kept going back and forth, and we said, Okay, there's something interesting here.

The network has unveiled this logo to commemorate its 50th anniversary.

During this NFL Red Zone-esque experiment with multiple outlets, Marotta and the network honed their skills for what was to come with the primary game coverage on MSG and the secondary telecast on MSG+.

We just went super deep for the daily fantasy audience and looked at that as an audience of people who are maybe fans of the sport but not necessarily fans of our team, he says. They were maybe more-casual fans that would come in specifically for that, so it was an opportunity to get a new audience. We also looked at it as an innovation that no one had done before.

The positive results of the experiment paved the way for MSG's most recent foray into interactive data: a partne
LINK: https://www.sportsvideo.org/2019/11/08/live-since-69-msg-networks-refl...
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