DirecTV Says YES to Interactive TV

Satellite broadcaster launches baseball's first iTV service


(click thumbnail)The bonus cam option arrives as a split screen partitioned between designated shots of a favored player on the left and YES programming on the right during home games.
Major League Baseball and DirecTV have teamed up with YES, the New York Yankees cable channel, to offer baseball's first interactive TV applications.

Soft-launched on July 16 to any DirecTV Total Choice subscriber with an interactive set-top box within the YES footprint (New York metropolitan area), the app was demo-ed to the press in New York on July 25.

"The YES interactive TV application represents a great opportunity to allow Yankees fans to interact with the game in a new way," said Justin Schaffer, senior vice president for New Media in MLB Advanced Media division.

"It's as far as we've gone in interactivity with respect to the sheer volume of information," said DirecTV spokesman Robert Mercer. He acknowledged that DirecTV has also "had some discussions with other networks who broadcast MLB games."


The app provides a control bar that acts as "an invitation for you to interact," said David Feldstein, senior project manager/producer of DirecTV's advanced services & content unit. The option menu's colored bullet points correspond to the control buttons on the DirecTV remote control device, guaranteeing what he called, "top of mind button press" or "touch of a button control" to proprietary "bonus cam" images and data.

"Baseball's a very data-heavy sport," said Feldstein, acknowledging that the amount of data ingested during a game varied from fan to fan. "We put all of that [data] at the control of our subscribers, [enabling them to] navigate quickly to the information they want in a one-screen environment."

The bonus cam option arrives as a split screen partitioned between designated shots of a favored player on the left and YES programming on the right during home games. A dedicated YES camera and camera operator supplies the footage, as contracted by DirecTV.

"The bonus cam is an Ikegami HK-388 standard-definition camera linked by an isolated fiber line to DirecTV," said Ed Delaney, vice president of operations for the YES Network. "It's trying to capture the second most compelling shot going down."

To date, Delaney said, the bonus cam has been operating from the "high third position," from a basket attached to the front wall railing on the upper tier of the grandstand along the third base line. That position allows the camera to cover more of the field, as well as the Yankees' dugout near first base.

"The bonus cam channel and its animations are generated using a Vizrt graphics generator," said Richard Purpura, senior director of advanced services and content for DirecTV.

Up-to-the-minute game options include getting the starting lineup during pre-game programming and any time thereafter; a "Due Up" feature scrollable across the order, with player scoring and highlights; "YES Scoop" (e.g., injury and trade reports); recaps of other games (Boston is listed first); and game schedules for the season. All data (with the exception of YES Scoop and Yankees season schedule) are supplied by MLB. The application is available during scheduled programming.

"We disable it during commercials," said Feldstein.


DirecTV has filed multiple patent disclosures covering the processes and techniques used to control this interactive broadcast.

It built custom software routines to fully integrate the broadcast video with the interactive application, using Open Source tools and other technology adapted from the Internet, according to Purpura. These enhancements include Web-based software that lets a single operator at the broadcast center control the interactive layer in real-time using a simple graphical user interface. It automatically controls the multiscreen video presentation provided on the bonus cam channel and the animation generated before and after each commercial break.

The control system for the interactive app is based on Java.

"The Java-based application was developed internally at DirecTV, and uses a MySQL relational database," Purpura said. DirecTV also developed an HTML/JavaScript software application, which is automatically downloaded at broadcast time.

"The data [from YES and MLB] is carried on a digital storage media command and control (DSM-CC) carousel," Purpura said, generated by the NDS Value@TV's interactive headend.

NDS also provides the middleware (interactive engine) downloaded to the DirecTV interactive set-top boxes, said Purpura.


Jeff Quagliata, director of research for the YES Network, compiles the information for YES Scoop, and sends it in an XML format that is downloaded directly to the DirecTV server. (The broadcast schedule is sent from the YES Network's programming department via e-mail).

Data from Major League Baseball Advanced Media is also provided in an XML format.

"We didn't need to make any material adjustments to our feeds, as we're producing the same data for a number of partners," said Schaffer.

"DirecTV uses a Linux-based server running a Java application running on top of an Apache Tomcat framework, to parse, process and convert the XML into HTML/JavaScript," Purpura said.

The HTML/JavaScript files are then combined with custom game and player graphics and transmitted as a real-time data feed along with the television broadcast, he said.

Once received in the subscriber's set-top box, the data is interpreted by NDS' HTML/JavaScript interactive engine, providing a synchronous interactive supplement to the game broadcast.

DirecTV can also track subscribers using the YES application (on a limited basis after receiving subscriber authorization) by zip code.