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Turner debuts new graphics for Braves games, seeks to hold viewers longer

Viewers of last Friday night’s game between the Atlanta Braves and the Chicago Cubs were the first to get a peek at new game graphics designed to hold the interest of fans and better inform them about what’s happening on the field.

For the 17 Atlanta Braves telecasts this season, Turner Broadcasting System has partnered with Sportvision to add virtual enhancements such as XtraMotion, which tracks the delivery of the ball from the pitcher to the catcher, Virtual Lead-Off, a color-coded visual ID of a base runner’s lead-off from first, and animated baseball card graphics that pop up from the fielders’ positions complete with stats on the back.

“The overall idea of Braves Xtra is to give the fans some extra production elements and extra talent,” explained Jeff Behnke, senior vice president and coordinating producer for Braves TBS Baseball Friday Night Xtra with Turner Sports. “And yes, we are certainly trying to increase the time viewers watch Braves TBS Baseball Friday Night Xtra. We want to give our viewers a reason to hang around and watch our package.”

Sportvision, which has won five Emmys – including one for its virtual yellow 1st and Ten line, works from Turner’s teleproduction trucks, bringing its own equipment and manpower to deliver the new graphics.

To create the XtraMotion effect, about 40 still images of the pitcher’s delivery are grabbed in a still store and assembled - one on top of the next - to make the pitched ball appear something akin to a tracer bullet that’s been fired. “The effect goes into the EVS and builds,” said Behnke. “It takes about two to three minutes to render. When it’s done, we tell the announcers so they talk about it as it’s being shown between batters.”

Virtual Lead-Off is similar in many respects to Sportvision’s 1st and Ten down marker used during football. In this instance, a colored ID that’s divided into red, yellow and green zones is placed on the field at first base. “When viewers see a runner in the green zone (which is closest to second base), they know to watch for a stolen base, depending upon game conditions,” Behnke said.

Besides these two enhanced graphics and the animated baseball card effect, Braves TBS Baseball Friday Night Xtra is using about a dozen other tools to keep and hold fan interest, including viewer interaction with the Braves announcers via the team’s Web site, a newspaper-like box score that appears every half inning and high-profile announce-booth guests like Cal Ripken Jr.

So has it worked? Are fans watching longer? According to Behnke, it’s too soon to tell, and he wouldn’t be inclined to evaluate these efforts after only one week. “We are in this for the long haul. We are going to put all of our efforts in this over the course of the season and look at the big picture at the end of the year,” he said.

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