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MLB strikes tech partnership with Japanese giant NTT

Major League Baseball has struck a three-year technology partnership with Tokyo-based giant NTT, marking the league’s first such deal with a Japanese company for the US market. 

NTT will work with MLB on two primary fronts. First, the company will deploy an emerging video technology called Ultra Reality Viewing. The technology, relying in part on combining multiple 4K camera images into an immersive, 180-degree image, is designed to simulate the experience of being present at the ballpark. The pair plan a pair of test efforts of the Ultra Reality Viewing this fall in advance of a wider deployment during the 2020 season.

Second, NTT will also become the title sponsor of MLB Network’s Ballpark Cam technology. The network of remote cameras installed all 30 ballparks, to now be called the NTT Ballpark Cam, allow the league-operated and New Jersey-based cable channel to capture pre- and post-game footage and conduct live interviews for its eight studio shows. NTT will ad inventory and branding on various league-controlled platforms including TV, digital and social channels.

The NTT-MLB deal was announced Sept. 4 at an event in New York.

“We’ve worked very hard to make our sport available on platforms that are new, that are innovative, that reach a younger audience,” said MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred. “We think that the partnership with NTT provides with an opportunity to add an additional platform, to reach more people.”

Ultra Reality Viewing seeks to provide a far wider perspective than typical broadcast cameras by stitching together multiple images. Conceptually, the technology bears some similarity to Intel’s TrueView, which also combines multiple images to create a single, 360-degree video viewing experience. But the MLB-NTT alignment is focused specifically on live viewing as opposed to a prominent replay focus of True View.

“[Ultra Reality Viewing] is a very new type, a new generation, of public viewing technology,” said Jun Sawada, NTT chief executive. “Viewers can enjoy [games] as if they were in their stadiums. This is a new type of technology solution we’ll contribute to the extending of the fan experience.”

Specific distribution plans for the Ultra Reality Viewing content has not been finalized. The league’s test efforts will begin later this month at a game of the Arizona Fall League, which involves major league prospects, followed by a planned effort in October during a divisional playoff game that will be broadcast by the MLB Network. 

The development efforts around Ultra Reality Viewing, at least initially, will be focused on fan engagement as opposed to coaching and scouting applications.