In late 2011, Comcast Media Center (CMC) launched the new NHL Network program origination operation in Comcast's Dry Creek facility in Centennial, CO. The operation provides the latest features and future growth potential the NHL Network channel requires. With the newly inked distribution agreement with NBC Universal, the NHL looked to employ the latest technologies and practices to enhance the on-screen experience and overall quality of its broadcast. It turned to the CMC to provide the scheduled and live-event origination as well as distribution services.
The NHL Network's goals for the new origination operation included enhancements to the NHL Network ticker, in-game production-grade graphics, alternate-market programming, and improved overall signal quality via a new compression platform that maintains native HD programming to the receiving affiliates.
In the facility, two MCRs are located immediately adjacent to each other within a short distance of the CMC central equipment room. One control room is responsible for the National NHL Network broadcast, and the other is tasked with the occasional alternate program distribution for blacked-out markets. The control rooms each include full-featured systems that offer advanced control over dynamic scheduling, as well as on-screen contribution elements.
The addition of an MPLS terrestrial fiber network connects nearly all of the North American hockey arenas to both the NHL studio operations and CMC via terrestrial fiber, yielding significant inbound feed capacity. To meet that capacity, a multichannel direct-to-disk server array provides feed record, as well as basic segmentation and editing capability, often within minutes of air time. The NHL then uses Signiant software to deliver pre-recorded content to the CMC's Media Aggregation Center for transcoding, metadata formatting and distribution to a third-party captioning service prior to the content being stored in the archive.
With the dynamic nature and pace of live sports programming, especially hockey, CMC needed to develop custom software tools to meet certain challenges in the deployment of the NHL Network's operation.
CMC's in-house Software Solutions Group provided automated traffic log conversions, applying a rules-based decision engine that saved the NHL and CMC programming staff many hours of time. They also worked closely with Chyron and Reality Check Systems on logical placeholder-style graphics scenes to ensure on-air elements could be updated dynamically with minimal effort from in-room staff. In addition, they developed a digital air check retrieval system to provide remote access to compliance recordings shortly after air.
To ensure the success of complex live event schedules, CMC uses Avid Titan automation to "link" playlists to control the national and alternate network playlists running into and out of service replacement periods. CMC leverages the MPLS network to acquire content, graphics and ticker data, in addition to sourcing venue feeds, enabling cost-effective delivery of multiple elements over a single platform.