On Aug. 15, 2012, Comcast Media Center (CMC) s launched seven new HD sports networks for PAC-12 Enterprises (PAC-12) from a new origination environment in CMC’s Centennial, CO-based facility. Known as the PAC-12 Distribution Center (DC), this environment complements the PAC-12 Network Center (NC) in San Francisco. CMC also provides PAC-12 with occasional satellite and terrestrial fiber acquisition, feed record, media prep, content storage, compression/encryption and uplink services.
Given the dynamic nature of live sports networks, CMC determined that interoperability between the DC and NC was paramount to the PAC-12 team. Therefore, CMC designed the systems to allow the San Francisco staff to produce and contribute file-based content, remotely schedule and segment feed records and drive programmatic changes as necessary.
The operations staffing model for the DC needed to be flexible and able to expand/contract as schedules dictate. To support these requirements, CMC designed the origination environment to include one command and control master control station to manage scheduled playback of PAC-12 Conference program-ming;seven individual network live-event “pods” (one national and six regional), located immediately adjacent to command and control for live game switching, graphics and commercial insertion; and a supervisor and engineering desk to centrally manage all programmatic and/or technical exception handling.
The DC acquires content from multiple sources. This content is either file-based from the NC and commercial advertising systems, or scheduled feeds/live events delivered via dedicated fiber circuits set up between the NC, conference campuses and the DC. This fiber connectivity allows the DC to perform disaster recovery for PAC-12 should the NC be unable to perform its regular functions.
Given the versatility of the operation, there were some unique challenges with the design. The need for geographically diverse control over certain systems (e.g. automation, MAM, signal routers, M&C) required specialized network topology and security measures as well as deliberate user permissions sets to all systems. In addition to the internal system configurations, closely coordinated nomenclature usage, SOP development and exception handling practices were essential.
With seven networks — one national and six regional — PAC-12 wanted to sell unique advertising on each network while airing both common and unique events. To take advantage of this opportunity, yet avoid unnecessary cost, CMC implemented a unique automation system “linking” feature. This feature allows a single operator, from any of the regional live pods, to switch that event across multiple regional networks, even with discrete commercial inventory.
To assist the command and control staff with situational awareness, CMC augmented its award-winning “Heads-Up Display” technology specific to the PAC-12 operation. This feature allows the operators to keep their heads up, focused on programming quality and technical system performance, thus keeping the traditional automation display available for supervisory staff to manage exception handling and other off-normal conditions.