Related: Comcast Media Center's Work at Playout
You may have heard a little something about Comcast Communications consummating its deal earlier this year for 50% of NBCUniversal. But for the nation’s largest cable operator, the year has also been notable thanks to the Comcast Media Center, which has been working some of the biggest upgrades for its clients in the division’s recent history.
In the last year alone, CMC, which handles the distribution of more than 10,000 VOD titles and plays out over 64 channels for programmers and broadcasters, has constructed an award-winning network origination facility that features some cutting-edge automation technology; launched Comcast’s Xfinity 3D channel; designed and built two new playout rooms for In Demand’s live sports and PPV movie services; expanded the number of live sporting events it handles to about 20,000 a year; and announced an agreement to handle the VOD programming for Imagina US at last week’s Cable Show 2011.
The project for two new playout rooms for In Demand, which were completed this spring, is particularly notable. “The In Demand build is the largest, most complex build we’ve done in the nearly five years I’ve been here,” notes Richard Buchanan, VP and general manager of content services for CMC. “It is more than twice as big as the major rebuild we did for Versus a couple of years ago.”
Key vendors for the two new rooms included Avid automation systems, Omneon Spectrum servers, the Miranda Vertigo products for branding and Evertz for core infrastructure and routing, says Paul Catterson, senior director for broadcast engineering, Comcast Media Center.
Improving both the quality and quantity of HD content that In Demand offers was a major focus of the upgrades. Both rooms are 3 gig-capable and can handle native HD feeds throughout the facility, which has produced a notable increase in quality for both the SD and hi-def feeds being delivered to operators, Catterson notes.
The first room, which handles sports content, includes 24 workstations with 12 dual channel pods that handle 14 standard-definition channels for NHL Center Ice and MLB Extra Innings out-of-market sports packages, and 10 channels for the NBA League Pass and MLS Direct Kick, says John Schultz, VP of broadcast operations for In Demand in Denver.
The second PPV room currently originates three barker channels and nine PPV channels for In Demand, with three for events, four for movies, one adult and an HDPPV channel. The room also has the capacity to run three simultaneous live PPV events for UFC, boxing, soccer, wrestling and other content, in addition to the live events handled by the sports room, Schultz says.
CMC and In Demand are currently upgrading In Demand’s linear channel satellite capacity for PPV sports and events so they can move their feeds from MPEG-2 to MPEG-4 and to dramatically expand hidef content.
As part of that process, In Demand is working with cable systems and multichannel providers to install Cisco satellite receivers and decoders and/or transcoders that are needed for the upgraded signals by the end of July.
Then, by Sept. 30, in time for the fall seasons of the NBA and the NHL, In Demand will be migrating its current four HD channels from MPEG-2 to MPEG-4 and adding 15 new HD channels in MPEG-4 for sports distribution.
Meanwhile, creation of the joint venture between Comcast and General Electric has both changed CMC’s clients and opened up new opportunities, notes CMC’s Buchanan.
CMC continues to be owned directly by Comcast, but as part of the NBCUniversal deal, Comcast contributed its cable networks to the joint venture. As a result, some of those networks—Versus, Sprout and three regional sports networks— that had been handled by CMC are in the process of moving NBCU’s Englewood, N.J. facilities.
At the same time, CMC continues to expand its business with NBC. “We are doing more work for transmission and VOD work for them,” says Buchanan.
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