It's working fine

Launching a new network is typically an overwhelming task for those on the engineering side. Racks of gear, miles of cabling, and a rush to get things in place by on-air date can create massive pressure.

That isn't the case with Fine Living. Mark Hale, executive vice president, Scripps Networks, and his team have a facility in Knoxville, Tenn., that is able to easily handle not only the new network but four additional networks as well. Fine Living will be run alongside Food Network, DIY and HGTV in what could be called cable's version of centralcasting.

Systems integrator A.F. Associates was responsible for the original construction and integration of the facility two years ago as well as the improvements to make room for Fine Living and new networks. That integration work was completed last November.

"Scripps is going to go after some additional growth in the upcoming years so a facility with only four networks wasn't going to cut it," says A.F. Associates Senior Project Manager Tom Michales. "There was a little bit of land left, and so they put up the last building segment on the master plan, which included a new broadcast-operations center with two network-control rooms, two operations areas and 60 equipment racks."

Programming will be acquired from both internal and external production operations and shipped to Knoxville for preparation. Fine Living's principal base is in Los Angeles, with back-office support and technical operations in Tennessee.

"We had three goals as part of the expansion," Hale says. "One was to build for up to eight networks. Second was to raise the bar in minimizing unscheduled outtages. And third was to integrate some hardware and applications to capture metadata associated with content so we could repurpose for different mediums."

Hale says the facility was converted from an integrated signal flow to a mirrored-type design, with a dual path throughout the chain. Evertz AVM cards help monitor the signals. Michales notes that it isn't a facility-wide alarm system but it does the job.

The mirrored approach permits quick switchover in case of a problem, Hale says. "It allows the operator to hit a button [to switch to the backup]. We wanted the ability to not have to troubleshoot through the chain if we had a fault or an error or a piece of equipment went down. We wanted it very quickly to jump to the backup; we never had that as an integrated feature of past facilities."

Scripps was one of the first U.S.-based television companies to deploy the BTS (now Thomson Multimedia) Media Pool video server. Other Thomson Multimedia equipment includes Saturn master control, Mars routing switchers and Jupiter control systems.

The three Media Pool systems have 300 TB of storage and work in conjunction with a StorageTek PowderHorn robotic archive system. Material is taken from the Media Pool and placed on tape for playout to air.

"We restore and archive on a daily basis," Hale says. "One of the things with our networks is there aren't a lot of repeats. So we have to store and archive back and forth to the online storage hardware of the Media Pool."

The system can handle 36,000 half-hour programs, so storage isn't a problem. But Hale is looking for new video servers at NAB because the Media Pools, with seven years on them, are due for replacement.

"We want to get a sense of the maturation of the server systems," says Hale. "We went on the bleeding edge seven years ago with the Media Pool. And that was great, but one of the drawbacks is, it was on the JPEG standard. Over time, we've realized we need to migrate to an MPEG standard."

Thomson, SeaChange and others are on the agenda at NAB. The visit to the Thomson booth promises to be an interesting one given the company's acquisition of the Grass Valley Group, which will make siblings of the Media Pool and Profile servers.

"I'm hoping Thomson and GVG are able to share some of the expertise they've gained over the years even though they've been on separate parallel tracks," says Hale. "We've been interested in the Profile for a while, and we think BTS had a very strong server-technology group. So I'm hoping that some of the best of both worlds come together because there are some synergies there."

One of the requirements of the next server will be the ability to enrich Scripps' media-asset-management initiative. The content found on Scripps' networks lends itself to VOD applications that Scripps is testing in Cincinnati as well as potential delivery via broadband and Internet.

"We're integrating in some Virage logging stations, and we're using WebWare as our application for managing the metadata," says Hale. "So, at NAB, we're going to be looking for the baseline file format of the future. Questions include whether it will be MPEG-2 and at what bit rates do we want to capture the content."