NCC connects Northeast

Extending big-market convenience to midsize markets, cable-rep firm National Cable Communications has successfully launched advertising interconnects in Providence, R.I.; New Bedford, Mass.; and Hartford-New Haven, Conn. New York-based NCC, which manages digital interconnects in Chicago, Detroit and Washington, is due to launch a third "CableLink" interconnect in Buffalo, N.Y., next Monday.

CableLink Interconnects, formerly NCC's Consolidated Interconnect Division, uses dedicated file servers to connect to operators' existing local-ad-insertion gear, creating a fully functional interconnect that allows national advertisers to easily place a spot across an entire DMA.

NCC, which is owned by AT&T, Time Warner Cable, Comcast Cable, Cox Communications and Katz Media and also works with Charter Communications and Adelphia Cable, has been developing CableLink since March 1999.

"At that time, each of the MSOs sent their chief ad sales engineers to form a technical committee, and we worked with them to identify the best possible platform to achieve maximum consolidation," says Ken Little, NCC executive vice president of technology. "We landed on the current technology platform early in 2000, and now we've begun to deploy it."

In addition to the MSOs' agreeing to pursue regional interconnects, a technical breakthrough in early 1999 helped make CableLink possible: the ability of local-ad-insertion equipment to handle two sets of files, both national and local spots. Server vendors SeaChange and nCube came up with software modifications to make that possible, says Little (SeaChange provides most of the digital file-server technology for CableLink, but some customers' nCube servers are also used with the help of middleware from Video Networks Inc.).

At the core of CableLink is two-way VSAT satellite technology from Hughes Network Systems, which allows NCC not only to deliver spots and schedules but also to receive confirmation of their receipt and playback.

"You have to have universal verification running at each headend," says Little. "That's where the VSAT platform comes into play. We send the video out with the schedule, and the VSAT backhaul gives us verification that the data got there and verification that the spot played at the right time."

CableLink's architecture is based in Bloomfield, N.J., where NCC receives spots at its Operations Center. Spots are compressed in the MPEG-2 format and stored in SeaChange's Spot Master Video Library, which interfaces with CCMS' Novar traffic and billing software. Spots and schedules are then sent as IP files to cable headends, where they are received and managed by SeaChange servers and database software. Although NCC tracks spot playback on a headend-by-headend basis in a market, CCMS has modified its software to generate a single marketwide affidavit for customers.

The Providence-New Bedford interconnect currently reaches about 470,000 cable subscribers, connecting Cox CableRep's Providence systems with AT&T Media Services' systems in New Bedford and Taunton, Mass. Hartford-New Haven's system, which connects AT&T, Cablevision, Charter, Comcast, Cox and Tele-Media operations, reaches 810,000 subscribers. Buffalo's CableLink, which will combine Adelphia and Time Warner systems, will reach some 470,000 subscribers.

"There's tremendous cost savings passed on to the ad agency," says Little. "When an agency wants a spot, they just send media to Bloomfield, and we can multicast that across every single network and every system."