Turner Entertainment Networks uses Pro-Bel’s Morpheus Velocity automation system for easy manipulation of commercial breaks in live events.
Last year, Turner Entertainment Networks went live with technology that has significantly upgraded its ability to alter and manipulate the length and structure of commercial breaks during live sports events. In these events, exact timing is needed, and the duration of breaks is often not known until they are right upon the broadcaster.
The network's live events group chose Pro-Bel's Morpheus Velocity to meet the technical challenges presented by live events. The system has been used since last year on Turner Network Television (TNT), in connection with its NBA basketball and NHL hockey coverage.
Two years ago, Network Operations moved into a new, state-of-the-art facility. As part of that process, all of the operation's on-air video servers were connected to a central archive called Broadcast Inventory Manager (BIM), powered by Pro-Bel's MAPP asset management system. BIM consists of 22TB of fully redundant EMC CLARiiON arrays, two ASACA DVD libraries (for commercial and promotional backups) and two new StorageTek PowderHorn libraries. All commercials are centrally ingested and moved into BIM. Then, as on-air demands dictate, material is distributed from BIM.
In the deployment, Velocity is in essence the “thin client” application that sits on top of the Morpheus backbone. On the day of a live event, operators load a schedule into the software, which then queries the Morpheus database to see if any material required for air is missing. If any material is missing, requests are generated and issued to BIM, and the material is restored to the video servers from the CLARiiON arrays.
The system uses the same on-air schedule as the network's other, more traditional playout applications. Live event operators simply trim the schedule to include only the time period for the event before it is loaded into the Velocity.
The application itself runs on a Windows 2000 platform and communicates with Pro-Bel ICON hardware using IP. The ICON hardware controls the server(s) using RS-422 VDCP. The actual PC running the application is controlled remotely.
Considering that Morpheus Velocity is a new hardware and software system, the installation went extremely well. Installation of all hardware, including signal connectivity to Turner Studios (where the production room is) was completed by the end of September 2003. An installation engineer was on-site in September to commission the hardware and PC. In early December 2003, the network began playing out material off-air to identify any remaining issues.
This technology not only allows for manipulation of the commercial/promotional material at production's request (for the enhancement of the broadcast), but it also serves as a backup to the master control in the event of any problems.
The system allows operators to manipulate events within a commercial break seconds before it airs. Material can be moved using drag-and-drop functionality. Commercial breaks can be combined with a single keystroke or quickly split. Because changes within a live event happen unexpectedly and quickly, it is important to have an application that requires as few mouse clicks as possible. To this end, the new system provides many shortcuts to access commonly used functions.
This solution allows operators to plug into the network's video servers and eliminates the need to manually ingest the commercial promotional material into separate sport servers. This ensures more efficiency and accuracy of inventory for the live broadcast because the material can be ingested once and air multiple times. In addition, equipment can be modernized from a JPEG to an MPEG format and a second channel is available as a backup.
John Morgan is a project manager at Turner Entertainment Networks.