Avid's Interplay

Interplay helps Versus kick off its HD tapeless workflow.
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Achieving an HD tapeless workflow was a daunting task for Versus, a national cable sports network. In 2007, the company launched an aggressive project to archive its growing videotape library. Budgeting was as difficult as obtaining the goal.

Budgeting for tapeless

The key budget objective was to find out what the annual costs were to keep one videotape on a shelf at the facility in Stamford, CT. The secondary budget objective was to calculate the annual cost and time it takes to move the content off of that single tape, into an edit room and eventually to air. Factors for determining these costs were broken down into facility, operational and production categories.

Facility costs included:

  • base rent (price per square foot);
  • environmental (AC, electric);
  • shelving; and
  • insurance.

Operational costs included:

  • librarians' salary;
  • library database support and maintenance;
  • courier; and
  • VTR maintenance.

Production costs included:

  • tape stock;
  • digitizing time (loss of edit time due to digitizing);
  • logging time; and
  • third shift staffing for digitizing to meet production timeline.

Once all of these factors were tallied, the annual cost to use one 60-minute videotape once a year was outrageously expensive. This gave the archive project momentum.

Saving real estate

Another major need for the network was to reclaim the valuable production real estate being swallowed by this ever growing library of videotapes. More than 20 percent of the facility was used to store media and tape stock.

Versus' large library of sports properties included SD and HD content for the National Hockey League (NHL), Professional Bull Riders (PBR), Tour de France and other professional cycling races, World Extreme Cage-fighting (WEC), college football, field sports programming and, most recently, the IndyCar Series. With multiple locations requiring these tapes, the costs exponentially grew each time a tape was needed.

Choosing a solution

The budget to build, encode and support a tapeless post and production workflow amortized itself quickly. A team evaluated technologies and companies that could meet the goals within the tight timeline and budget. Selecting the right technologies and resources were paramount to the success of the project.

Versus chose Avid's Interplay in part because of the network's existing ISIS storage array, multiple edit systems and AirSpeed. The team tested Interplay in length and found it to have advanced toolsets that would aid post and production teams, as well as creative services and new media departments.

With Interplay selected, the network wanted to make sure the next pieces of the puzzle worked seamlessly with Interplay. SGL's FlashNet was openly supported within Avid's workflow and brought in for another round of testing. It proved to be extremely compatible.

The next step was selecting a robot that could store all of the media assets onto LTO4 tapes. The network researched all of the major manufacturers and found Spectra Logic to have the most expandability, reliability and overall best customer service based on the feedback it received from users in both the financial and broadcasting sectors.

Getting up and running

With the three key components selected, we created a timeline for rolling out these intricate solutions.

The first phase, upgrading from Avid's Media Manger to Interplay, was scheduled to happen over a weekend in August 2007. This was a daunting task due to tight production schedules. The upgrade was successfully completed within 72 hours. During this same period, the network was building out a new HD studio in Stamford and was working around the clock to meet the Oct. 3 launch date of the NHL.

Phase two happened in September 2007 and included the addition of eight SD/HD AirSpeeds and three additional Adrenaline edit suites.

Phase three occurred in February 2008 and included the installation and configuration of FlashNet and a Spectra Logic T950 robot. This install was flawless and happened right in the middle of the NHL season.

The encoding workflow

After the technologies were in place, the next step was getting the encoded content into Interplay. Versus' production staff was already taxed with creation of content to keep up with programming and could not encode thousands of tapes. Installing a dozen encoding stations and hiring freelancers to digitize was sheer insanity and would never make even a small dent into the library. Creating digital content with rich metadata that was useable, searchable and conformed to our tape logs was something freelance digitizers could not do.

The most critical piece became metadata. How does the network extract the rich metadata that already lived in its Nesbit library database?

After a long search, the network was introduced to Mediakive, a New Hampshire-based company specializing in encoding vast tape libraries. Mediakive's team worked closely to extract the metadata from Nesbit and thousands of tape logs. Once the metadata structure was created, the network new it was almost there.

Mediakive took on the task of encoding the tape library with the ideology of creating a media conveyor belt. Thousands of tapes were packed up and shipped to New Hampshire for encoding and eventual long-term storage in their environmental controlled warehouse. Content began to arrive in March 2008 on 1TB ESATA drives for consolidation and checking into Interplay. The entire process is ridiculously simple.

In less than a year, Mediakive has encoded thousands of hours of SD and HD content for Versus. High-resolution content is encoded at DV50 and DNX145, then transcoded to a 2MB proxy while the high-res media is offloaded to the T950 through FlashNet.

Versus' workflow enables all editors, producers and other departments to browse, search and edit with the proxies. This keeps its ISIS storage lean and mean. With more than 120TB of ISIS storage, the network would fill it quickly due to all the HD feeds happening along with the content that Mediakive is delivering. The proxy workflow enables the creative teams to only restore the needed high-res content.

Selecting the right technologies for a digital asset management and archive is 30 percent of the equation. Another 30 percent is refining workflow and educating the production team. The last 40 percent is amassing enough digital content in a short period of time to make the technology and workflow viable. Without the content, the technology and workflow is useless.

This workflow has reduced operational and production costs, increased productivity and creative collaboration, and protected Versus' valuable media assets indefinitely.

Paul Koopmann is the director of broadcast engineering for Versus.