Comcast Media Center opens a new content distribution operations center

Denver-based Comcast Media Center (CMC) has moved its expanding occasional satellite operations into a new, state-of-the-art content distribution operations center (CDOC). The new facility is located within CMC's 315,000sq-ft building in the Denver Tech Center area.

With the Titan uplink facility, in nearby Sedalia, CO, taking on full responsibility for more than 445 full-time video transmissions, the content distribution center will be devoted to managing the massive number of occasional feeds used by its customers. Titan and Dry Creek are interconnected by 15mi primary and redundant fiber transport networks, and Titan's capabilities for reaching Atlantic Operating Region (AOR) and Pacific Operating Region (POR) satellites will continue to support the requirements for acquiring video from Asia and Europe.

17,000 live events

There has been increasing demand for ingesting live sports events for networks that originate from CMC. In addition, the facility is expecting an influx of demand from TV networks and stations in need of uplink, production and editing services for their remotes from the Democratic National Conventions, which is coming to town in August. The content distribution center is also responsible for meeting the satellite transmission requirements of CMC's disaster recovery clients.

On average, the facility downlinks and transmits more than 17,000 live sports events and other HDTV and SDTV programs per year. These broadcasts include college games televised on Comcast SportsNet and edited into VOD and online content, out-of-market broadcasts and live events that air on TV networks originating from CMC, including Versus/Golf HD and MOJO.

Internal design team

While maintaining a focus on capacity improvement for program origination and iTV services, the media center worked with the earth station operations and members of the satellite operations department on designing, installing and testing the new facility. The team completed the migration of the occasional satellite operations from the former control room near its high-power amplifiers over to the new facility, all the while maintaining operational excellence in their daily operations.

Designing for flexiblity

Given the amount of sports activity that occurs on weeknights and weekends compared with overnight and weekdays, the content distribution center is equipped with up-to-date technology and equipment that allows the media center to expand or contract management requirements based on workflow. In the high-power amplifier control room, there were times when it managed dozens of simultaneous downlinks and uplinks, which made things pretty crowded and rather hectic. The control room is 3X larger than its predecessor.

The internal design team focused on both the projected volumes and the workflow of managing feeds. These enhancements are making it much easier to meet the additional demand of downlinking live sports feeds for Comcast SportsNet and for supporting remote broadcasts from this summer's political conventions.

Multiple formats

The design also needed to correspond with the production facility's larger move toward a “content from anywhere to anywhere” business model. In the initial phase, the content distribution center supports standard SD and HD content distribution.

In subsequent phases, the facility will add equipment that will allow it to manage content in a variety of additional formats. As a key ingest and distribution component of the facility's “content factory” model, CDOC will keep content at the IP level, which is critical for supporting the explosion of content over the fiber-rich Internet backbone. This includes supporting content for a variety of new portable devices. The content distribution center also connects cleanly into the content management engines supporting CMC's key content initiatives, such as its VOD and Ad Distribution Network platforms.

Control room features

With glass walls on two sides, the layout allows operators in the control room to monitor what's happening with the racks of gear as well as the video signals on their multiscreen monitors. In addition, engineers and technicians can easily access the racks and wiring without leaving the workstation area.

The new facility has independent workstations for five feed operators, which will be staffed during peak activity periods and can be scaled down to one operator during minimal workflow periods.

Harris' CENTRIO multi-image processor has the ability to accommodate 512 inputs and drive up to 32 independent DVI displays or 64 independent HD-SDI monitors from a single chassis, addressing the facility's wide-ranging video monitoring requirements.

Expanded antenna farm

The center also features a new and expanded 128 × 64 L-band router that feeds multiple types of satellite receivers. CMC also expanded its antenna farm by adding six additional TV receive-only systems (TVROs), creating a total of eight uplink antennas and 20 downlink antennas. The new router and expanded antenna farm will provide the flexibility and capability for more directly linking receivers to specific transponders on a satellite.

Sixty percent of the antennas are fixed on specific high-traffic volume satellites and static receivers on transponders, minimizing the number of times operators must reposition the antennas and retune receivers. This saves wear and tear, and dramatically reduces the time needed to acquire and verify the appropriate signal. By making it easier to acquire the signal, operators will have more time to work with the source provider on the other end of the feed to ensure that the production facility is sourcing the best possible quality signal for its customers.

Terrestrial fiber connectivity

As with any digital media center, ingest and transmission requirements aren't solely via satellite anymore. The facility has direct connectivity via fiber for acquiring video from the major Denver sports arenas, including Invesco Field at Mile High, the Denver Pepsi Center and the University of Denver's Magness Sports Arena. For longer hauls, it provides connectivity via Vyvx Services, Intelsat, Genesis, Comcast's fiber backbone and The Switch.

Fully operational

Operators managed 1729 events representing 4619 hours of content in January, the first month of full operation. This is a 14 percent increase in the number of live feeds compared with January 2007. It will handle an average of 29 simultaneous live events, during peak periods for the NHL, NBA and college basketball. That's just more than 25 percent of its full capability for more than 100 simultaneous feeds.

Comcast, CMC's parent company, has been named Democratic National Convention's Official Cable Television and VOD provider. The facility's support for the convention, combined with MLB and other live events in August, may provide just the right opportunity for tapping into the center's full potential. The upcoming Democratic National Convention, combined with MLB and other live events in August, may provide just the right opportunity for tapping into its full potential.

Bill Calton is senior director of satellite and IT operations for Comcast Media Center.

Design team

Bill Calton, sr. dir., satellite and IT ops.

Mike Harrell, sr. mgr., earth station ops.

Eric Middlemist, mgr., transmission eng.

Heather Norton, asst. mgr., CDOC

Paul Catterson, dir., broadcast eng.

Technology at work

DekTec DTU-245 MPEG analyzer

7710ARC aspect ratio converter
7710DCDA-HD downconverter
XRF6 L-band router

ENTRIO multi-image processor
Nucleus network control panel
Platinum wideband distribution router
X75HD multiformat synchronizer and signal processor

Motorola DSR-4520X SD IRD

Newpoint Compass network management and control system

Scientific Atlanta 9850 SD IRD

Sencore Atlas MRD 3187A HD IRD

1260 SD IRD
1282 HD IRD

Tektronix WVR-7120 waveform rasterizer

Tiernan 4022 SD IRD

ViaSat 4.5M satellite downlink antennas

Wohler AMP2-E8 series Dolby E digital audio decoder