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System Design Showcase: Media Most's new facility for Russian-speaking viewers

Media Most's new facility for Russian-speaking viewers

By Steven Sabin

Media Most International, a subsidiary of Overseas Media, owns the only privately held Russian-language information and television service.

The master control room at Media Most’s origination facility in New York monitors incoming and outgoing feeds and controls servers for outgoing feeds. Photos courtesy A.F. Associates. Photos by Melissa Lowver, marketing manager of A.F. Associates.

It is independent of the Russian government and currently reaches approximately 4.5 million international viewers. Media Most (which in Russian means “media bridge”) has also entered the film production business, and does advertising and Internet-based information projects. Through its affiliates, it holds worldwide rights to the largest Russian and Soviet movie library, consisting of more than 2500 titles. Film production companies affiliated with the group are among the largest producers of TV serials and movies in Europe, and by far the largest in Russia. Its affiliate, Teleatelier, provides professional television design, special computer effects and graphics. The group’s other significant ventures include Ostrov, a publishing house that publishes a business and politics weekly magazine and runs a radio station.

In early 2001, amid international outcry, Russian government authorities took over NTV (Media Most’s television interests in Russia) and liquidated TV-6. NTV and TV-6 were both privately owned Russian television stations with news organizations that were free from government influence.

To continue its quest for Russian free speech, Media Most immediately established a facility in a teleport in Cologne, Germany. It then set out to build an independent origination facility in the United States. It chose New York City, with its sizable Russian-speaking population, for its base of operations.

From its rented facilities in New York, Media Most produced one Russian-language channel for cable and satellite distribution. It was able to sustain affiliations with Russian program and news producers, and received long-form entertainment programming and news clips from Russia. It also received a large number of programs from western producers that were voiced over in Russian.

A growing concern

The company sought to expand its services to include live international newscasts, movie channels and, eventually, original programs, as well as to increase viewership. To achieve these goals, it approached A.F. Associates (AFA), a firm that designs and builds broadcast facilities, in the fall of 2001. It also planned to move to a more permanent location in lower Manhattan and upgrade its infrastructure from analog to digital. To help with this aspect, Media Most contacted an architectural firm named Group 3, which had experience with technical projects.

Media Most’s central equipment room currently houses 32 racks of equipment, with space for 36.

One of the key technical decisions that needed to be made up front was whether to go with a 625 or 525 plant. Its existing library consisted of approximately 5000 hours of PAL programming on analog tape. Incoming feeds would consist of four NTSC and four PAL feeds, and outgoing would be a mix of PAL and NTSC, depending on the target region. Factors like timecode incompatibility, costs and space precluded consideration of a dual-standard infrastructure for this fast-track project (four months from contract to air).

A technical committee comprised of members of all three companies evaluated the lower Manhattan location to determine the square footage required to support the new multichannel origination facility. AFA worked closely with Group 3 in the technical space planning of the two floors that would ultimately house two studios, studio control, edit rooms, central equipment, master control/NOC, ingest and a dub area.

The floorplan of Media Most’s Manhattan facility attests to its efficient use of space and attention to ergonomics.

As with most clients in particularly budget-conscious times, Media Most was looking for the most cost-effective yet technologically advanced equipment possible. It knew it wanted a facility that was digital, server-based and automation supported, and it would not compromise on any major equipment decisions.

AFA designed and built the new facility, with 525-601 video and embedded audio as the in-house standard. The decision was made to go with a 525-601 plant in part because of the automation. To secure local support it was deemed best to go with an American automation company, and only a few have PAL versions. Controlling related costs further limited the available choices. NTSC equipment was more readily available. Video quality was still high, even after double conversion (from PAL to NTSC and back to PAL). These considerations, along with time constraints, ultimately drove the decision. Creative engineering (especially in the areas of the servers, routing and distribution), along with straightforward integration and coordination with vendors, helped ease the staff’s learning curve on the major pieces of equipment — servers, automation and electronic graphics.

Hardware and software

Following an evaluation and recommendation by AFA, Media Most chose a proven Grass Valley Group (GVG) solution that includes Profile XP servers, a 128x128 Concerto router with an Encore control system, Vibrint FeedClip and NewsEdit. Fibre Channel provides file transfers faster than real time between devices. The GVG solution minimized development time and avoided interoperability issues. The router was a key cost-saving factor because it would also function as the on-air switcher. It was also chosen for its reliability and flexibility.

GVG NetCentral software was incorporated to provide Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP)-based remote monitoring and diagnosis for the GVG equipment, with a feature set that includes Internet access schedule-based notification and predictive-failure analysis. Snell & Wilcox standard converters convert the incoming NTSC and PAL feeds to SDI as they receive them, and a GVG ingest server records them. The ingest server can back up the on-air cache via the Concerto router. Digital broadcast-quality news clips from Moscow are fed into the facility via IP using the Telestream ClipExpress, supporting four live newscasts per day. News clips are also received from the Associated Press and CBS News via fiber through AFA’s sister company,

Media Most’s ingest stations use Florical‘s MediaTimer and MediaFiler.

Waterfront Communications.

Leitch 12x1 switchers fed from source distribution amplifiers serve as backups in the event of a catastrophic failure in any of the primary signal paths. A Chyron Duet LE system feeds Russian (Cyrillic) text to the Ross downstream keyers for each program channel. There is a Leitch logo generator for bugs and a Leitch Prom Slide for stills.

All conversion and terminal equipment came from Snell & Wilcox. The Kudos Plus CVR550 standards converter has SDI input capability and the Kudos CVR45D has SDI output capability. The RollCall infrastructure management system provides status monitoring and control of the Snell & Wilcox equipment, and can be easily and rapidly accessed from many points. Remote access, as provided by GVG and Snell & Wilcox, allows operation with fewer staff members.

The master control room/NOC monitors incoming and outgoing feeds and controls servers for outgoing feeds. The dub area converts legacy PAL material to 525 SDI, which is then ingested into GVG’s Profile XP servers. The ingest area, with four ingest positions and one quality control station, uses DVCPRO25 as the ingest format. On-air playout is controlled by a Florical automation system. The Florical system also controls the servers, router and Leitch logo generator.

Future plans

Media Most’s programming department compiles its program schedules in a spreadsheet format using the Russian language and fonts. For accuracy, Media Most has a software engineer developing a program to cross-check program schedules with its Russian-language program database. The software engineer is also developing a more complex program to transliterate the Russian spreadsheet into English by sound. From there, the software converts the phonetic English text program log into an ASCII file for import into the Florical system. Media Most is programming driven, and some of its future goals may be doing live, regional cut-ins for breaking news, as well as doing the Russian voiceover work in the New York facility. The company broadcasts domestically produced commercials featuring Russian-oriented businesses, and it hopes to expand its ad base to include Russian-language commercials for corporations as well.

The facility is a classic example of a successful collaboration between the clientele, systems integrator, architect and general contractor. This collaboration allowed the company to meet its budget and successfully launch from its new facility in June of 2002. Media Most currently produces eight channels of programming (five original content and three pass-through) to Russian-speaking people in various countries and major universities worldwide.

Steven Sabin, a certified broadcast network technologist, is a senior project manager for A.F. Associates.

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