Video Design Software automates NFL Snap Channel

More than one million C-Band and DirecTV subscribers tune in each week to “NFL Sunday Ticket” to see the bone-crunching action of the NFL that is broadcast coast-to-coast. Part of this successful package is a dedicated stats and information channel called “NFL Sunday Snap.” The NFL developed this channel with the intention of increasing its overall viewership while providing in-depth coverage of players, teams, scores and game action. Specifically, the NFL wanted to deliver local content to its viewers, while still presenting the entire NFL game lineup, stats and league information to all the subscribers.

To achieve these goals, the NFL established a plan to completely revamp its Sunday Snap channel. The plan for the new Sunday Snap would provide coverage of games in progress with higher-quality displays of graphics and statistics, as well as real-time updates of game and team information. In addition, added provisions deliver local content in different parts of North and South America with the local channel assignments for each of the NFL games.

The NFL contacted Video Design Software due to the company’s experience in developing systems for the retrieval and on-air display of time-critical information from databases and live wire feeds. Video Design Software has developed several mission-critical systems for the automated display of broadcast graphics for such clients as CNBC, Viacom, Fox News and Sports, Microsoft, and the NBA.

In order to ensure that the complete system was ready in time for the start of the 2000 NFL season, the NFL contracted Video Design Software to manage the overall development, installation and integration of all data- and graphics-related system components. The company put together a complete team consisting of a project manager, lead developer, support developers and a systems engineer. This team worked closely with the NFL’s broadcast operations and information systems departments, as well as Video Design’s internal production and management staffs to identify and schedule the complete list of tasks to be accomplished to meet the fixed on-air date. Chyron was also engaged to help with any new features required.

To achieve the display of game scores, clocks, news and statistical information required for the new look, the central databases for the system were designed to be updated from data retrieved in the SportsTicker premium feed, internal NFL statistical databases and manually entered data. Five applications were seamlessly integrated with the Duet and CODI boards and affect different areas of the displays both simultaneously and independently.

GameTrak, a distributed client/server system for the display of sports scores and information, is the core application used to retrieve and generate graphics on the Duet and CODIs through the SportsTicker delivered data.

A second application is responsible for generating all the graphics seen on the main Duet-generated feed. This information includes game clocks and scores, a news ticker, league leader and game-day leader statistics, promotional information and sponsor logos. A third application provides an Internet-based interface to the NFL’s internal statistical databases. This application retrieves and generates information on the Duet for current league leaders, as well as game-day leaders.

A fourth application allows for the entry of text into the news crawl and other areas of the screen. In addition, the NFL is given the ability to update a section of the display dedicated for NFL and sponsor promotions, as well as the entry of channel number assignments and updates for each of the headends supported by the system.

A fifth and final application, the NFL Snap Channel localization engine, interfaces to the Digital CODI board located at each headend. This application receives updated game scores and clock information from the GameTrak Client for display on the Digital CODI board. In its first season of operation, the Snap Channel exceeded its goals and proved to be a big success, increasing both the number of viewers and quality of its programming. Based on this success and the scalability designed into the system, the NFL and Video Design Software have enhanced the graphics and information for the current 2001 season. Enhancements include live connections to stadium scoreboards for real-time clock and score updates, live “red-zone” indicators to flag games in potential scoring situations, and enhanced league leader stats with player headshots, sponsor and promo logos, post game box scores, and game summaries.

Larry Mincer is the president of Video Design Software.