HTN provides the link for sports broadcasts

HTN Communications, formerly Hughes Television Network, is a provider of sports television and radio transmission services that links most professional ballparks, arenas and stadiums to a variety of master control facilities via dedicated fiber (OC-3) connections. The company has installed Harris NetVX MPEG-2 video encoders at more than 70 sports venues across the United States for a variety of sports (MLB, NBA and the NHL).

So, they know how to get SD or HD signals from point A to point B without interruption.

Yet, bandwidth continues to be a hard sell says Christian Kneuer, senior director, operations and client relations at HTN. With a variety of options now available to sports and entertainment producers, and new technology making the transmission of HD signals easier and more efficient than ever, the competition can be fierce — even for an established player like HTN.

"I can't say it has ever been easy to sell our services, but recently, there's a lot of competition, which has also caused some confusion among the industry," Kneuer said. "Customers should look beyond just pricing, because if you're talking about a live sports game, there can be no interruption in the signal. Unfortunately, in this tough economy, signal quality and reliability are not the first things discussed."

HTN works with nearly every regional sports network and several other organizations (they helped broadcast several of the recent NASA Space Shuttle launches and provide live feeds for news organizations during breaking stories, both domestic and international) to help them transfer live compressed signals from the venue to a master control facility, where commercials and program IDs are added and then the entire broadcast is sent on to consumers. HTN uses Net Insight's streaming media switching software, called Dynamic Synchronous Transfer Mode (DTM) technology, and Harris Vidiem software to manage the encoding and decoding at all locations.

DTM is a time division multiplexing and a circuit-switching network technology that facilitates the switching and transport of HD video files. It is designed to provide a guaranteed QoS for streaming baseband video services, but it can also be used for IP packet-based services. It uses a bandwidth management layer between the transmission layer and the upper IP/Service layers.

For most sports clients, HTN provides a 45Mb/s pipeline in which HD signals are compressed to 38Mb/s to leave some headroom for ancillary data and other features. The company maintains a series of facilities in its New York City operations center as well as backup facilities for redundancy at the Hibernia Media facility in Baltimore, MD.

The company is run by Joseph M. Cohen, a figure in the establishment of several well-known sports networks in and around New York's professional teams. Among a number of accomplishments, Cohen served as president of MSG Network where he was responsible for advertising, sales, production, and program development as well as the broadcast and cable operations of all Garden events. During his tenure, MSG Networks became one of the largest regional cable broadcast networks in the country. He also co-founded USA Network in 1977. One of his first moves was to acquire Hughes Television Network, a broadcast transmission services company. He continues to be involved in several production entities since the '70s.

In fall 2000, Cohen oversaw the building of a new, state-of-the-art Madison Square Garden arena and entertainment complex as well as a practice facility for the Rangers, Knicks and Liberty. The facility, in Greenburgh, NY, opened in fall 2002 and has been used since.

He also foresaw the value of installing video encoders in every MLB ballpark to make signal transmission a plug-and-play operation.

"I see a lot of value for our customers in using a service like ours because making the connection from the stadium to your main production facility can be the trickiest and most expensive part," Cohen said. "We add a lot of value to the bandwidth we're offering.

HTN's various network services, which originate from the company's main technology operations center in New York City, include customized bandwidth requests and permanent HD/SD encoding on-site. Equipment highlights include remotely operated encoders controlled by HTN and features bidirectional HD/SD paths, along with Internet capabilities from all MLB, NBA and NHL venues in North America. For radio stations, HTN provides Telos Zephyr codec units at each venue with assigned announce booth locations.

The biggest challenge, Kneuer says, is keeping up with new technology and deploying it as quickly as possible. HTN's last big platform upgrade began in 2008 and took two years to complete.