Thomson, Nesbit give WWE an HD Smackdown!

By Andrew Lippe

While WWE fans count down the days until WrestleMania 24 later this month the WWE itself is in the midst of turning its entire organization over to high definition. Off the heels of moving its three brands, Raw, Smackdown, and ECW (Extreme Championship Wrestling) and PPV events to HD the WWE facility in Stamford, CT, will now operate a server-based HD production and digital system.

Getting the system up and running required its own version of a tag-team match as Thomson technology came together with Nesbit Systems MLS/Preview+ media asset management system. WWE’s $12 million upgrade from Thomson includes an array of HD equipment, including Thomson Grass Valley K2 media servers, the Aurora high-definition (HD) production editing system, Kalypso HD production switchers, a Trinix HD router, and Kameleon and GeckoFlex signal conversion modules.

The WWE upgrade follows an array of moves by WWE to move to HD. The WWE already added new HD trucks from NEP, a new HD Titantron scoreboard. They also have a deal with Ascent Media to provide fiber-optics and Globecast is providing WWE with a dual HD and SD satellite distribution system.

The WWE Stamford, CT facility is 50,000 sq. ft. that packs in 200 editors, producers and directors on a daily basis. The Stamford facility, just like the WWE’s wrestlers, never has an off-season. “Our biggest challenge was integrating the HD technology into the studio without the ability to shut the place down,” says Mike Grossman Senior Vice President of Television Operations, for WWE.

The WWE did most of the integration internally with help from various outside vendors. WWE installed two Thomson Grass Valley K2 media servers. The K2 platform consists of a client, a server, and a RAID-protected storage system with the K2 server managing the file system and controlling file transfer protocol (FTP) operations.

All digital content is stored on two SAN (storage area network) that allow WWE users to concurrently share video and audio data. The WWE produces three live shows, and on demand channel, as well as repackages matches of their superstars on DVD. They need a dependent system that would not crash repeatedly.

“The WWE produces an astounding amount of material that is repurposed in so many ways,” says Ed Casaccia, Thomson product development manager, Grass Valley server, storage and digital news production. “The system is well protected and is near impossible to take down.”

WWE’s HD digital production system has 16 HD ingest channels and will have a minimum capacity of 2,000 usable hours of HD (the K2 allows 15,000 hours of online disk base proxy storage). The WWE studio has 36 Aurora edit systems along with Final Cut Pro editors. “When it comes to our central ingest, editing is off the same pool of video coming in,” says Grossman.

The WWE has an enormous tape-based library that can’t just instantaneously be converted to digital. Video of many WWE legends are still on tape. “Our standard definition gear is still functional and is still online because we also still produce programming in standard definition,” says Grossman. WWE produces its international shows as well as video-on-demand channel in SD. “A big challenge is to avoid bottlenecking,” adds Grossman.

WWE is using Thomson’s Aurora Browse platform tool to prevent searching and trafficking issues. Aurora Browse creates low-resolution media files of material that can be searched, browsed, edited, and archived. The Nesbit MLS/Preview+ will be integrated with the Aurora Browse production suite. MLS/Preview+ will be used for low-resolution viewing, logging, and EDL clip selection, and has been modified for a two-way exchange of metadata with MediaFrame. Grass Valley’s MediaFrame metadata architecture links functionality and metadata together in one application. The system provides unlimited access to more than 100,000 hours of media assets in a shared SAN.

“These two systems work together seamlessly,” says Irene Nesbit, President, Nesbit Systems. “Preview+ enables a broader access to the WWE’s video content.”

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