Rogers Sportsnet Delivers for Canadian Sports Fans

By Ken Kerschbaumer

Rogers Sportsnet’s HD facility is fulfilling its promise of multichannel HD playout, having launched four HD feeds: Sportsnet East HD, Sportsnet Ontario HD, Sportsnet West HD, and Sportsnet Pacific HD. A move to tapeless technology, based on Quantel sQ servers and editing systems and a Harris control system, played a major part in the process.

“Going tapeless was an enormous change for people,” says Rogers Sportsnet VP of Operations Virginia Gibberd.

Sportsnet now offers more hours of HD content than any other Canadian sports channel. Viewers who subscribe to all four of the new channels can access more than 240 Major League Baseball games in HD this year alone; more than 50 UEFA Champions League games starting this August will be in HD. In addition, Sportsnet’s NFL package will include at least 36 games in HD.

The four networks take full advantage of a 55,000-sq.-ft. production facility built last year; it has been operating totally in HD but is just now being distributed completely in HD. The facility, spread out over three floors in an office complex, has three studios and three control rooms. Operating out of three floors in an office complex is not without its challenges, such as having a satellite-dish farm located about 5 miles away. “Sportsnet removed a supporting pillar in the building to ensure we had an open studio shot for our on-air look,” says Gibberd. “This required us to put in a stell supporting truss that spanned a portion of the second floor. It was 80,000 tons of steel.”

The centerpiece of the facility is the Quantel infrastructure that can ingest up to 40 signals into a server and allows staffers to access content via their desktop. “An associate producer or someone in the archive can go into a desktop system and record feeds,” says Gibberd.

The biggest cultural change has been the move away from tape machines. The 1080i facility currently relies on Panasonic P2 (acquiring in DV100, with a move to AVCIntra 50 Mbps in the works) for ENG work, and all incoming feeds are recorded on Quantel servers. “Having no tape machines has required a wholesale change for engineers and operators,” Gibberd observes. “We needed to create a discipline so there was only one way to bring content into the system, and that was through the DART system and into Quantel.”

Content gets named, tagged with metadata, and then archived with notes that include words and phrases appropriate to programming people. Rosette transcoding technology readies content for multiplatform distribution.

Once staffers were comfortable with the concept of browsing video on a desktop instead of on tape decks, Gibberd says, the benefits became clear: “They can save valuable time and spend more time getting down to the real craft of editing.”

The four HD channels are controlled with a Harris automation system. “We’ve been using Harris since 1998, and we are very happy with it,” says Sportsnet Director of Operations Andrew Thomas. “So that was a no-brainer and one of the few systems we stuck with.”

As for audio, he adds, the network produces everything internally in 5.1 discrete channels and anything that is not in 5.1 is upmixed to 5.1 and then downmixed back down to stereo. An Evertz 576×576 router with embedded audio removes any encoding concerns.

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