Sports Asset Management: NASCAR Media Group Puts Pedal to the Metal in New Facility
More than 150 sports video professionals were on hand this week in Charlotte, NC, for a series of high-speed informational sessions at SVG’s fifth-annual Sports Asset Management event, hosted by NASCAR Media Group.
The event – which was sponsored by Sony, Avid, Bexel, Front Porch Digital, Grass Valley, and Vizrt – included an inside look at NASCAR Media Group’s new production facility, a full tour of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, and sessions on the latest developments in media asset management (MAM) workflows.
NASCAR Media Group threw down the green flag on Tuesday morning with an in-depth overview of its cutting-edge facility and asset management workflows.
“Technology is the cornerstone of everything we do,” said NASCAR Media Group COO Jay Abraham. “Just think about a car and how it operates and the elite level of technology that is required to do so. Our goal at NASCAR Media Group is not only to preserve the history of the sport but also to tell the stories that continue to develop in the sport.”
Over the past three years, Director Of Broadcast, Post Production and New Media Technology Chris Witmayer, has played an integral role in NASCAR Media Group’s vision “to archive the history of NASCAR and hopefully monetize it at some point in time.”
In order to do this, Witmayer & co. built out a comprehensive MAM system that is based on three key factors: an open architecture, interdependency, and a standardized codec.
In an effort to avoid getting trapped into a single technology or format, NASCAR Media Group took painstaking measures to build its MAM system around an open architecture. This allows the Group to switch out any element in the ecosystem –editing, logging, transcoding, and transmission – should it fail or become outdated.
“This open architecture allows us to remove any item and put in a different product at any point,” said Witmayer. “In theory, we could remove any one of these pieces and continue to be successful with very limited downtime.”
All four stages of NASCAR Media Group’s MAM system are completely interdependent. This infrastructure allows the editing, logging, transcoding, and transmission departments to function as a single cohesive unit, while also working autonomously when necessary.
“We are completely interdependent across all four of our departments,” said Witmayer. “Essentially, we can take down portions of our company without other people in the company even realizing that it’s going on.”
NASCAR Media Group is an all-Apple ProRes SQ operation and has been for the past two years. Witmayer and his team decided to standardize on ProRes due to a variety of factors, including the codec’s image quality, popularity in the industry, cost, and re-transcoding considerations.
“Frankly, if our guys can find [a camera] and buy [a camera], they will find a way to duct tape it to a car, so we end up with all sorts of formats in here,” said Witmayer. “We shoot varying formats from RED at 4K all the way down to the GoPro and the FlipCam, so we knew we needed [a standardized codec].”
In all, NASCAR Media Group supports 17 varying formats and frame rates, converting them all to ProRes upon ingest using Telestream’s Episode Engine.
“We chose [ProRes] because we were looking for the best quality image, but we also wanted a codec that was widely supported in the industry,” Witmayer said. “We kind of hedged our bets a bit at the time because Pro-Res wasn’t the most popular codec of choice, although other people have since started [switch to ProRes].”
“We also looked at the cost-quality ratio,” he continued. “Clearly an uncompressed codec would be amazing, but it’s just not cost effective. Apple ProRes looked to be the most cost-effective solution.”
In addition, the Group took the ongoing evolution of video quality into account in an effort to future-proof its operation.
“One of our philosophies here is that whatever we do today will be a mistake in five years, and often times in two years, so we wanted the best quality [codec] for re-transcode,” said Witmayer. “What if we’re stuck in this 720p workflow, which is our house standard right now…but 4K becomes the way of broadcast television? Well, we have the ability in our system to actually re-link back to those media files.”
A First-Place MAM System
NASCAR Media Group ingests about 800 hours of new file based-media each month. The Group ingests video files from NASCAR races and related events into its Building4Media FORK production system. These files are brought into a StoreNext SAN (storage area network), where they can be accessed for editing in a battalion of Final Cut Pro suites.
All of those 800 hours per month are archived using Front Porch Digital’s DIVArchive content storage management system and then moved to a Spectra Logic T950 tape library. While all this content is being ingested, NASCAR Media Group simultaneously generates a proxy for each file, which is available in FORK for live editing or in the Group’s CatDV deep archive.
“Once a piece is actually finished in a low-res edit suite, the [editor] sends an XML downstairs to our media operations area,” explains Witmayer. “From there they restore everything in the Front Porch Digital [DIVArchive] through an XML and then re-link everything. At that point it goes back to our high-res storage where it’s restored, re-linked and, in theory, flattened down to a QuickTime file and sent off to the [needed] playout device.”
NASCAR History Goes Digital
As one can imagine, the lengthy history of NASCAR has glut of video to accompany it – 106,000 hours to be exact. Over the past 2½ years, NASCAR Media Group has taken on the unenviable task of ingesting this entire library into its digital archive.
This process has accelerated exponentially since its inception, as the Group went from 8000 hours ingested in 2009 to 21,000 hours in 2010 to more than 21,000 in just the first seven months of 2011. In all, NASCAR Media Group has ingested just shy of 51,000 hours, but still has another nearly 56,000 to go.
“One of my firm beliefs is that humans are highly inefficient,” said Witmayer. “When we first started this project in 2009, we did 800 hours in a month. Over the past year and a half we’ve tweaked this to 3400 to almost 4000 hours per month. And that was mostly done with automation.”