Rockets, Astros Find New Home With Comcast SportsNet Houston

Linsanity isn’t the only thing that’s new in Houston.

When the Houston Rockets take the hardwood for their preseason opener against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Oct. 10, they’ll do so on their brand-new network. Comcast SportsNet (CSN) Houston — a partnership of the Houston Rockets, Houston Astros, and NBC Sports Group — debuts on Monday Oct. 1 and will be available to viewers in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico.

CSN Houston will be the exclusive television home of the Rockets, broadcasting more than 65 regular-season games and more than 250 hours of team content, and the Astros, with more than 150 regular-season games and more than 600 hours of dedicated programming. All network content will be broadcast in HD.

CSN Houston joins NBC Sports’ family of regional networks, spanning the country from Comcast SportsNet Bay Area to Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia.

Downtown, Where All the Lights Are Bright
Located in downtown Houston, CSN Houston has set up shop in the Houston Pavilions. The retail complex will house the network’s control room, studio, production and event personnel, and executive offices. Austin, TX-based Beck Associates was awarded the bid to integrate the control room and began buildout in June.

“It’s come out better than we ever could have dreamed,” says Robert Ayars, SVP of technical operations, NBC Sports Regional Networks. “It’s got the latest technology. We always look at best practices from our last build, which was our Bay Area facility [in 2008], and brought a lot of that along.”

Network operations are based on Sony Media Backbone XDNEWS workflow, which integrates in-studio production, editing, and archive. Five edit bays handle studio programming; three are dedicated to creative services.

“Ingest of field material, the games that we need to record off of there to get highlights from — all that is being done through that Sony system,” explains Ayars. “Then it’s tied in with [Avid] iNews in our newsroom and goes to playback off that same [Sony] system, and then we archive it. It’s a Sony workflow [from the time] something comes into the house to the time it gets to air.”

In addition to the Sony Media Backbone XDNEWS, the HD facility also houses a Sony MVS-7000X production switcher, dual Chyron HyperX graphics systems, a full suite of Evertz technology, an eight-channel Abekas Mira server for in-studio replay needs, and a Solid State Logic C10 broadcast console for audio.

On the Road Again
Game Creek Video is building a custom mobile unit for Rockets and Astros games, as well as a secondary truck to be used either side-by-side or as a standalone for smaller productions.

The network’s remote complement includes 12 Sony 2500 cameras capable of super slow motion, a Grass Valley Kayenne production switcher, an Evertz router infrastructure, eight channels of EVS server, and a Calrec audio console.

Although discussion on file transfer between the studio and remote production is ongoing, Ayars believes that the studio’s downtown location will benefit the workflow.

“We’re very fortunate, especially for home games; our facility and the two arenas here are literally blocks away,” he says. “Right now, we’re really concentrating on getting all the finishing touches done here [at the studio] because we built a brand-new television facility. This was an empty shell space, so everything had to go [in].”

Walk On By
Located in a high-traffic downtown location, CSN Houston’s state-of-the-art street-level studio features a window into the Houston Pavilions complex that will allow passersby to peek in and see the broadcast. A window will also offer views into the newsroom.

The set, designed by Jack Morton PDG, features a six-monitor array comprising seamless Samsung screens that can be programmed independently or as a single unit. Five Vinten robotic cameras and a jib will cover the studio.

The studio will host Sports Talk Live, followed by SportsNet Central highlights show. When the Rockets’ preseason begins next month, followed by the Astros’ season in April, programming will also include pre- and post-game shows.

“I think we’ve ended up with a great layout here and a great complement of equipment,” says Ayars. “I think the guys at CSN Houston are very proud of what we ended up with, and they’re future-proofed to some extent. We’ve got extra rack space, we’ve got plenty of room for expansion, [and] we also have a smaller studio control-room space built out here for future use, but we’ve not equipped it yet.”

In addition to comprehensive Rockets and Astros coverage, the network will also be home to coverage of major college, high school, and professional sports from around the region. CSN Houston is currently in discussions with cable providers across the five-state footprint to ensure that Rockets and Astros fans have access to the network.

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