CSN Houston Preps for Astros’ Opening Day (and Onslaught of Content) With Sony Media Backbone

In less than a week, the new-look Houston Astros will take the field in an intrastate, and now divisional, rivalry with the Texas Rangers. And Comcast SportsNet Houston, which launched prior to the Houston Rockets’ season, adds another team to its repertoire. With that new team comes countless hours of content. Luckily, the network’s Sony Media Backbone Production System is up to the task.

Sony Media Backbone, which comprises several scalable technologies, allows CSN Houston to manage and streamline its file-based workflows. It integrates the production workflow by unifying such processes as planning, ingest, editing, play-to-air, and archiving. The backbone consists of an Enterprise Management System, Production System, and Storage and Archive System.

Editors can access files on any computer connected to the Sony Media Backbone, offering the flexibility to edit from anywhere at anytime.

Editors can access files on any computer connected to the Sony Media Backbone, offering the flexibility to edit from anywhere at anytime.

“From the time we ingest a [file] until the time it hits the air, it’s all going through some aspect of the Sony Media Backbone,” says Joe Ward, operations manager, Comcast SportsNet Houston. “It stays within one realm, and we can manipulate it, edit it, transfer it, do whatever we need to do within that realm, and the beauty of this system is, because it is so interconnected, it gives us much flexibility in when we can get a project on the air.”

Comcast SportsNet Houston debuted on Oct. 1, joining NBC Sports’ family of regional networks. The network, located in a downtown retail complex, needed an end-to-end system that would interact and integrate with existing technologies.

“They wanted a system that could allow them to quickly take all of the sports material that they needed to deal with, whether it was coming in from baseband feeds or was material being shot on cameras and being brought back to the station or being transferred via networks back to the station,” says Ali Etezadi-Amoli, senior product manager, Media Backbone Solutions, Sony Electronics. “They wanted the ability to get all of that raw content, quickly do metadata logging where the key plays and highlights were, and quickly do editing as that content was still coming in so they could have quick turnaround for their sports programs.”

The Sony Media Backbone integrates Sony software with third-party software and hardware to suit individual network requirements. At CSN Houston, the backbone integrates with Avid iNews newsroom system. It comprises Sony software; a Sony codec board, which encodes/decodes baseband to and from industry-standard MPEG-2 Long-GOP MXF files; an EMC Isilon storage platform; Oracle database for metadata management; and Spectra Logic T950 LTO robot for archive.

Rather than markers’ having to be manually created as feeds come into the system, the backbone allows CSN Houston to create a custom metadata template with shortcut buttons. For example, a button may be assigned to home runs, three-point shots, or any other big moment the logger would want to mark.

“That makes it much easier down the road when the editor’s trying to cut an edit package,” says Etezadi-Amoli. “They can just quickly see where all the key points in the video are, drop into their timeline, and then send it out.”

After files are ingested into the Sony system, they can be viewed as low-resolution proxies on any computer connected to the backbone. Low-res proxies enable editors logged into the system to work with video without having to call up the high-resolution originals. Voiceovers and effects added to the low-res proxies will adhere to the high-resolution originals upon playout.

“Every one of our newsroom computers is on the backbone, so every one of those computers becomes an editor if need be,” says Ward. “Certainly, working in low res is not much different than working in high res; from a rendering point of view it is, obviously, but all the rendering is done in the background on the servers where the video lives. The editor or the newsperson can pull up a file quicker [and] access information quicker because they’re smaller files. The whole beauty of the proxy portion of it is, they can edit from anywhere in the building.”

In addition to the Astros, the network will also add the MLS’s Houston Dynamo to its airwaves this season. Three professional sports teams will keep the network busy in April, not to mention the accompanying shoulder programming. However, the network doesn’t foresee any issues with the backbone’s capability to handle the extra content.

“Our content is going to grow exponentially as opposed to what we’ve had for the six months we’ve been on the air,” says Ward. “We’re looking forward to seeing how it stands up to that challenge. We have no reason to believe it won’t; as far as reliability, it’s been one of the more reliable automation systems that I’ve ever dealt with.”

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