More than 100 top industry execs attend SVG Sports Asset Management Event

By Ken Kerschbaumer

More than 100 sports industry video professionals came together in Secaucus, NJ for the first ever SVG Sports Asset Management conference. The topic of the day was the challenge both leagues and broadcast partners face in building cost-effective archive systems that provide the flexibility to change with future needs while providing the means to grow revenues and recoup the large capital investment required.

Sponsored by Bexel, Panasonic, Quantel and Sony, the event featured a wide range of industry experts providing insight into digital archiving for sports leagues. With leagues like the NBA converting 400,000 videotapes to non-tape storage systems, the PGA figuring out how to make 4,500 hours of content each year more useful, and NASCAR looking to digitize nearly 50 years of material the archiving needs are broad and diverse.

Steve Hellmuth, NBA VP of operations and technology, said the digital archive process begins with understanding the language of one’s own sport: statistics. When the NBA began its archiving project it first had to wrestle control of the stats system away from the coaches to ensure that statistics would serve as useful metadata for searching video content.

“We worked on data schemes related to the library for years,” said Hellmuth. “Archiving is a forever premise.”

Chuck Scoggins, PGA Tour Productions VP of operations, said the PGA’s “timecode of the future” is Shotlink, its own statistical service that uses wireless technology to gather and transmit shot information like player, club selection, shot and distance from around a course. By matching the shotlink data with video files facility personnel will more easily be able to locate shots for highlight packages, player profiles, or other needs. “We’re also working with Dixon Sports Computing about a front-end logging system to collect metadata,” added Scoggins.

The different statistical language of each sport, rights issues, and the need for repurposing makes building an archive a very personalized technology decision. “No two archives and editing infrastructures use the same technology,” added Jon Pannaman, Quantel CTO. “And it’s very important to not be locked into one way of doing things.”

It is not only metadata needs that differ from league to league. Network partners like ABC, CSB and Turner Sports, for example, are facing the challenge of wanting to create an archive of the history of their networks but, in the end, that archive would comprise material they don’t own.

“Because we don’t own the rights our repurposing opportunities are very limited,” said Bruce Goldfeder, CBS Sports director of engineering. “And it’s hard to spend a lot of money on storage and digitizing assets that we don’t own. Our storage needs are to serve our production personnel.”

CBS, however, has been helping PGA Tour Productions build out its HD archive. This year it has begun sending 500 GB EVS Xfile drives from each PGA event to the PGA Tour Productions facility in Florida. The PGA then takes the drives (NBC sends them as well) and uploads the content to an XT2 server where it is available to post production personnel.

“We have a nine-year plan to transition to tapeless as we still have a lot of videotape in our facility,” said Scoggins. “And right now we’re balancing cutting-edge technology with capital budgets.”

At ESPN Quantel’s challenge was to build a production environment that would allow 200 editors to access material that was ingested and logged without any videotape. “We found that the production demands were one thing and the archive and asset management demands another,” said Pannaman of the need to have the archived material easily visible to editors. “We ended up taking on a lot of the responsibility for the integration of the production and archive sides of the facility.”

Jeff Junker, Grass Valley product manager explained that partial file restore is an important aspect of tightening the edit system/archive loop. By only pulling out the high-resolution material the editor needs rather than delivering the entire file the system can operate much more efficiently.

Also important is the ability to work with a wide variety of formats. “Edius takes any format in and can transcode on the fly with the only limit being the speed of the CPU,” added Junker. “Aurora, meanwhile, stores the native essence and wraps it in an MXP wrapper to make it easily transferable via FTP.”

Along with selecting an editing system is the decision of which codec to embrace. An open standards-based codec may be the most future proof however proprietary codecs can offer performance and quality advantages. In addition, not all codecs are created equal as some are better tuned for distribution, others for contribution demands, while others might be better for display to consumers.

“Whatever codec we choose we need to be pragmatic and careful to choose something that has been endorsed by a fair amount of the manufacturing community,” said Mike Rokosa, NBA vice president of engineering.

Rokosa added that those looking at selecting a codec should always be open to embracing new technologies that could result in efficiency and workflow gains. Embracing new codecs, both software and hardware-based, have helped move archives from sneakernet and bar-coded videotapes to low-resolution video proxies and computer-based workflows.

“Codecs are a byproduct of state-of-the-art technology,” said Adolfo Rodriguez, Omneon director of product marketing, media technologies. “And there is no one ultimate codec as the state-of-the-art progresses.”

In terms of general infrastructure, Martin Holmes, Snell & Wilcox CTO, said bringing high-quality master files to a generic IT workflow that allows the files to be repurposed for multiple distribution platforms will be an ongoing challenge. “The files must stand the test of time and be in an open format,” he explained.

The disk drives also need to stand the test of time. “Tape has always been a necessary evil but the gap between tape and disk storage pricing is closing,” said Eric Scollard, Isilon Systems VP of North American Sales. “And now we’re seeing a proliferation of ideas related to an archive like nearline archives, deep archives and active archives.”

But while more content is finding its way onto “spinning disk media” the bad news is that, while the drives are always increasing in storage capacity, the time between failure remains the same. That means when disks fail they take down more material. “Reliability of storage hasn’t gotten a lot better,” said Scollard.