Ascent Media, CBS, NBC, NFL come together for historic Patriots victory

By Ken Kerschbaumer

When Peter Brickman, Ascent Media Managing Director of Content Distribution for North America, received the call last week that the NFL game between the New England Patriots and New York Giants on Dec. 29 was going to be simulcast on CBS, NBC, and the NFL Network it required the kind of deft execution that was equal to running a counter trey reverse. It also required true teamwork as the Ascent Media staff, Glenn Adamo,
NFL VP, Media Operations and Broadcasting, and CBS and NBC worked together to ease the burden.

“This event proved that HD is maturing,” says Brickman. “A year ago this would have been a lot more challenging as we didn’t have the right tool sets or understood HD dynamics as well as today. There is still more to learn but this gives us a good feeling that we can do what we used to do so well in SD in HD.”

More than 35 million viewers who tuned in to the NFL Network, CBS or NBC would agree. The challenge facing Ascent Media was the need to deliver 1080i HD feeds to CBS and NBC that were as uncompressed as possible and also free of any metadata. Ascent Media typically has months or at least weeks to prepare for such an event but in this case it was three days.

“CBS and NBC told us what their needs were and they included having a better quality signal than the 19.2 Mbps signal we send to cable and satellite operators,” says Brickman.

Ascent, which typically inserts NFL Network bugs and metadata like captioning and Nielsen ratings codes found it needing to port off the rough equivalent of a clean feed to NBC and CBS. Ascent provides CBS with its transmission path so the company isolated unused fiber circuits to first send the game to CBS in New York. A return feed then returned the signal, complete with CBS branding, captioning, and Nielsen codes, back to Ascent and out to CBS stations. NBC Sports rolled in an uplink truck from New York and fed a satellite signal to 30 Rock.

“It really was a historic event,” adds Brickman, and that doesn’t include the Patriots completing an undefeated season. “There was a real rush to make it happen and we used our Stamford, CT, Northvale, NJ, and New York facilities to make it happen.”