NBC Olympics Highlight Factory Pumps Out Content Via EVS, Omneon Systems

NBC Olympics is in full multi-screen mode, delivering video everywhere from computer screens, mobile devices, iTunes, VOD, and much, much more. And sitting at the core of that content creation process is the NBC Olympic Highlights Factory, a unit that has cranked out more than 1,000 story and highlight packages in the first 10 days of the Olympics.

The staff for the highlights factory includes a mix of seasoned veterans and college students/interns who can quickly learn the art of cutting clips and building highlights. The Highlights Factory made its debut in 2008 for the Beijing Summer Olympics but it has been through a major overhaul because being in Vancouver presented an opportunity to make operations much simpler.

“In Beijing we couldn’t bring in 30 interns to work on the Highlights Factory so they had to work in New York,” says Dave Mazza, NBC Olympics, SVP, Engineering. “And because they couldn’t work with the high-resolution material in Beijing we had to add a proxy level. And then we needed databases in both Beijing and New York…and then a way to send the edit list to China and then get the high-resolution content back to New York. It was groundbreaking but is was a lot of work to get something running for only 17 days.”

The Highlights Factory in Vancouver, however, has a much simpler workflow. “We could get interns in Vancouver that understand how we consume highlights in the U.S.,” says Mazza. “And if they are in Vancouver why do we need synchronized proxies and databases when they can work on the high-resolution material? So all we really needed to do was add some EVS servers.”

The Highlights Factory content creation process begins with all incoming host feeds from venues, NBC HD network feeds, CTV HD feeds, and other material being placed onto nine EVS XT[2] video servers using the DNXHD100 compression codec. Once on the server, 16 “Shot Pickers” use EVS IP Directors to screen high-resolution material and then do simple cuts-only edits before sending a package on its way to a producer for approval.

For more complex material four “Preditors” or producer/editors on staff use EVS IP Edit. “They can build glossier pieces, have a view of a timeline, and do more dissolves for pieces that are more story based,” says Jefferson.

“IP Director puts in interstitial content as clips are dragged into it and puts in dissolves to help first-time users easily get content out the door,” says Darryl Jefferson, NBC Olympics Highlights Factory project manager and director of post production operations.

Once approved the selection of EVS clips is “flattened” into one clip and then transferred from Vancouver to New York via the Omneon ProCast system to an Omneon MediaGrid system.

NBC Olympics worked with EVS to make the system capable of flattening, for example, 10 clips into one clip. “An EVS edit list doesn’t contain clips but pointers to the clips,” says Mazza. “So the system now takes all of those clips with dissolves and transitions and flattens them into one clip. It also doesn’t need to be re-recorded into another input so when people hit approve the file is wrapped with an OP-1a MXF wrapper so others can read the file.”

After it arrives on the Omneon MediaGrid the content is then transcoded to 50 Mbps Long GOP. Then NBC Universal’s proprietary publishing system, MICAH, pulls content off of the MediaGrid and passes it through Rhozet servers that transcode it to various delivery formats for iTunes, VOD, NBCOlympics.com, etc.

Working with a number of inexperienced editors hasn’t been difficult as the students come in are fearless and free of previous ways of working.

“We give them a set of instructions and they follow them really well,” says Jefferson. “After day three or four we started to get into a rhythm and over the pain of learning a new system.”

Shot pickers have also settled into favorite sports and types of projects, improving the quality even further. “We definitely have three or four Shot Pickers who are now rabid curling fans,” says Jefferson. “So they pay close attention and do those packages well. The same thing has happened on aerials and figure skating.”