SVG Sit-Down: DirecTV Sports Networks’ Tom Scholle

It has been a very busy year for DirecTV Sports Networks Chief Systems Integrator Tom Scholle. Not only has he continued to spearhead development of a comprehensive media-asset–management (MAM) system that runs across the Root Sports regional sports networks, but he was also tasked with helping to lead the effort to relaunch CSN Houston as Root Sports Southwest on the fly in November following a lengthy litigation.

SVG sat down with Scholle this month to discuss the upcoming launch of Root Sports’ MAM system and the technological advances in sports production that excite him most.

Tom Scholle

Tom Scholle

You have been working for several years on an all-encompassing asset-management system for the Root Sports RSNs that is set to launch soon. Can you provide an update on that?

It’s been almost 3½ years since we started, but, after several proofs of concept, we finally landed on the Cantemo Portal. We purchased all of the software last year, shortly after NAB, and then we started looking at how we actually wanted to deploy it. That sent us down the path of looking at IBM with virtualization and high availability, so we went through a pretty extended design phase with IBM to provide us with multiples for [system failover]. Then, we are rerouting so that, if there’s a complete failure of those machines in the specific region, it can actually be brought up in another region as a disaster-recovery site. And that was about as far as we got last year before the Houston [relaunch] happened and we sort of hit pause. We have now started again in earnest, with what we are calling “Gold Masters” of Cantemo and [our other systems] in Denver. We will use those as the basis to when we do build-outs [in the other regions]. It’s basically got all of the drivers for each region’s various storage setups, so you take this Gold Master image and start from there. This will also allow us to rapidly deploy other facilities relatively quickly.

When will these systems launch and in which Root RSN markets?

The full system will launch in the Rocky Mountain region for [Colorado Rockies] baseball first, but it will still be in beta. After that, we’re going to slowly start rolling it out in the other regions, [starting with Houston and Seattle]. I’m not sure that Seattle will go live for the start of baseball; we may look at taking them live during the All-Star break. We are also going to redo archive and tape libraries this year. I think this is going to be a big year for all of us since it’s finally going live. We are tying in an active directory that’s separated from the corporate DirectTV network and also connected to the regions that are not only owned by DirectTV. This is going to be the main tool that our users rely on for everything going forward. I think the most complicated facility is going to end up being Pittsburgh because they just never close, with both the Penguins and the Pirates being so good the past few years.

Fans expect the quality of RSN telecasts to be on par with national-level productions. What challenges does this present on your end, and how does Root try to live up to those expectations and continue to innovate?

Obviously, everyone expects everything to be an A game, where you can just sit down and watch a Fox- or CBS-quality [telecast]. It’s not like it was in the beginning, when people were just excited to be able to see the game on TV. So we are constantly looking at everything. Fortunately for us, a lot of the systems that the big networks were using are becoming affordable at a regional level, allowing us to get those technologies. But you have to be smarter, that’s for sure. I think, when you’re at a big, national level, you are able to take risks on things that we can’t do at a regional level. We have to evaluate everything in terms of what people want and figure out where it makes sense and where it really improves the product to give it that A-game look. I can tell you for a fact, we are constantly researching and trying to figure out what’s next. We also have to rely heavily on our relationships with our truck vendors because, in a lot of cases, they are the ones exposing you to new equipment. The [Grass Valley LDX] 6X super-slo-mo stuff that we did with the Rockies last year was pretty exciting. I think that’s going to be a big game-changer and is a good example of [what] we can accomplish.