Sports Asset Management Forum: NBA Entertainment’s New Facility Sets Bar for Digital Media Management Centers

An ordinary day at NBA Entertainment’s facility in Secaucus, NJ, is anything but ordinary. Thousands of video clips and media assets fly through the building and out into the NBA world at a breakneck pace. NBAE’s new Digital Media Management (DMM) complex has grown into an operation worthy of the envy of not just the sports media world, but the entire media world.

Executives from NBA Entertainment's production team welcomed over 150 industry professionals on a tour of the league's new asset management facility.

On Tuesday, the NBA opened its doors to over 150 industry professionals for a full tour of the facility as part of the Sports Video Group’s Sports Asset Management Forum. Attendees made stops to see the league’s new production facilities, logging stations, distribution centers, and storage infrastructures.

Serving at the backbone of it all is Cisco Systems’ core technologies and mobility solutions which are used across various league platforms to power all of the league’s communications and content delivery.

“Cisco actually participated in the design and build of the facility and there’s lots of Cisco gear here,” said Steve Hellmuth, executive vice president, Operations and Technology, NBA Entertainment. “Cisco runs a network at the NBA that’s become an integral part of what we do. We carry on the same 50 channels of IPTV, data, and voice and Cisco controls all of the HSAN headends, so, in effect, Cisco is orchestrating our media across the entire NBA, both in the offices and in the production facility.”

Initial Challenges
The plan behind this groundbreaking project dates back to 2006 with its dual mission to preserve the visual history of the NBA and make it easily accessible to the league, teams, and partners.

The actual build and consolidation began in January of 2011 with the engineering design and integration help of The Systems Group. The league was presented with the challenge of taking two facilities and combining them while continuing to run at full capacity.

It was one of the league’s primary desires to maintain and leverage the IT communication that currently existed in the two facilities. In order to do that, there needed to be a new network environment in the new facility that would handle not only today’s video, voice, and data transmission, but also any future technologies.

“’High Availability’ (HA) became a very big concern for us,” said Paul Del Guidice, VP of Infrastructure and Operations at NBA Entertainment. “As you consolidate data center facilities and as you consolidate your technology footprint, the risk of outage goes up. The easy example is, I’ve got 10 systems, I lose one of them and I’ve lost a tenth of my business. If I had two [systems] due to consolidation, the math is simple, if I lose one, I lose 50% of my operation. As you consolidate, its very important that you bring technology to the table that has the HA capability to serve the needs.”

Growing DMM System
NBAE’s DMM system includes the acquisition, archiving, content creation, and distribution of all of the NBA’s digital media assets.

The NBA is currently in the process of digitizing its entire video library, which includes more than 450,000 hours of games, highlights, and programming dating all the way back to 1946. To date, more than 270,000 hours of the library have been digitized, amounting to 190,000 assets and a whopping 8 million clips.

From left to right: Paul DelGiudice, VP, Infrastructure and Operations, Information Technology, NBA; David Hsieh, VP, Video and Emerging Technology at Cisco Systems; and Michael Gliedman, SVP and Chief Information Officer, NBA

The DMM system is accessed remotely via the league’s High Speed Arena Network (HSAN) by NBA Digital. This gives production department at the various entities the ability to requisition file-based broadcast quality content directly from the NBA Media Archive.

“[That was] the most important part of our development: the inclusion of the teams via HSAN,” said Hellmuth. “Teams can now come in a browse in low-res and request high-definition files. The low-res files they can use directly on their websites to edit special packages; the high-res files for their broadcast presentations for their in-arena screens. Gradually, we want to connect to all of the NBA teams; about half are connected today so that they can use this library as their own and use also as a method for them to do digital asset management preservation, something that’s just not within their budgets or capability. We can do it here centrally, efficiently, and then have it forever preserved as file-based media.”

The teams have taken advantage of the service as well, as over 19,000 games with logging data were downloaded by the teams last season alone.

Robot Storage
The DMM system continues to convert historical NBA video content from linear video tape to digital files, which are than stored on LTO-5 tapes.

The digital tape is stored on two StorageTek SL500 robots that contain 6,500 slots each. “Robot 0” featured seven LTO3 drives, 10 LTO4 drives, and six LTO5 drives, but is now full.

“The original plan was just to have one robot and we filled that one up really quickly,” laughed Dana Stone, senior director, Digital Media Management at NBA Entertainment. “We’re always on the look out for what the next technology is so we’re keeping that in mind for our third.”

“Robot 1” currently holds five LTO4 drives. Between the two standing robots, there are 23,000 tapes with 192,000 assets digitized.

In total, the size of the DMM system is a staggering 7.5 petabytes. Combined with a disaster-recovery copy, it amounts to nearly 15 petabytes of data.

Logging Stations at the Front Lines
As part of the new building, executives at the NBA wanted to take the logging stations out of their previous position – tucked in the corner away from most of the action – and put them right into the center of it all. A large, open room with hanging televisions and 25 logging stations was positioned so it would be surrounded by many of the production studios, allowing for better communication between producers and loggers.

In addition, NBA Entertainment sees their loggers as the future of the company and wanted them to be more in the mix.

“These are the new people that we are bringing into the company, hopefully we can mentor them up and they can be producers one day,” says Heather Messer, director of Production Operations, NBA Entertainment. “We figured part of the best way to do that is to put them right here in the middle of where everything is going on.

22 loggers come in on a nightly basis to log games as they air live.

“Its very important that we keep up with the games,” says Messer. “In preseason, a logger may be a quarter behind. Hopefully, by two or three weeks into the season, we’ve got that down to only two to five minutes behind.”

Game-night live logging serves the NBA League Pass application and other video highlight resources. However, the loggers play even deeper roles than that as they serve basketball operations for the league and Commissioner’s Office. Loggers look for and tag uniform violations, referee interaction, and player violations while also monitoring the on-air product, including the comments of announcers and analysts.

It takes a logger about five to six hours to log a regular season game using all 16 camera angles. Each play is clipped, tagged, and organized with a three-star system – three stars being an elite, highlight-reel play. Loggers capture more than 500 events per game that are stored in the DMM system and utilized for retrieval.

Day logging of field shoots is geared more toward production. The facility logged over 3,000 tapes during the lockout-shortened season.

Teams and partners have access to the full DMM library and can utilize low-res proxy courtesy of 20 Elemental Live encoders. High-res files are also available but less frequently transported. High-res broadcast files are encoded by 20 Amberfin iCR machines while high-res alternate camera angles are handled by Harris encoders that are located at each NBA arena.

New Content
While much of the focus of the facility has been on preserving historical content, the DMM facility is also producing a wealth of new content each day. Over 25,000 hours of new material is created by NBAE each year. That included original programming for NBA TV, such as the new documentary The Dream Team that took at the legendary 1992 USA Olympic Team.

NBA Entertainment produced the doc, which recently became NBA TV’s most-watched program in network history. The documentary used the DMM system to requisition over 500 hours on content to editing systems to create the show which was only 90 minutes long.

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