Omneon Helps NBC Manage Super Bowl Graphics Far From the Field

By Carolyn Braff

While some of NBC Sports’ graphics operators may be grumbling about the 70-degree weather they are missing by not trekking down to Tampa, FL, for this weekend’s Super Bowl, the network will put on a better show by keeping those artists in New York. Instead of flying a team of content creators to Raymond James Stadium, NBC is using Omneon’s ProCast content-distribution network (CDN) to move HD graphics and audio files from 30 Rock in New York City to Tampa, where they will be integrated into the broadcast of Super Bowl XLIII.

“NBC has a large amount of graphics hardware based in 30 Rock,” explains Matt Adams, VP of broadcast solutions at Omneon. “With a ProCast DS3 network connection, they will have a lot more resources because they will have access to all of the expensive graphics hardware that is set up at Rockefeller Plaza, without having to reconstruct it on-site, at the game.”

NBC Sports’ first experience with ProCast came last summer, when a similar CDN was set up for NBC’s coverage of the Olympics in Beijing. The high-speed data line enabled the network to generate files in both New York and China and move them back and forth fast enough that transfer time was not an issue.

“The data line to the Olympics was a lot faster than here,” Adams explains, “but, even with a DS3 line, if you can fill it up, it’s pretty fast to move HD content.”

ProCast CDN incorporates WAN acceleration technology, network management, and bandwidth prioritization to optimize file transfers over an IP network. NBC engineers can also set QoS limits on the system, to ensure maximum use from the link without saturating the data circuit.

“It basically allows you to throttle the amount of bandwidth you allocate on large circuits,” explains Craig Lau, VP of information technology for NBC Sports. “We have so much data going across circuits these days that’s IP-based — everything from Voice-Over-IP phones to multicast video — that the ability for us to manage how bandwidth is allocated is becoming more and more critical all the time.”

Using a DS3 circuit, backed up by a 20-Mbps VPN Internet circuit with automatic failover, NBC can initiate, monitor, and manage the transfer of files — such as player-introduction segments, complete with audio — between 30 Rock and the production units in Tampa. The DS3 line is a 45-Mbps circuit, and ProCast ensures that NBC can access that entire pipeline, without affecting the voice communications and other data being transferred on the same circuit.

“If you had a file close to 90% of that capacity, the rest is just overhead,” Adams explains, “so, effectively, you could use that whole pipe, which in the past has been one of the limitations in file transfer.”

Lau adds, “To date, we’ve probably transferred 600 gig of material, and, by the time the Super Bowl goes on-air, that number will go a little bit over a terabyte.”

In prior years, NBC Sports handled its graphics work on-site, working with slower, more complex FTP media transfers. This year, although NBC will have a few graphics operators in Tampa, ProCast allows the majority of the team to remain at the six Chyron Duet workstations in New York while still having the ability to create, edit, and implement graphics used during game coverage. Graphics artists will also be using Discreet Logic, Autodesk Smoke, Cinema 4D, and Adobe Creative Suite 3 to create the graphic look of Super Bowl XLIII. Technical staff can manage the transfer rate and priority of files being delivered to the stadium, making NBC’s operation all the more efficient.

“Most of the artists, the content creators, are able to stay in New York and continue using their existing hardware and facilities to create the graphics that are used for the game,” Lau says. “This allows them to make changes on the fly and feel confident that we can still get the content to the site in Tampa quickly and efficiently.”

The CDN has far more applications than graphics alone.

“Graphics elements now are very complex and are as much audio as they are visual material, so they also get to use all their audio-sweetening resources that they have,” Adams says. “With ProCast, NBC has what is effectively the graphics infrastructure that makes most of the content generated in New York at their disposal to throw at the Super Bowl and create that look.”

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