The Mtn. Caters to Small Staff, Budget With New FORK Production System

For an up-and-coming network like The Mtn. – MountainWest Sports Network, cost and adaptability sit atop the priority list when it comes to building out a network infrastructure. As was the case in 2009, when the fledgling network set about revamping its media-asset-management, production, and playout facility at the Comcast Media Center just outside Denver. After an extensive search, The Mtn. opted to build its facility around Building4Media’s FORK production suite.

“We’re a small, 40-person operation, and everyone that we work with agrees that we should have twice that many staffers,” says The Mtn. Operations Engineer Tom Scholle. “So we need a system that allows us to do the work of 100 people with only 40. That’s what the FORK system has given us.”

A Newsroom 2.0 System
The FORK system handles ingest, content navigation, media-asset management, proxy-based editing, and live playout (for broadcast and streaming). It operates in conjunction with The Mtn.’s Octopus Newsroom system, Apple Xsan file-storage system (72 TB of storage space), and a total of eight Apple Final Cut Pro editing bays to create a full end-to-end broadcast workflow. The Mtn. infrastructure also includes a series of MacPro stations with two AJA Kona I/O cards apiece, giving each MacPro capability of using either two channels of ingest or two channels of playout (HD or SD).

“Their expansive and unique workflows demanded an automation system that is up for the task of meeting that challenge,” says Building4Media Systems Engineer Alan Dabul. “FORK has given Mountain West a set of tools for ingesting, media-asset management, playout to air and Web — all with one solution.”

The Mtn.’s proof-of-concept FORK system debuted during summer 2009, and the full Octopus-integrated system went live last summer. This overarching workflow is what Scholle calls a “newsroom 2.0 system,” providing The Mtn. with all the functionality of a name-brand appliance or proprietary hardware system for a much lower price point.

“Cost was obviously a big factor for us,” he says. “Even with all of this functionality, we actually only spent a little over $700,000, including [installation of] the Octopus system and the FORK system. You couldn’t get all this functionality from a [name brand] for less than a million. We actually got a quote for equal functionality from a [name-brand vendor], and it was $1.1 million.”

Very Little Fiber
With the exception of the Final Cut edit bays and the ingest/playout servers, which are connected via fiber, the entire system operates over Ethernet. This is an absolute necessity for The Mtn., which has facilities scattered all over the crowded Comcast Media Center among other Comcast networks.

“Since everything else is done over Ethernet, we have people doing this right from their desktops,” says Scholle. “That was really important to us because we’re geographically scattered throughout the Comcast Media Center. Some of the areas we’re working in are physically tight and more like an office space than a broadcast facility.”

FORK Not Averse to Change
“We are pretty much the smallest sports network around, but we are also the most highly adaptable,” says Scholle. “That is primarily because of the FORK-Octopus system.”

One prime example of this flexibility came last year when CNN transitioned from the PathFire media-distribution and -management system to the Bitcentral platform. This resulted in panic and confusion at several networks and media outlets around the country, The Mtn. not included.

“It turned into a huge deal for all the sports nets,” says Scholle. “People were going nuts because their systems weren’t adaptable enough to handle that. But, for us, we were able to basically [integrate our system with CNN’s PathFire] the same day that CNN sent out the e-mail letting everyone know about the change.”

The vigorous game of musical chairs played by college athletic conferences over the past year has resulted in a drastically different Mountain West Conference with three teams departing and four slated to join over the next two years. The massive shift, however, has not presented a problem for The Mtn.

“With all the changes that have gone on in the conference, we have had to start rolling on the [new member schools’] games,” says Scholle. “But this system was flexible enough for us to handle that. As all these conference changes were going on, we were just creating new smart bins and scheduled records within the FORK system.”

Changing the Channel
The Mtn. currently has 14 ingest channels and 11 playout channels. According to Scholle, the network uses about 90% of that capacity on an average football Saturday or busy day of basketball. With the FORK system, these channels can easily be swapped from ingest to playout and vice-versa.

“You can switch around the roles, which is very appealing,” Scholle says. “On a lot of these dedicated systems, it’s either an ingest or a playout. Without taking the thing back to factory specs, you can’t really switch it around.

“When you look at buying an additional channel, you’re looking at about $9,000 a channel,” he continues. “For this, you’re looking at a MacPro, two Kona cards, and the cost of the FORK Media Player Client. It works out to be roughly $5,000-$6,000 per channel. That’s key savings.”

‘Send To’ Almost Anywhere
The system also offers a simple interface between The Mtn.’s deep archive and nearline archive, allowing users to simply click the “send to” button to move video files from one to the other.

“All the proxy clips live forever in the FORK system, so you can continue to view the low-res proxy clip in the client,” says Scholle. “But, if you’re looking at highlights from last year and want to use them, you can call them back from the tape system by just clicking ‘Send to FORK’ from the deep archive.”

In addition, this system allows The Mtn. to send video clips directly from FORK to the network’s Website via the “send to” button. This allows promotions personnel and other non-videocentric staffers to easily make simple edits and post videos to the Website without having to track down an editor or member of the video staff.

“You can send a clip from the FORK system directly to our Website automatically without having to change it into Flash or resize the video or anything like that,” says Scholle. “It’s ready to go. You don’t have to understand anything about codecs or field order or screen size. A promotions person can just make some quick edits on the video and then press the ‘send to’ button and send it right to the Website.”

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