Sports Asset Management: NHL Streamlines Archival Network

It took NHL VP of Technology Grant Nodine and his team more than five years to put his vision of an asset management system in place for the league and while he will willingly admit it’s far from perfect, he’s pleased with the status of the league’s digital workflow that will hit the ground running at the start of the 2011-12 season.

NHL VP of Technology Grant Nodine discusses the league's new digital workflow at SVG's Sports Asset Management event in Charlotte.

“The can keeps getting kicked down the road,” said Nodine, during a presentation on the league’s new facility and workflow at the SVG Sports Asset Management event in Charlotte on July 19. “But I think we’re finally in a place where we’re going to be able to get this to work.”

Since the NHL doesn’t directly run a broadcast highlights operation on site — that is handled through a partnership with Canadian-based CTV — Nodine’s main objective in the Manhattan-based facility is to work with archival footage in the form of full game files, melt reels, ENG footage, and other finished products. Knowing exactly the types of content that the league’s facility would be working with was critical in defining the type of digital workflow the NHL put in place.

“I think really you can’t talk about asset management without talking about what assets you are trying to manage, where you are getting the data surrounding it, and how you are going to make [assets] available to people that are going to use the assets either to sell sponsorships to large corporate sponsors or to make new assets that are going to be used in television productions or new media productions,” said Nodine.

During the current offseason, the NHL upgraded its network by installing Grass Valley servers in each of the league’s 30 venues that will be able to record and deliver live game feeds to the NHL over IP. The servers allow the New York facility to record the home and away broadcasts in 720p for what could total up to as many as 15 games per night.

“I felt very strongly that we don’t have to have a progressive format for our archive footage,” said Nodine, who added that he was coordinating to get on-site production trucks to deliver game melt downs to the arena servers also. By going progressive Nodine also believes the league is future proofing content. “I think up-resing to 1080p in the future will be a little bit of an easier task than going from 1080i to p.”

While full game files are helpful from a historical standpoint, they have limited value for the NHL’s editorial department, who prefer to work with melts and highlight reels. However, Nodine noted that an effective asset management system can make it easier to use a full game file to log melts, especially since different production trucks vary in the way they log their melt footage leading to a lack of synchronization of time codes and angles.

“We can line up each clip in the melt with the clip that occurs in the whole game and then copy the metadata that is associated with that piece of footage in the whole game to the new melt clip,” said Nodine. “So at the end of the day, we’ve got that rich statistical metadata that was really only capable of being attached to a whole game asset also attached to the melts. Our stats data is very voluminous so we’re able to provide a very good layer of objective metadata.”

The NHL records to a Grass Valley arena server that delivers files to a Front Porch Digital system on the archival side after a file-based QC (quality control). In the NHL workflow, Nodine said the league has about 80 terabytes of XSAN storage, another 120 terabytes of spinning disk, and 850 slots of LTO4 (which could be expanded to about 2,600 slots). As the footage is archived immediately, the proxy is available to the league’s editorial group and any piece of footage they want would be partial file restored on their XSAN.  The NHL is also in the middle of an implementation of Dalet’s digital media systems.

“I think what’s happening is that the editorial group is still kind of getting their heads around the idea of not having to spend half of their time doing media management to keep space available on the XSAN,” said Nodine. “They’re coming to the conclusion that they can basically start building shot lists that they can keep around if they don’t have these huge parent assets sitting on their workspace.”

However, as with most large-scale asset management systems, the key question is how much bandwidth a provider has in order to be able to internally move these massive files around a facility and between venues.

“This isn’t ping pong, its golf,” said Nodine. “You want to move those files around as few times as you can. The average game is about 135 GB so it gets hard to move those around more than once or twice, so we definitely want to make sure that our workflow so that a file is not moved more two or three times maximum.

“We’d like to birdie every hole.”

Click here for SVG’s comprehensive coverage of the Sports Asset Management Forum.