Outdoor Channel Hits Stride Entering Year Two at KSE Network Ops Center
It has been a whirlwind couple of years for Outdoor Channel and Kroenke Sports & Entertainment Media Ventures. After KSE acquired the network in May 2013, the entire operation was relocated from Temecula, CA, to KSE’s Network Operations Center (NOC) in Centennial, CO, and relaunched in February 2014 as part of a complex “hot-swap” transition. KSE, meanwhile, has become an outdoor-sports cable behemoth, with World Fishing Network and Outdoor Channel, and, added last November, Sportsman Channel in its portfolio.
As a result, the KSE NOC has grown from its humble beginnings as the home of RSN Altitude Sports & Entertainment (which carries the NBA Denver Nuggets, NHL Colorado Avalanche, MLS Colorado Rapids, and NLL Colorado Mammoth franchises) into a multifaceted hub of network operations for not only Altitude but also WFN, Outdoor, and Root Sports Southwest (formerly CSN Houston).
Outdoor Channel’s Temecula-to-Denver transition presented a major undertaking for KSE Media Ventures. The transition required immense coordination at all levels of the organization to move the network’s entire business and technical operations without interrupting channel delivery to nearly 40 million homes.
“The biggest challenge was transitioning the network while hot,” Dave Zur, GM, NOC/SVP, ops and engineering, KSE Media Ventures. “It was quite a juggling act. We got together very early in the process with our vendor partners to make it happen.”
From Temecula to Denver
After KSE determined to move Outdoor to Denver, Zur and Outdoor Channel VP of Operations Paul Weaver began to outline the transitional requirements. KSE worked with Cisco (which supplied transmission platforms for both OC and Altitude) to provide a loaner encode and multiplex platform constructed by Florida-based third-party Cisco retailer United Service Source Inc. (USSI). This temporary system was delivered and commissioned in Denver while the Temecula mux remained up and running and a new, permanent Outdoor Channel master control was built and integrated at the Denver NOC.
Says Zur, “Due to the aggressive timelines, our first [idea] was to get processes and everyone established here and then push the content. But we quickly realized it was better to keep things running as they were in Temecula right up until the last minute, with the existing QC, master-control, and promo processes, and simply send the finished ready-for-air content across to [Denver].”
Longtime KSE vendor [partner] and systems integrator BeckTV was instrumental in the design and integration of the new Outdoor Channel master control and air-paths. BeckTV has been involved in all of Altitude’s technical integrations since launching in 2004 and, for this project, helped with construction of an HD and separate SD network air-paths, including ingest, master-control room (MCR), playout servers, branding, file-transcode systems, edit bays, and ancillary support systems.
“Essentially,” Zur explains, “the core project involved [commissioning] the temporary multiplex, relocating one existing MCR and its air-stream and support equipment in the rack room, then building an entirely new MCR and air path for Outdoor, and integrating everything in and around a hot plant, while ‘in season’ with daily live pro-sports product.”
While all this was going on at the NOC, KSE was also involved in retrofitting a three-story building adjacent to the Pepsi Center to house the Outdoor Channel business unit.
The HD/SD Conundrum
Since about two-thirds of Outdoor’s 40 million homes are in areas that still require an SD feed, KSE opted to use a single HD-playout path for the primary stream and downconvert and correct ARC, via automatic format descriptors, for the SD feed. Although the SD and HD channels were branded similarly via ChyronHego branding engines, the SD feed features slightly larger graphics for improved readability.
“Ideally, we didn’t want to build out two full channel-playout paths. But, due to [the network’s] affiliate agreements, there was still a very large SD viewership, and since “[Outdoor Channel’s] multiplex was still MPEG-2 for both HD and SD, we chose to build the separately branded dual transmission streams off of the HD playout path,” says Zur. “It’s in our future plans to transition them to MPEG-4 and maximize the bandwidth in the multiplex, but, for this project, we wanted to minimize the number of variables.”
Going Live During Mile-High Season
Further complicating matters was that first quarter 2013, when Outdoor was set to “go live” from Denver, is typically the network’s busiest period for processing new supplier programs, promos, and content.
“The first and third quarters, with all the new programs and content input, adds up to roughly 100-120 shows per week,” says Zur. “That content was simultaneously flowing to and in use in both Temecula and Denver, which presented a real challenge for us. Paul and our team did a heck of a job keeping all of the workflows at full speed, accurate, and on time for air.”
After months of hard work and receiving approval from satellite-transmission provider Intelsat, Outdoor Channel officially went live from the Denver NOC on Feb. 11, 2014.
“Once we were ready, we fired up the uplink at our end and turned off the uplink in Temecula,” says Zur, “And, fortunately, we never had to look back.”
KSE then oversaw Temecula’s facility decommission, which produced more than five semi trucks’ worth of gear and everything else that belonged to Outdoor. Chief among the assets was Outdoor’s original Cisco encode-multiplex platform, which was recommissioned as part of the new Outdoor air path, replacing the temporary Cisco/USSI-supplied system.
“It was a case of musical chairs with muxes,” says Zur. “We used the loaner; we got that up and running here, decommissioned the system in Temecula, brought that to Denver, recommissioned it, and then hot-swapped that out and sent the loaner back to USSI, who were just phenomenal throughout this whole process.”
Throughout the migration to Denver, KSE Media Ventures was also staffing the new Outdoor Channel operations on the fly, offering positions to existing Temecula staff and drawing from the Denver market as well.
“We didn’t magically have a full staff right away,” says Weaver. “So we continued to build out our staff and figure out what we needed as we went along.”
Transferring Archives, Building a Storage Network
In addition to shifting network ops to Denver, Outdoor was tasked with transferring nearly 300 TB of storage from Temecula. KSE used a hybrid method of Aspera Connect high-speed file transfer and physically shipping hard drives to Denver, off-loading the media, and sending the drives back to Temecula.
“We knew we were going to need a lot of that content for repeat airings, so we duplicated a lot of the archives,” says Weaver. “While storage systems were still in Temecula, we loaded up arrays with all the content and then shipped them to Denver.”
Once the media arrived in Denver, Weaver and his team created a temporary digital workflow that linked to the NOC’s LAN, QC stations, and edit bays. The current workflow is built around Apace media-asset management and XenData LTO archive systems.
“Fortunately, we had enough existing capacity here to accommodate the servers and uplink gear for Outdoor, but, once that was filled, it brought us close to full rack capacity,” says Zur. “As we are being asked to add new networks, we are now evaluating new rack rooms and how to best expand.”
In addition, KSE built 11 edit suites as part of this project. Eight of these were allocated to Outdoor, equipped with the Adobe Creative Cloud bundle and Maxon Cinema 4D, and linked by 10-Gbps network attached storage (NAS). Upon completion, these suites were immediately put to use by the Outdoor Channel promotions team (which produces 500-700 promotional pieces per quarter) as well as the QC operators and media coordinators, who are also tied into the NAS.
Altitude and Outdoor worked to integrate their respective Telestream Vantage transcoding systems to create more-efficient workflows.
“Combining the two into one very robust system was probably the biggest workflow change of all,” says Zur. “It is doing a lot of heavy lifting for us on a number of things, such as metadata attachment for SCTE data, Web, AFD [active format description] flagging, associating closed-captioning files, and even adding wings to SD content for some of our clients.”
Reviewing 2014 and Looking Ahead
KSE has continued to tweak Outdoor Channel’s workflows, including transitioning the network to Wide Orbit’s media-traffic and ad-sales systems, and is also looking to implement the network program-management module in the future. In addition, the network has since launched an on-air Twitter campaign where viewers can tweet directly with producers during certain programs.
“I think we have shown that the transition method we used was very successful,” says Weaver. “It’s something we would use again: put in the on-air piece first and then bring over the processes later and fill in the personnel along the way.”
Now, following the Sportsman Channel acquisition, KSE Media Ventures is primed to play an even greater role in outdoor-sports cable media.
“With the acquisition of Sportsman, KSE is now a predominant force in the outdoor-programming genre,” says Zur. “With WFN, Outdoor, and Sportsman Channel, we have a really unique, premium content offering for our affiliates and viewers.”