An Eye For Quality

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Before a pay-per-view or video-on-demand
offering is ever delivered to a cable
operator’s receive site, the video feed is encoded
and quality-checked.

Metadata and other content is added
to video-on-demand programming, while
sports events are constantly monitored for
quality.

In Demand works closely with Bill
Calton, senior director of satellite and IT
operations, and his team at the Comcast
Media Center to make sure all of its programming
meets the highest technological
and quality standards, In Demand chief
technology officer John Vartanian said.

In Demand splits its tech teams into
two groups: Th e Denver group oversees
all the linear pay-per-view channels,
as well as special events and sports
programming. On-demand content
equipment is housed in both New York
and Denver, with the New York staff
remotely controlling the Denver facility.

Vice president of broadcast operations
John Schultz is based in Denver;
senior director of VOD technology
R.J. Vilardi is based in New York.

“We watch every asset to make sure
there are no glitches and that all the metadata
matches,” Vartanian said. “We make
sure the audio and video sync up and that
the signal has been successfully delivered.”

UPGRADE ON TAP

To ensure quality standards and prepare
to expand the number of HD channels
the network delivers, In Demand and the
CMC are currently undertaking a massive
upgrade and expansion at the CMC
in Denver.

The new master control room is expected
to be completed by mid-2011.

“As the demand for high-definition
continues to grow, we expect to receive
more HD programming and deliver more
HD programming to operators and ultimately,
consumers,” Schultz said. “This
new control center will make that a reality
and it will be easier to oversee and manage.”

In Demand and the CMC have about
two months to prepare VOD content for
delivery. Sports programming is another
story. Live events present another set of quality-control issues, Calton said.

And then there is the traffic department,
which tracks the content that’s being
delivered from the suppliers and when
it is scheduled to be uplinked and pitched
to operators. With sports packages, for instance,
the In Demand team enforces each
league’s local blackout rules.

Today, In Demand delivers 24 sports
channels and two high-definition channels.
Vartanian said that number could rise to 20
channels as a result of the upgrade at the
CMC. The New York group, meanwhile,
handles the VOD programming, encoding
and quality control; creates barker and
promotional channel programming; and
inserts metadata into each offering.

The programming is initially encoded to
CableLabs specifications and then packaged
with metadata, box-cover art and a
trailer. It’s “pitched” to the operators, who
then “catch” it and break apart
the four elements.

The content is then loaded
into the operator’s server
where it resides until a customer
asks for it, Vartanian
said. In Demand is in the process
of upgrading its “pitchercatcher”
equipment, he
said, noting the current
setup has been in use
since 2001.

BUILDING IN REDUNDANCY

The PPV and VOD programming is uplinked
to five transponders across three satellites
and then downloaded by operators
for delivery to customer homes. In Demand
is creating a fiber network that allows the
company to resend a VOD package to an
individual operator should the signal not
be received for any reason, Vartanian said.

The new delivery method should be
live by the middle of December, Vartanian
said.

“This is a way for us to be more efficient,”
he said. “If an operator, for
some reason, doesn’t receive one of our
VOD programs, rather than retransmit
it via satellite, which is very efficient as
a point-to-multipoint delivery mechanism
but is not very efficient as a pointto-
point delivery system, we can send it
terrestrially via fiber.

“It saves us time and money and saves
time and money for the operators, too,”
he added.

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