IBC2008 Innovation Award Winning Project
NBC Universal — MICAH Production Workflow
Leading U.S.-based media and entertainment company NBC Universal is aggressively expanding the reach of its broad portfolio of media properties and content assets across multiple platforms including the Web, mobile, VOD, and EST. From features and specials to reality programming and episodic series, current and archived NBCU shows are now available viewing on numerous devices. Even just considering the Web, NBCU content is now available through a broad range of portals, including nbc.com (on-demand streaming of full episodes), Hulu.com (NBCU’s joint venture with News Corporation) and Amazon Unbox (episodes can be purchased and downloaded). NBCU’s most recent initiative, NBC Direct, makes the most recent episode of select primetime and late-night entertainment programming available for download on a limited-time free viewing license. As the viewing quality of the downloads is not limited by bandwidth nor affected by bandwidth interruptions, NBC Direct is intended to provide users with an overall higher-quality and improved viewing experience.
To enable these new distribution opportunities, NBCU needed to create an efficient digital media workflow to repurpose its existing content assets for these new platforms. When NBCU initially attacked this challenge, they faced disparate distribution portals having varying format requirements (including Adobe Flash with the On2 VP6 codec, H.264, and VC-1 through Microsoft Windows Media), various transport mechanisms, and various packaging requirements. With massive volumes of content to be processed on an ongoing basis, and the timeliness of content availability important to viewer satisfaction, maximizing the overall throughput of the workflow was also critical. In addition to file-based media sources, many media assets are still delivered to the digital media production pipeline on tape, necessitating a closely integrated ingest and encoding component to the workflow.
To satisfy these requirements, a team at NBCU led by Rab Mukraj, Director of Digital Media Delivery on the East Coast and his deployment manager Nader Kazemi on the West Coast, worked closely with Digital Rapids and a distribution software vendor to develop a company-wide, multi-format digital media production workflow called MICAH. Digital Rapids' StreamZ ingest and encoding servers and Digital Rapids Transcode Manager enterprise-level file transcoding software system power the media encoding and transcoding pipeline, while third-party distribution software handles efficient transport and delivery to both internal and external content partners. As of early 2008 (and still expanding), NBCU has deployed six Transcode Manager servers managing over 90 Transcode Engines – the distributed nodes that perform the heavy computational lifting for transcoding – spanning NBCU’s California and New York operations centers, as well as NBCSports in Stamford, Connecticut and Telemundo in Hialeah, Florida.
For source material arriving on tape rather than as digital media files, dozens of StreamZ systems are deployed in an automated workflow for ingest and simultaneous encoding to multiple formats.
Digital Rapids engineering and support teams worked closely with NBCU, adding capabilities to meet NBCU’s specific feature and workflow requirements, and supporting integration between MICAH (developed in-house by NBCU using Digital Rapids SDKs); the standard StreamZ and Transcode Manager systems; and NBCU’s Oracle enterprise database system. The extensive customization and integration capabilities of the Digital Rapids solutions, and the support and expertise offered by Digital Rapids personnel, were critical to the success of the project.