NEW YORK - In Demand Networks is a pioneer in providing exciting entertainment through cable TV’s most innovative technologies: Video-On-Demand (VOD), Pay-Per-View (PPV), and HDTV networks. It is the exclusive television home for Howard Stern through its Howard TV! SVOD (Subscription Video-On-Demand) package. The company delivers powerhouse sports packages on PPV, including MLB Extra Innings, and the Emmy Award-winning NASCAR In Car. Its INHD hi-def network has just launched an all original block of primetime programming branded MOJO.
With so much post production going on across several categories, In Demand explored ways of working more cost-efficiently. In less than a year, they brought the entire post production operation in-house in stages.
“The cost savings of editing in-house enabled the system to pay for itself in one year,” says Keith Koby, senior director of post production/engineering. “We’ve also cut our on-going operational budget down to less than a third of what it used to be, and we’re getting the best quality at the lowest price points.”
In March 2005, In Demand brought all standard definition post in-house and, with the operational savings, was able to bring their HD post production and Howard Stern production in-house. They started out with five standalone Final Cut Pro workstations and soon added Apple’s Xsan storage system.
“We brought in the Howard Stern show in August 2006, and added storage to the Xsan, along with more Final Cut stations,” Koby explains. “By February 2006, we brought our HD production for the INHD channels in-house. One month later, we started showing the new television version of Sirius-originated Howard TV shows that were edited in-house. We didn’t plan to bring everything in so quickly, but stability and pricing of the products convinced management it was the most expedient choice.”
SD OR HD BUILD OUT?
Koby convinced In Demand management to build out the Stern television studio based at Sirius in HD. “I felt it would have been a waste of money to build out as SD and then rebuild in HD later,” he says. “Using Blackmagic products and Final Cut Pro, we edit full quality with no offline, so the entire archive of the Howard Stern show is available to air in HD – all of this with virtually no cost difference on the post side.”
Their workflow is unique. The Howard Stern radio show airs every morning from 6:00am until 11:00am. The entire production is HD until it is downconverted at the very end. The show is shot using eight Ikegami box cameras with a director who does line cuts live that get recorded to Panasonic decks. Two HD feeds are sent from the studio to the In Demand post facility. One is the line cut and the other is Howard’s Iso-cam. They also have two other source tapes that are a guest Iso cam and Robin’s (Howard’s sidekick) Iso-cam.
In Demand uses Gallery’s PictureReady! to record the two live feeds, five hours each. The editor comes in at 7:30am each morning and already has one-and-a-half hours of material to work with, and is just five seconds away from realtime at any point. He finishes the main edit of the show by about noon.
To get the feed from the studio, about three miles away from the In Demand facility, they use a Verizon TV1 feed (270mbs dedicated fibre originally created for uncompressed SD). An Evertz PKG7772 is used to compress HD to JPEG-2000 at 270mbs that can be sent across the pipe. The decode version of the card is located in the In Demand post facility and outputs HD-SDI.
“We pass the HD-SDI signal through a Blackmagic Workgroup VideoHub, where it is routed to the Picture Ready! capture G5s and also sent to the editor and producer monitors,” explains Koby.
After that, they add HDV hallway footage where the guests come and go in/out of the studio. Those tapes get sent down and captured, typically by 1:00pm. They capture HDV as DVC Pro HD using the HD Connect LE from Convergent Designs to manage quality and render times. By about 3:00pm, the assistant editors lay it back to tape, the VOD encoder takes it from there. The In Demand team does it all in HD and lays back to a Panasonic AJ-HD1700 deck. That tape passes through a downconverter when being captured by the VOD encoder. Working in near real time nonlinear editing enables them to turn around the show quickly, which is crucial, because their deadline is 5:00pm every afternoon. Then it is encoded for VOD, delivered and populated to all of the cable systems’ VOD servers. There is nobody at the system level to manage getting the show out to the right category and at the right time in their guide, so it is all automated and takes about 12 hours to get done.
“Typically, you would edit this type of show linearly because as soon as a tape breaks, you could begin editing. Now we can edit while the show is being recorded. The time advantage and cost savings of editing in the near realtime nonlinear format is tremendous,” Koby adds.
SYSTEM OF CHOICE
When In Demand was looking for an integrator to help them with the system, Tekserve was selected because they understood In Demand’s vision: Better, faster and cheaper.
“The entire facility is built out on that premise, in fact,” states Koby. “I told them what we wanted to do, they researched it and came up with the best package of products at the best price and the best support rate.”
Tekserve built In Demand a system based on Apple’s Xsan, which would enable all of the editors to share the media simultaneously.
"Tekserve has been really great through everything. Late nights, staying up half the night, logging in from home. They’ve been tireless in trying to help us. They’re going above and beyond," says Koby.
The rest of the setup consists of several Blackmagic Design Multibridge Extremes that handle jobs such as A/D, D/A conversion for Beta SP decks, DVD recorders, and re-embedding decoded Dolby E 5.1 audio into HD-SDI video. They also have four Blackmagic Videohubs to route the signals.
“The Videohub is the best quality you can get for the best price, and it’s very scaleable,” says Koby.
Most of the 24 Apple Mac G5 computers use Blackmagic Design’s DeckLink HD Pro dual cards. In Demand currently has four Quads using Multibridge Extremes for I/O. Koby explains, “We also have a couple of systems using the Blackmagic Design HDLink and a 23-inch Cinema Display monitor that we use to make compile reels for promos. With Blackmagic and Apple, you can put together a nice Final Cut system for way under $20,000. How could there have been any other choice to make?”
Koby concludes, “I want to keep building out our studio with the same philosophy – better, faster, cheaper - with great products at great a price point. It works for our bottom line, but the ultimate beneficiaries of all this are the consumers.”