by Todd Datz

Football Network, 24/7

Sep 15, 20032 mins
Consumer Electronics

On Nov. 4, football addicts around the country will be doing their own living-room versions of the Ickey Shuffle as the new NFL Network rolls out to TV screens across the country. It will will run pigskin programming 24/7, including a live one-hour show every weeknight called Total Access from a new studio in Los Angeles.

On camera will be host Rich Eisen, a former SportsCenter mainstay. Behind the scenes, CIO Dave Franza is responsible for linking the Los Angeles studio with NFL Films headquarters in Mt. Laurel, N.J.

In the past six months or so, Franza and his staff (17, including 12 full-timers) have been immersed in planning the integration of Mt. Laurel and the Total Access studio.

Because the network will use NFL Films for much of its programming, one of the key technologies behind Franza’s efforts is the Saber (server archive-based editing and research) system, the homegrown video archiving and editing application that NFL Films has had in place since 1996.

NFL Films has a library of video with literally every play of every game, indexed back to 1992. It’s that footage—the leaping catches, bone-crushing hits, freezing fans—that’s shown on local and national stations, appears in commercials and is used by teams to scout each other. Franza is proud of Saber, a system with 7 terabytes’ worth of archival video he says no other company has. “It’s been a shining light for IT here the last few years,” he says.

It all begins with the games, which are shot in 16 mm film, then digitized into .mpeg video. Footage is then logged in by a team of 10 people, who have 152 ways to categorize the shot (for example, great pass, sweat dripping from face). The video is then edited and made available to some 275 employees at their desktops. With the launch of the NFL Network, “an incredible amount of content needs to be viewed, researched and edited,” says Franza.

He says that NFL Films will produce three to four times the content it would normally to provide enough material for the new network. The high-resolution broadcast video will be sent to Los Angeles via a leased fibre channel. Just in time for gridiron-giddy subscribers to DirecTV (and cable networks to be announced) to watch Warren Sapp turn Donovan McNabb into a human pretzel.