Customer Profile

NPC Media is a joint venture formed between Australia’s two largest commercial broadcasters, Nine Network and Seven Network.

Nine Network operates five OTA channels across fourteen markets, as well as a streaming video platform, 9Now, which allows viewers to watch programs from Channel 9, 9Go!, 9Gem,9Life and 9Rush on demand, whenever and wherever they want. Seven Network encompasses four major free-to-air digital television channels in 13 markets — Channel 7, 7TWO, 7mate and 7flix — as well as a live and on-demand OTT service, 7plus.

Business Challenge

When Nine Network first established the National Playout Centre (NPC) in Sydney in 2012, the facility served 18 regional channels across the country. The collaborative commercial venture between Nine and Seven, NPC Media, kicked off an extensive, phased upgrade of the playout center, with the ultimate goal being to transform the single-station facility into an IP-based, multi-tenanted managed media services provider to the broadcast industry.

The first phase of the expansion of the NPC would incorporate Seven’s key broadcast operations into the playout facility. The goal was to achieve economies of scale by consolidating the two companies’ infrastructure and operations into a highly resilient (N+1) broadcast content delivery center that could also service other broadcasters and media companies. Seven’s channels went live from the NPC in August 2019.

The goal of the next phase was to further expand the NPC to provide playout services for Southern Cross Austereo (SCA), which broadcasts 106 television signals within all states and territories other than Western Australia. As part of this phase, playout solutions would be deployed across two sites — main at the NPC, with protect located at Telstra Broadcast Services’ (TBS) facility in Sydney — providing geo-diverse redundancy for NPC Media and its clients. The SCA channels went live from the NPC in April 2020.

NPC now supports more than 211 live terrestrial television channels, together with a further 392 pass-through multiplexed channels.

“Imagine Communications’ Versio product strategy allows us to confidently manage our current baseband/SDI infrastructure, and more swiftly and efficiently transition to a full range of software-defined, commercial off-the-shelf IP-based media services. This will benefit our NPC Media clients and the wider Australian viewing public.”

Chris Howe, General Manager, Commercial and Technology at NPC Media

Technology Solution

To support this massive undertaking, NPC Media implemented an end-to-end broadcast playout chain — from a common ingest platform through to software-based channel origination — based on Imagine Communications’ Versio™ modular playout product suite.

Running as software instances on commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware, the Versio solution delivers playout, master control and graphics capabilities all under the control of Imagine’s D-Series™ enterprise-level automation system.

The microservices-based Versio solution’s “channel recipe” approach and flexible deployment models allow Imagine to map playout opportunities to specific business requirements. A blueprint design can be created with corresponding licensed features to support the respective requirements of each channel. For example, NPC Media can run Vizrt on Versio to support premium channels, while Versio Graphics are used for channels with less complex graphics requirements. As the NPC evolves, new channel types can be easily defined simply by adding new recipes.

NPC Media’s playout engines connect to Versio™ IOX Scale-Out NAS high-performance shared storage, powered by the EditShare File System. As business needs grows, Versio IOX allows scaling of storage and bandwidth without affecting existing media or interrupting on-air operations.  Separate Versio IOX solutions are deployed for the main and protect systems. The media on the main and protect IOX storage are automatically managed by the D-Series cache list process based on the playlists loaded.

The Versio playout solutions at the NPC provide SMPTE ST 2022-6 IP stream inputs and outputs, and playout monitoring is managed by Imagine’s EPIC™ MV hybrid IP multiviewer, which supports HD and SD ST 2022-6 IP inputs. Integration between baseband and IP systems at the NPC is managed by Imagine’s Magellan™ SDN Orchestrator, which enables seamless switching, whether through a baseband router or an IP switch.

The architecture of the lmagine system is a main and protect 1+1 active-active configuration —minimizing single points of failure in the playout chain and ensuring maximum service continuity.

Business Value

Implementing a next-generation, IP playout solution has enabled NPC Media to consolidate multiple broadcast operations into a state-of-the-art playout center with shared facilities — and deliver new levels of operational and cost efficiencies not previously achievable using traditional technology platforms.

The use of modular Versio engines and Imagine’s unique blueprint architecture enables NPC to effectively design technical and operational workflows that optimize hardware utilization, data center resources, and operations staff to maximize NPC Media investment and total cost of ownership. By choosing a microservices-based playout foundation that maps blueprints to specific requirements, NPC Media is able to efficiently support hundreds of channels from a single operational environment. For example, Versio blueprints for higher revenue-producing channels can be fully loaded with all the features and availability functions required for 24/7 Tier 1 applications, while lower revenue-producing channels can run on a lightweight blueprint with lower resource utilization.

Consolidating multiple broadcast operations into a single playout environment has not impacted the competitive position of the networks originated by NPC Media, as they still compete on the basis of creating content, originating channels and selling advertising. And the shared facility allows clients to reduce operational costs, streamline processes, promote collaboration, and increase productivity.

With the transformation of a single-station facility to a multi-tenanted, IP-based managed media services provider to the broadcast industry, NPC Media has taken a bold step that will enable them to adapt faster and more accurately to changing market demands.

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