RealTime IT News

Activate to Unveil Mammoth Digital Operations Center

InternetNews.com has learned that Seattle-based Activate plans to cut the red ribbon Tuesday on its long-anticipated digital content tower, a $20 million facility capable of simultaneously streaming thousands of audio and video signals over the Internet.

Dubbed by the decidedly grandiose moniker of Grand Central, the center will draw upon traditional broadcast quality production, network operations, service monitoring and Webcasting functionality.

The facility houses a fully broadband digital router and provides the most signal ingress capacity (the capability of a router to handle multiple incoming signals at the same time) in the streaming media industry.

Grand Central is the finished product built on the foundation of a $20 million investment in software, hardware, networking and broadcast technologies through collaboration with companies such as Compaq, EMC, Microsoft Corp., Cisco and CCC Network Systems.

The 20,000 square foot facility (located in the Black Building, formerly a garment factory in 1914) includes one of the largest satellite downlink facilities on the West Coast and increases Activate's production and service capacity by a multiple of 10. Doyle Technologies, a system-integration architecture firm, worked with Activate for nearly a year to convert the historic building into the largest digital content facility designed for Internet media.

While CMGI-owned Activate is known for its broadcasting of corporate events, it has also been known to dip into the entertainment well; in fact, Grand Central was the tower from which Activate Webcasted a Madonna concert from London that drew 9 million music fans last Nov. 28.

Still, Activate founder and Chief Executive Officer Jeff Schrock said he feels corporate events will be at the heart of streaming media technology looking forward.

"We've done a number of entertainment activities in the last month or so," Schrock said in a recent interview. "But our primary core is providing enterprise infrastructure and services on streaming. Most [content delivery providers] do signal egress on the network side while problems usually exist on the signal ingress side; it's harder to do simultaneous Webcasts. But Grand Central interfaces with satellites, video fiber, telephony fiber and takes signals to convert to an Internet-convertible format."

Schrock acknowledged the existence of similar towers, such as from the likes of iBEAM or Yahoo! Broadcast, but stressed that Grand Central was unique because it combines the broadcast component with the network component -- satellite applications with network applications.

Some analysts agree.

"Activate knows their market pretty well," said David Rader, an analyst for Jupiter Communications. "Activate probably does greater amount of corporate events [compared to Yahoo! Broadcast or iBEAM. Entertainment and corporate events are quite different in terms of the way they are streamed. With corporate events, you'll have a lot more events that may need to be streamed at the same time -- a few hundred people, while with entertainment such as the Madonna concert, it's one event being streamed to 9 million people. Grand central was built with providing a large number of streams in mind."

Rader, who has toured the building, said he believed the facility will handle a lot of volume -- but it should, he said, for the money that was spent on it.

"When you spend the money on a facility like that with flexible video sources, you can't go into it halfway," Rader noted.

"Weve learned that to be an effective Webcast provider you must invest across the board -- in the skill sets and resources for application services, signal capture, production resources and distribution infrastructure," Schrock said. "Activate Grand Central reflects the unique blend of technical and personnel expertise it takes to deliver high performance Webc