Microsoft Looks To Reshape TV Stations
IT can be both the problem and the solution
By Ken Kerschbaumer -- Broadcasting & Cable, 4/10/2005 8:00:00 PM
From the standpoint of equipment manufacturers, moving stations to new information-technology (IT) systems has both risks and rewards. The risk is that they will find themselves competing against traditional IT suppliers, which can offer cheaper products because they sell them in large volumes across many industries. The reward, however, is that IT-based gear can be cheaper to design, manufacture, service and update. NAB 2005 will highlight those risks and rewards. Nearly every piece of gear will reflect the move to IT—whether it is an Ethernet connection, software updates or the ability to store content as files.
One of the challenges, however, is that IT-based gear can still find itself within “silos” where the walls—in the form of incompatible file formats or the use of different servers—create barriers between devices and departments to prevent true interoperability.
One of the eye-openers at this year's NAB convention may come from Microsoft. Last week, the company took the wraps off its professional video and film version of its Connected Services Framework (CSF) technology, which does what the name suggests. CSF can be used to create true interoperability between equipment from different vendors without each of them having to write specific “one-off” code. In the TV business, that is huge news.
Microsoft, with the help of Panasonic, Avid, Omnibus, Telestream and North Plains, will demonstrate how CSF can be used to make the creation and movement of digital media assets quicker and cheaper. David Schleifer, VP, Avid broadcast and workgroups, says that CSF is helpful as more and more customers require tighter integration of their systems, “This is another tool that provides a common framework for tying devices together.”
The key to CSF is that it is based on “Web services,” an over-arching term that refers to the use of Internet-related standards and protocols to build a common platform for inter-device communication. So if all the applications in a facility (or between facilities) are CSF-enabled, they are, in turn, capable of exchanging data and information.
“We're looking to allow people to focus on what they really do well instead of doing processes that should really be done without human intervention,” says David Chow, senior product manager, Microsoft Worldwide Media & Entertainment Group.
From a product standpoint, CSF requires software licensed from Microsoft and the deployment of two Microsoft servers: a SharePoint portal server and a Live Communications Server, costing about $30,000 combined. SharePoint lets the user review content and check timecodes, while the Live Communications Server allows instant messaging to be deployed systemwide. That way, as the editors complete projects, they can send an instant message to someone at the traffic system (in this case, Omnibus) to indicate that the content is ready for playout.
The application on display at NAB, however, is only one of its potential uses, according to Dave Alstadter, senior director, Microsoft Worldwide Media & Entertainment Group. “CSF takes static workflows and makes them more dynamic,” he says.
For example, if someone is creating a story and it will be broadcast on TV, sent to the Web, and also sent out to cellular phones, that person will no longer need to create three different assets. Instead, he or she can build the projects and then rely on CSF to complete the final assembly. The result is a saving in both time and money, because less server space is required and employees don't need to spend time transferring the assets to the appropriate distribution channel. It will also be easier for traffic and billing systems to communicate, because they'll be able to share databases and other information.
“We wanted to answer the question of how can someone access and use applications in a streamlined and dynamic fashion rather than having multiple incidents of it in different departments?” says Alstadter.
“The technology works,” says Carlos Montalvo, VP, business development and chief marketing officer, for North Plains, the first provider of digital-asset-management (DAM) systems to embrace CSF. “It's no longer a white paper. Now it's a product.”
The use of CSF goes a long way toward enabling cost- effective media-asset management. One of the problems facing facilities with limited budgets is that DAM usually requires an investment in gear that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. Montalvo says it is now possible to deploy a system for $75,000.
“Web services” will be the phrase heard over and over again at this year's show, and for years to come “We're providing an environment so that vertical applications and even multiple departments can work better together,” says Chow. “Two or more departments can now use one server, and two or more editing stations can now use one server.” If Microsoft's Connected Services Framework is as successful as it's touted to be, it will be one giant leap for station technology.
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