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Microsoft Looks To Reshape TV Stations

IT can be both the problem and the solution 4/10/2005 08:00:00 PM Eastern

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.

March