Gearing Up for NAB

Broadcast and cable networks consider delivery, solutions and production in their ever-evolving technology plans 3/28/2011 12:01:00 AM Eastern

An improved advertising
market and some notable
technological trends promise
to both boost attendance and open up
some wallets at this year’s National Association
of Broadcasters Show in Las
Vegas between April 9 and 14.

In the run-up to the show, four
broadcast networks and four major
cable channel groups sat down with
B&C to discuss some of the technology
trends—such as file-based work " ows
for delivering more content to more
devices, cloud-based solutions, 4G
newsgathering tools, 3D production,
next-generation HD technologies and
closed-captioning for online content—
they will be looking at in Las Vegas.

Disney/ABC: Staying Nimble

At the Disney/ABC Television Group, much of the focus at NAB will be
on technologies that “will allow us to stay nimble and agile in how we
put our infrastructure together” so their channels can better respond to
consumer demand for more content on more devices, says Vince Roberts,
the division’s executive VP of global operations
and chief technology officer.

In general, it’s about finding solutions
that help improve Disney/ABC’s file-based work " ows, and simplifying
multiplatform delivery to whatever device
consumers want.

“It’s why we are pushing the filebased
environment as far as we can,”
Roberts says. As part of that effort, Disney/
ABC will be looking at cloud-based
solutions and better tools for managing
and distributing assets.

At the ABC broadcast network, “cameras
will be a big issue,” as will technologies “that help us transform how
ABC News works,” Roberts says. One aspect of that will be exploring
mobile newsgathering tools, including technologies for the use of 4G
(fourth-generation) cellular networks.

On the cable side, Roberts notes that the group is preparing for the
upcoming launch of Disney Jr., and will be looking at a number of possibilities
for that launch and others, including “channel in a box” solutions.

CBS: The Next Generation

One of the key issues for news
organizations, news networks and
broadcast stations at this year’s
NAB will be the use of 4G cellular
networks for newsgathering. CBS
has already deployed newsgathering
tools using 3G networks at
CBS Newspath, and networks and
stations will be looking closely at 4G
tools in Las Vegas.

“You are still going to need ENG
and SNG trucks for some locations that don’t have cell
service, but having a wide variety of options may mean
you don’t need quite so many trucks, and it will help you
provide a better quality of service at lower cost,” notes
Bob Seidel, vice president of engineering and technology at
CBS Television Network.

CBS will also be looking at a number of other issues,
including automation, file-based work flows and lower-cost
cameras for primetime TV production, Seidel says. “It used
to be that you were talking $100,000 or more with lenses
for high-end production in Hollywood, but now you are seeing
a $16,000 camera with the ability to capture really highquality
HD video” for primetime, Seidel notes. “We want to
take a close look at some of those new entrants.”

Telemundo: Improving
The HD Experience

After investing heavily in its high-definition, file-based infrastructure over the last two
years, Telemundo is focusing on technologies
that will help the Hispanic broadcaster
“get the most out of the investments we’ve
made,” reports Ken
Wilkey, senior vice
president, broadcast
operations and
engineering at Telemundo
and TV stations.

At NAB, that will
mean looking at
whatever enhancements
and upgrades
Telemundo’s existing vendors—Avid,
Miranda, Ross, Sony and others—might be
offering to improve their operations, or the
viewer experience. “Is there some special effect
or some touch screen technology that
might really set our sports or news department
apart?” Wilkey says.

Well over half of Telemundo’s programming
is already in high-definition, and
in June or July this year, the broadcaster
plans to go high-def with its nightly news
program. For that upgrade, as well as for
the news and sports programming that has
already gone HD, Wilkey notes his team
will be looking closely at virtual sets, touch
screen technologies, and screen technologies
that would make it easier for Telemundo to
show emails, tweets and other communication
from their viewers.

ESPN: Exploring and Expanding

For ESPN, NAB will be an opportunity to explore technologies both
for its current operations—such as graphics, file conversion, audio
consoles and stream splicing—as well as next-generation technologies
for 3D, high-definition, routers, and other issues, notes
Chuck Pagano, executive vice president of technology at ESPN.

In terms of immediate needs, ESPN is seeking “file-based standards
conversion on the fly,” Pagano says, because the network
is such a major user of file-based clips; and for “stream splicing
technology” as it ramps up such streaming products as ESPN 3.

ESPN has already built its Los Angeles facility to support 1080p
at 60 frames per second, the highest resolution of the current HD standard. At NAB, it
will be looking for even higher resolution technologies. “We want to try to get a handle
on where the next generation of HD is going,” Pagano says.

Pagano’s team will also be exploring the next generation of routers for IP delivery of
content inside their facilities, the potential of cloud-based solutions, and a new content
management system that would allow them to manage all their content for channels,
print, radio, online and mobile platforms. “We would like to get a consistent backbone
framework for all our content,” Pagano says.

Scripps: Codes and Quality Control

Scripps Networks Interactive will be hitting the NAB " oor with a shopping
list including technologies to expand their file-based work " ows, new 3D
production equipment and services, green technologies and interactive applications
for their channels, notes Mark Hale, executive VP of operations
and chief technology officer. “Our programming folks are very interested in
how we can enable interactive applications in the traditional broadcast signal
to provide a better experience for consumers of our media,” Hale notes.

Scripps has already deployed file-based work " ows deep into its operations
but is looking to expand that with the development of a master file
format or formats, adds Bryan Fails, VP/digital asset management and media
logistics. The company will be exploring codecs at NAB and is planning to do some trials this year.

As the company delivers more content to more devices, Scripps execs will also be looking
for software to automate quality control monitoring, Fails says. Hale adds that they will be
reviewing technologies for an integrated ad sales and planning software and exploring the
possibility of expanding their use of cloud-based services.

PBS: HD Future Is Now

With some networks already exploring next-generation HD technologies,
PBS had been planning to partner with NHK to deliver
a test of the Japanese public broadcaster’s Super
Hi-Vision technology. PBS planned to deliver content
from a live source in Washington, D.C., over a 1 gigabit
fiber connection to NHK’s booth in the Las Vegas
Convention Center, where it would be displayed on
a 4320 by 7680 screen, which supplies 16 times the
resolution of the highest current HD standard, reports
John McCoskey, PBS chief technology officer.

At presstime, it was uncertain whether NHK would
still attend NAB given the tragic events in Japan. But
PBS’ technology team will still be exploring a number
of different developments at NAB and during the PBS
Technology Conference, which will take place in Las Vegas April 6-8.

One item on PBS’ shopping list will be the replacement of its
satellite distribution and the move to a more advanced codec,
possibly MPEG-4, McCoskey says.

PBS is also working to improve its systems for metadata and file
management in order to deliver more content to more devices.
“The average piece of TV content that comes into PBS today gets
transcoded and published to 19 different places,”
McCoskey notes. To help with that multiplatform
delivery, PBS is also looking for automated systems
for monitoring the quality of those fi les.

On the station side, McCoskey notes that PBS
continues to work on its Next Generation Interconnection
System, which will provide file-based delivery
of content to its stations. About 30 stations have
deployed the system, and PBS is looking to roll it out
in stages to the entire group.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting is also
providing grants for mobile digital TV, which is encouraging
a number of stations to launch the service. “We see it as a real
opportunity for stations, particularly for kids’ services and public
safety,” McCoskey adds.

Turner: Making TV More Accessible

With the passage last October of the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility
Act, this NAB will be an important one for networks and stations looking
for solutions to comply with the Act and to better deliver content to Americans with
hearing or visual impairments, notes Clyde Smith, senior
VP, global broadcast technology and standards at Turner
Broadcasting, who has been actively working on the technological
side of the issue for some time.

The Act, which has a number of complex provisions, requires
the Federal Communications Commission to come
up with regulations and a timetable for making closedcaptioning
available for longer-form online and broadband
video that was broadcast with captions.

This raises a number of technical challenges that networks
and stations will want to discuss with vendors in Las
Vegas, Smith notes. “This NAB will be an important time
to talk to them about your needs so that next year, when
you need to buy something, they will be available and able to support your requirements,”
he says.

Ultimately, the solutions could make programming more accessible to more than
36 million Americans with hearing or visual impairments. “If you think about what
we go through to gain a few ratings points, it’s important to remember that here is an
underserved audience that is available if you can just serve their needs and allow them
the same access as everyone else,” Smith says.

Discovery: Better, Faster, Cheaper 3D

This year’s NAB is the first to take place since 3D channels launched, and
Discovery Communications will be one of the major producers of 3D content
arriving at the show with hopes of finding equipment and software that will
make stereoscopic production easier, faster and
much less expensive.

Those technologies are particularly important for
3net, the stereoscopic channel launched earlier this
year by Discovery, Sony and Imax. Unlike theatrical
movie producers with huge budgets, or sports channels
shooting inside arenas with fixed camera positions,
3net is heavily programmed with documentary
and reality fare that requires lighter equipment.

“It would help us scale up our 3D production if we
had lighter, more flexible, more portable cameras
that would allow us to go into situations for our types
of documentary and very real, engaged type of production,”
says Glenn Oakley, executive VP of media, technology, production
and operations at Discovery.

Discovery is also looking for better 3D technologies for editing and postproduction,
which remains a difficult process, adds Josh Derby, director of
technology and standards. “We are missing a middle ground in the tool set
between some very high-end tools, digital finishing tools and tools for the normal
[2D] production, and we’re hoping that manufacturers will address that.”

Lighter cameras and better editing and post-production tools might also
help reduce the cost of 3D production, adds Derby. “Because the equipment
is more cumbersome we are finding it takes longer to set up a shoot, and we
don’t get as many shots off as we used to,” he says.

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