Gearing Up for NAB

Broadcast and cable networks consider delivery, solutions and production in their ever-evolving technology plans

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 Network 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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