An ACE for PBS

New system streamlines content delivery, cuts costs for stations
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PBS's latest initiative is a boon for stations. The ACE Broadcast Operations Solution streamlines multichannel operations, with an assist from IT technologies, Internet Protocol-based delivery, and a multi-vendor system.

And it's cost-effective, too. Because the vast majority of PBS programming isn't live, the net can take the time to stream content as packets—even taking 16 hours to download a half-hour show—rather than use feeds. The previous effort involved the network side of the operation; ACE taps the station side.

Last May, PBS Chief Technology Officer André Mendes asked vendors to devise a system that would allow stations to easily receive the IP-based satellite-delivered content. The cost of this wizardry? Some $1.2 million for six channels of playback, including one HD channel. The system is delivered fully configured, pre-assembled, pre-racked, and even cabled and documented. The cost then scales out, depending on the number of channels and ports. Some PBS broadcasters, like the Wisconsin state network, which is going through the funding approval process to purchase the system, would require more channels. Smaller stations can get by with a six-channel configuration.

Mendes says six to eight PBS members will roll out the system by the end of the year. The challenge will be getting funding for the new system, but Mendes is confident of the ROI.

Whichever channel configuration is selected, Mendes says, the station will realize cost savings. From a capital standpoint, PBS has negotiated aggressive deals with vendors, since they will have much lower costs per sale. There is also a five-year maintenance and licensing deal: PBS serves as the frontline of tech support, and vendors step in if PBS can't solve the problem.

"The equipment will run effectively unattended, if necessary," says Mendes. "It's my guess that a lot of them will run unattended for a large portion of the day but avail themselves to an operator on site for part of the day."

Cost savings come from unattended operation as well as a reduction in maintenance personnel necessary for the system. Because it isn't user-serviceable and there are few moving parts, problems can be fixed by swapping in hot spares of the RAID arrays. Also, one of the spare channels will always be in operation as a backup to the main feed.

IP is the delivery method of choice within the stations, but the video stream is converted back to baseband when it enters the station's router. That's because the branding tools currently available can't brand within the IP stream. Mendes hopes to see that capability at NAB.

The list of vendors includes Accenture (providing the program management and integration services), Broadview Software (the traffic software), Intel (the server and desktop components), Microsoft (the software infrastructure based on the .Net framework), Miranda (video interfacing, routing, master control, branding, and visual/aural monitoring), Omneon (the networked-server infrastructure), and Omnibus (the automation system). SES Americom supplies satellite bandwidth and communication services.