Bigger Station Groups Means Longer Shopping Lists

Rapid technological change and consolidation will inspire busy agendas and solution searches at NAB Show
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Ongoing consolidation, both among broadcast tech vendors and station groups, promises to make for a busy time for many of the top technologists at the groups as they converge on Las Vegas April 5 for the NAB Show.

On the vendor side, acquisitions and mergers continue to reshape the broadcast equipment landscape as major suppliers such as Grass Valley and Miranda combine their operations. That will allow the larger merged tech companies to offer a wider range of products for broadcasters looking to reduce the number of vendors they use while it also raises some questions among buyers about the future of certain product lines.

At the same time, a slew of station deals means that groups such as Sinclair and Nexstar will be looking for technologies to integrate newly acquired stations into their existing operations.

“Because of the acquisitions, we have a lot of stations that need to be upgraded and that need some attention and new equipment,” says Del Parks, senior VP of engineering and operations, Sinclair Broadcast Group. “So our shopping list is pretty broad and pretty deep this year.”

To get a handle on those trends, B&C interviewed six top tech executives at a cross-section of station groups. Here are some of the key tech trends they highlighted in the run-up to the 2014 NAB Show.

CBS: ALL ABOUT NEWS

Tech teams at the CBS Television Station Groups will be looking both at products to replace aging gear and at newer technologies to make their operation more efficient. That list includes new playout servers, compression technologies, products that can reliably provide bandwidth and connectivity for newsgathering and systems that might help streamline the delivery of content to multiple platforms, reports Jeff Birch, VP of engineering at the CBS Television Stations Group.

“We are at the stage of looking for new playout servers for master control because the ones we have are getting on in years,” Birch says.

In addition, he’ll be looking at technologies that can make their broadband connections for newsgathering more dependable, and at compression technologies that will allow them to more efficiently move content.

“There has been a lot of talk about H.265,” or highefficiency video encoding (HEVC), Birch says. “I’m not certain its ready for primetime but there will be a number of folks demonstrating early uses of it.

“I am not a proponent of wholesale hubbing,” Birch adds. “But I am looking for ways to make our operations more efficient and if that means some kind of regionalization, we are going to take a look at those approaches.”

Birch will also be monitoring developments in cloud-based technologies. But he stresses, “we have the philosophy of wanting to control our assets” and providers would need to be able to “guarantee me quality of service and hardened communications paths to withstand whatever mother nature can throw at us.”

COX: STREAMLINING NEWS WORKFLOWS

Streamlining news workflows, IP-based technologies for their infrastructure and the potential impact of the new ATSC 3.0 on their operations and transmitters are some of the key technical issues teams from the Cox Media Group will be exploring, reports Dave Siegler, VP of technical operations at the station group.

Much of their work this year will be normal replacements of aging equipment, explains Siegler. “We have a lot of replacement work that we want to deal with to get us really caught up so we are positioned to start redefining our news workflows,” over the next two or three years, he says.

Toward that end, one key issue is handling all the different formats that come into their news operations from both consumers and their crews. “That is a very big problem,” he says. “We want to find technologies that can automate that process and eliminate what can be a very manual process.”

Similarly they would like to streamline the output of content to multiple platforms. “The pain points we have on the acquisition side we have on the distribution side as well,” Siegler says. “We are looking for an automated solution where you can publish a file once and…it comes out how we need it.” Smaller, lighter, less expensive cameras are also on their list.

Further down the road, they will be looking at 4K technologies and IP technologies. “There is a lot of talk now about an all IP plant,” he says. “My view is that they are not quite mature right now but we are watching it closely.”

NBC: MORE NIBLE NEWSGATHERING

“The No. 1 thing I always talk about at NAB is newsgathering,” says Jeff Morris, senior VP of operations and technology for the NBCUniversal Owned Television Stations.

This year that will mean looking at both more traditional newsgathering technologies using trucks and vans as well as “many of the lighter weight, more nimble solutions out there that aren’t as capital intensive,” Morris says. “So we’ll be looking at the latest developments in bonded cellular technology as well as the next generation in smaller, lighter cameras.”

The group is also working on upgrades to some of its facilities and sets, which are relying on much more intensive use of monitors. “Managing that can be challenging from a production point of view, so we need to find cost-effective ways to control and drive all of those monitors to achieve the effects the stations want to achieve,” he says.

They also will be paying close attention to newsroom production systems. “We’re in touch with the vendors throughout the year, but NAB is always when they unveil some of their bigger products,” Morris says.

The stations are in the process of deploying new monitoring systems to improve the quality of their feeds and create more intelligent infrastructures. And at NAB they continue to look at technologies that help them “work smarter,” Morris says.

Last year, the tech operations at Telemundo stations were added to Morris’ responsibilities and he is looking forward to having all the stations and channels he supervises in one place and time. “This will be our first NAB all together and it will be a great chance to share best practices,” he says.

NEXSTAR: SIMPLIFIED BONDED CELLULAR SYSTEMS IN SIGHTS

Blake Russell, senior VP of station operations at the Nexstar Broadcasting Group says the station group’s attendees will be exploring a number of technologies in Las Vegas. Russell, however, will personally be focusing on two areas—bonded cellular newsgathering systems and newsroom systems.

Like other station groups, Nexstar has deployed several backpacks and systems to send video over cellular networks to stations and the group is now hoping to standardize around one or two manufacturers.

But Russell stresses that they want to collect a lot of information at NAB and proceed carefully. There is a lot of disagreement over the best systems; managing them, he says, is getting increasingly complex.

“ABC is starting to put TVU units in some of our affiliates,” he says. “So I’ll not only be speaking to the vendors but scheduling meetings with the networks to find out what they are doing. If everyone ends up putting different packages in the TV stations it could be quite a chore to manage them.”

As part of that research, they will look at cameras with wireless connectivity, particularly those from JVC, which supplies camcorders to their stations.

Russell notes that newsroom computer systems are playing an increasingly central role in their operations and that he will be talking to vendors about finding systems that have more capabilities integrated directly into its interface. “I want people to be able to sit down and access not only the internal CMS [content management system], but Facebook, Twitter and other screens without having to minimize and maximize windows on the desktop so you don’t have eight or ten programs that we have to support,” he says.

As Nexstar continues to deal with its acquisitions, they will also be looking at master control and production control room automation systems as well as some technologies to help upgrade some of these stations.

SCRIPPS: NEXT-GEN NEWSROOMS

Newsroom systems will also be a priority for Scripps Media, reports Ray Thurber, VP of engineering at the station group.

“We’ll be at NAB for so many things,” Thurber adds. “So many things have changed with the emerging digital platforms. We are also going to take a fresh look at newsroom computer systems and see just what that landscape is looking like.”

The group is in the process of “refreshing some street gear and some editing gear that needs replacing,” and will be exploring various products for those upgrades, Thurber says. “At NAB we will be making visits to vendors to see what is going on in on-air technologies that will help us tell better stories.”

Another item on their shopping list will be cameras capable of streaming video back to the studio. “We already have the JVC 650 cameras that have that capability and we will be looking closely at those technologies,” he says.

SINCLAIR:CONSOLIDATION TECH

With many newly acquired stations, teams from Sinclair Broadcast Group will be kicking the tires on a broad list of new technologies and products, explains Del Parks, senior VP of engineering and operations, Sinclair Broadcast Group.

These include technologies to consolidate master control functions with channel-in-a-box and other similar products; back office software; tools for streamlining multiplatform distribution; systems for better sharing content; bonded cellular systems; and technologies that might provide relatively inexpensive ways to go all-HD in smaller market stations.

In terms of business management software, Parks explains that they are looking for ways to integrate traffic systems for broadcast into their efforts “to sell advertising across all platforms, including Web and mobile.”

Last year, Sinclair purchased systems from Masstech to better share news content across its footprint. “It is a very important, interesting project for us,” says Parks, who adds that they are also looking for other ways to share content and streamline the delivery of content quickly back to their newsrooms.

One example of that push came right before NAB, when Sinclair announced that it would purchase over 70 of JVC’s GY-HM890 ProHD shouldermount cameras with built-in live streaming capabilities. Parks also says that they continue to invest in bonded cellular units and are looking at having LiveU units built into ENG trucks.

“People always come up with 15 reasons why these technologies won’t work,” Parks says. “But I’m the kind of guy who sees 85 other reasons why it would fit. There is a place for satellite trucks, for ENG and for LiveU and the new JVC cameras. Our job is to give the news directors the tools they need for different situations.”

In terms of technologies for consolidating master control functions, Parks notes that they will be looking at products from a number of vendors. He hopes such systems will free up additional resources that can be invested in news.

“Everyone thinks that when you consolidate you cut those jobs and put the money in your pocket, but we are taking people with old world jobs and using technology to transfer them and those resources into expanding our newsgathering and content,” he says.

As part of that effort, he will also be walking the halls with Sinclair VP of news Scott Livingston. “We work very closely together on technology so we can take advantage of new products we find on the floor and then deploy them fairly quickly in the field,” Parks says.

Ongoing consolidation, both among broadcast tech vendors and station groups, promises to make for a busy time for many of the top technologists at the groups as they converge on Las Vegas April 5 for the NAB Show.

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