For Sinclair Broadcast Group, with 61 stations, many in small markets, this NAB show will be all about media-management systems, IT/broadcast convergence products and file-based systems that can help with the group's graphics- centralization project.
“We just bought a lot of equipment, so we won't be looking for a lot of hardware,” says Del Parks, VP of engineering and operations. “We'll have a few years before we'll need to make a decision on replacing our standard-definition gear. So for the market sizes our stations are in, we're in a pretty good place.”
When syndicated programming will be available in HDTV remains to be seen. However, there have been rumblings that some could arrive on the scene by the end of this year or, at the latest, early next. As programs shot and produced in the HD format begin to enter the syndication stream, making them available to viewers becomes much easier.
The benefits of that strategy include not facing a transition to full-on HD production capabilities and having SD infrastructures that can easily be upgraded for HD. Routers, cables and other gear are also ready for any future demands and, depending on how much manufacturers move to IT-based products, huge investments in master-control operations and tape machines will be avoided.
While Sinclair won't be on the hunt for HD production gear, Parks will be looking it over. “Low-cost HD gear is going to be a key factor because it will be a perfect product for local-station production,” Parks says. “Until local stations can do local promotions and spots in HD, the local advertiser won't get the full benefit of HD, and neither will the station.”
Another driver will be syndicated programming in HD. Sinclair stations rely more heavily on syndicated content than other groups. When more syndicated shows are produced in high-definition, “the need for local HD, aside from news, will become more acute,” Parks says. “We'll move in the direction of local HD when Nielsen starts counting HD eyeballs in a serious manner. That will be the watershed event.”
But until HD gets cranking in high gear, Parks and Sinclair are focusing on other projects, like centralized graphics and even traffic. “Our basic premise is centralized planning, decentralized execution,” Parks explains.
The group's traffic system stands at the center of those projects. The station is currently “in the middle of the largest traffic-system conversion in history,” says Parks. The system, from OSI, has more functionality than previous ones, and the technology is fresher. “Traffic systems are the heart and soul of TV stations, and we'll be looking to include our traffic system as a part of any media-asset–management system we put in place.”
At NAB, he'll be scoping out media-management systems from Harris, Masstech and others, mindful of Sinclair's focus on centralization. “We've approached it from a different angle than some other groups have,” Parks says. News operations, promotions and graphics are all candidates for centralization. But getting on a common traffic platform, notes Parks, will really enable those deployments.
Parks says Sinclair is in great shape on transmission issues. Only a handful of stations have yet to go HD, and those are because of tower or interference issues along the Canadian border. And when it comes to transmitters, Sinclair doesn't have many places to shop: It owns a stake in Acrodyne, and, says Parks, “we're obviously pleased with their transmitters, because we helped design the things.”
- Media-management systems
- Video/IT convergence products
- Graphics gear
- Tools for centralization