Buying in Bulk

NBC Universal will shop for a lot at NAB

NBC Universal’s John Wallace is going to preside over a big field trip at the NAB. As executive vice president of television operations and production services, he oversees technology for the NBC network and its 14 owned stations; NBC Universal cable networks; and Telemundo and its 16 stations. He’ll take 80 staffers to Las Vegas to help him shop for technology that can solve production and distribution challenges.

Three major areas NBC Universal will be focusing on at NAB are HDTV, multicasting technologies and creating a standardized platform to manage spot sales and playback across all NBC Universal television properties.

“We’re looking at solutions for a more complex environment as we explore mobile technologies, targeted ads and interactive mediums like VOD,” says Wallace. “The traditional paradigms of how we broadcast and sell are changing, and there are some interesting thoughts in how vendors are tackling the market.”

HDTV production gear is a priority since NBC will launch Late Night With Conan O’Brien in HDTV in April and convert Studio 8H, home of Saturday Night Live and Last Call With Carson Daly, by October.

And to support NBC’s high-def broadcast of the 2006 Winter Olympics from Turin, Italy, next February, the network will upgrade its 32-channel Genesis operations center in New York to handle eight channels of HDTV.

“The biggest difference [compared with the Athens Summer Olympics in 2004] is that the NBC television network will do a simulcast in full HD,” says Wallace. “This time, we will do all the commercial integration through New York and manage multiple time zones.”

NBC Universal is also creating a new network operations center (Genesis II) in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., for its cable and Telemundo networks. Due to go online next month, it’s designed to handle 64 channels and a mix of standard-definition and HDTV feeds. Initially, it will support 28 channels including Universal HD.

On the station side, NBC Universal is focused on ways to use its digital spectrum for multicasting, with such projects as NBC Weather Plus, the 24-hour weather service it is launching in 14 markets. In that vein, NBC will be investigating “virtual-set” systems.

NBC U is standardizing technology platforms at all of its facilities to streamline the selling and airing of commercials. Wallace wants a system that handles sales, reporting and playback across all broadcast and cable properties and is able to expand to new applications, such as targeted ads, mobile-content services and VOD advertising.

“We want a 'sales-to-playback’ strategy that will let us efficiently sell to the customer across multiple digital mediums,” he says.

Wallace has digital asset-management systems on his list, too, prices have become more reasonable in that area. Storage is important, but “I’m also looking at the ability to manage content through the enterprise and push and pull material,” says Wallace. “If a story is breaking in Birmingham, can I have it in my desktop in New York immediately?”

Shopping List

  • HDTV graphics and editing
  • Digital-asset management
  • Traffic and automation systems
  • Virtual-set technology
  • Low-cost digital acquisition gear