Comedy Central Scans Airwaves with SnapStream

Daily Show and Colbert Report to use broadcast monitoring system

To help producers of The Daily Show With Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report find fresh material, cable network Comedy Central has purchased a broadcast monitoring/search system from Houston-based tech firm SnapStream that can be used to locate and package high-definition clips from over 30 program channels.

The SnapStream Server is basically an enterprise-class digital-video recorder (DVR) with integrated software that does keyword or phrase searches for content using a mix of closed-captioning and program guide data, says SnapStream CEO and Founder Rakesh Agrawal. The system can also be programmed to send email alerts to users based on keywords or phrases, such as "Breaking News."

SnapStream, which was founded in 2001, originally made a PC-based DVR system aimed at tech-savvy consumers, selling about 100,000 units. It developed the enterprise SnapStream Server product a couple of years ago after finding that broadcasters, political campaigns and other professional users were modifying the consumer product to do large-scale monitoring.

"We realized there was a huge opportunity here, as there was a general problem nobody was trying to solve," says Agrawal. "That was television search, allowing them to find whatever they're looking for on broadcast television."

SnapStream can take a variety of inputs and can be used in conjunction with set-top boxes or take straight RF feeds. The product line starts at $2,000 for a consumer-designed device that can record two channels and provides about 1,000 hours of SD storage, and scales up depending on the number of tuners and storage included.

The enterprise SnapStream server starts at $12,000 for a unit with 4 tuners and 3 TB of storage, while the SnapStream Server with ATSC or clear QAM tuners for recording over-the-air HDTV broadcasts or unencrypted QAM HD cable signals starts at $45,000. Agrawal says a unit that can record 10 streams at once and provide 30,000 hours of total storage runs about $65,000.

The SnapStream system to be deployed at The Daily Show and The Colbert Report will be able to record over 30 channels of HD. Producers can then search those recordings and create clips that can be sent to Avid and Apple Final Cut Pro editing systems.

Other customers of SnapStream, says Agrawal, include NBC, WABC New York, which uses it to monitor competitors' news coverage; Comcast Entertainment, which uses it to find clips for entertainment shows like Talk Soup; and New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg's administration, which uses it to monitor and analyze political coverage.

The company's main competition continues to be "banks of VCRs and banks of TiVos" that programmers and businesses have set up themselves to record reams of content, says Agrawal, though SnapStream is starting to compete with Masstech and Volicon in the professional monitoring space.

SnapStream snagged the Comedy Central deal after a Colbert Report staffer learned of the company's technology and approached the firm.

"We had conversations in New York and demonstrated it for the writers and producers; that's what won the business," says Agrawal. "A big part of what we offer is simplicity and ease of use."