Grass Valley Group

NBC deal shows that centralcasting can be big business
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Grass Valley Group's work with NBC on its centralcasting operation not only netted the company approximately $25 million but also gave it proof that centralcasting is a concept ready for the big time.

"To us, this has taken on a whole new light" with NBC moving to centralcasting, says Mike Cronk, Grass Valley Group vice president of marketing. "When you have a network that is going for it in a big way, it shows that it's coming of age."

Cronk says that the transition from the theoretical to the practical is encouraging. The reasons? "The products that are available are getting to a new level," he says. "Certainly, for ourselves, we introduced the Media Area Network at NAB. That's a pivotal piece of a centralcasting operation and has allowed NBC to begin its implementation of centralcasting."

He adds that the other factor is that, over time, related telco costs are dropping. "There has been a downward trend in pricing and availability for lines and solving things like the last-mile problem," he says. "The level of technology, pricing and availability of high-speed networks has played a role [in making centralcasting possible]."

While there are many approaches to centralcasting, Cronk says, there is a common thread. "It's providing for a centralization of operations above and beyond what is done today," he explains. "And that could entail playing all commercials and programming out of a central hub all the way to doing some prep at a central place and then putting the commercials out via a network to stations that handle playout on a local level. It really depends on the economic model the group is facing."

Given the seemingly limitless number of variables, it's nearly impossible to figure out potential cost savings from a centralcasting operation. But Cronk has done basic analysis to provide some framework for a centralcasting operation that feeds 20 stations. "Our numbers analysis got us to about a 60% annual cost saving in terms of operational costs for 20 stations," he says. "I think various broadcasters will have different models with more or less cost savings depending on where they are."

The move to centralcasting is something that GVG has addressed with its product lines. "We've developed a series of products that address centralcasting, like the Media Area Network, some of the networking capability that we built into Profile servers, and some of the master-control solutions that we have," he explains. "So we've done a lot of analysis and have a lot of expertise on how to get it done. And the networks or groups will have a strong idea what they want to do, but we can bring in a lot of the nitty-gritty design expertise."

Cronk says GVG's Media Area Network provides a robust failover system that can support many channels of media off a central storage pool. "You can have one copy of a commercial or program and then distribute that to many stations," he says. "It's the real linchpin of a centralcasting operation."

The company's Contentshare system also will play a role in centralcasting operations. "How does the user access the media and make it available? The general manager wants to be able to browse the material, see it on the desktop and make business decisions in an efficient manner," he says. "The whole method and way that a server integrates with asset management is a real key to that. Building in some of the things with Contentshare is one way to really help us in that regard."

Asset management, in fact, will provide one of the true challenges in a centralcasting model. "It's one thing to say I'm going to have a central pool of storage and things are going to play out," explains Cronk. "It's another thing to make sure that you have enough asset management to make sure that ad-run logs are synchronized with what each sales department and company is doing.