HBO investigates ITV, VOD

With a solid infrastructure already in place, Zitter and colleagues look to new technologies

This year, HBO will be going to NAB with its proven approach, sending about 12 people grouped into several teams assigned to specific areas of research.

"The approach that we take is a major information-gathering approach," says Bob Zitter, senior vice president of technical operations at HBO. "Each person has a [specific] assignment so that we can get the full picture."

And with a lot of hard work and investment in digital over the past few years by the network, the shopping list is short this year. "Much of [what we're expecting to see] is long-term, as opposed to what they're showing that we can walk away with this year," he says.

The network already has a solid digital infrastructure that utilizes servers in place of tape for playout under control of Louth Automation. HBO is now looking at new ways of maximizing the benefits of its digital architecture within a networked environment.

Zitter says they'll be looking at all manufacturers offering software packages, workstations, servers and solutions "that have the capability of archiving and hosting all the client devices."

This year Zitter's biggest studio project is moving its post-production operations from a centralized facility to a decentralized environment that places more functionality on the desktops of the producers and editors. To accomplish this, Zitter will be looking to integrate software-based tools for desktop editing and graphics creation.

"We're doing more off-line editing for programming and promotion on the desktops of producers and interfacing to servers in production studios where the high-end finishing work is completed," Zitter explains.

With plans to eventually develop its own subscriber video-on-demand system, HBO will be looking at necessary servers and distribution equipment. All video-on-demand services will run out of its Hauppauge, N.Y.-based origination facility for distribution to the cable head ends and possibly DBS providers.

"[We'll be looking at] servers and software and encoders to enable us to electronically deliver our on-demand program from network origination to affiliates and headend servers for the ultimate distribution on demand."

HBO has no time frame set for its own rollout and, instead, is monitoring how the rollout is progressing at the cable headends. Zitter says HBO won't be looking at specific manufacturers but will scour the show floor looking for the equipment that will best meet its needs.

As HBO looks toward enhancing its Web-based content, Zitter also will be exploring the various manufacturers offering products for IP encoding and streaming and for management of programming distributed via the Web site.

HBO currently is doing some video streaming on its Web site to complement its regular cable programming. For example, it offers video stream and informational downloads to coincide with and complement its World Championship boxing.

"We're looking into what kind of programming might be created for use on our Web site," Zitter adds. "From the technical perspective, we're going to need to acquire equipment, both software and hardware."

As for HDTV, Zitter says the network is set in that department, at least until there's more consumer demand for HD programming. "We purchased all equipment in 1997 and 1998, and we're using it quite fully."

While Zitter isn't expecting to buy a lot of products this year, he says he is expecting to see practical demonstrations of technology that, until now, has been little more than vaporware.

"Usually, NAB runs in cycles where there are discussions of new technologies and then filling them and implementing them," Zitter says. "I think this is one of those years where you're going to see products that people have been talking about for a while, like interactive television products."