Laptops, Phone Lines Keep Stations on the Web

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TV Web sites for WorldNow and Internet Broadcasting Systems (IBS) clients were able to stay live for visitors during the blackout of 2003 thanks to the massive server farms provided by hosting partners Cable & Wireless and Akamai, respectively.

Even with server access, though, some fancy footwork was required to get stations' content across the Web. For IBS, that meant local handling from its Minneapolis headquarters for sites of stations unable to publish. For WorldNow, it meant sending members of its technical and support staff to areas in New Jersey and New York's Long Island that had power.

"Because our system is Web-based, all they need is a battery-powered laptop and a phone line to publish the sites," says WorldNow President Mark Zagorski. When the power outage hit WorldNow's New York headquarters, the company kicked into a contingency plan drawn up after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

"Since then, we've had these plans to run the business remotely," he says. "The blackout wasn't the doom-and-gloom situation we put the plan together for, but we were prepared for it."

IBS CEO Tolman Geffs says that, when a visitor hooks up to one of his clients' sites, more than 6,000 Akamai edge servers around the country are available to help route the content from station to viewer, working around any outages. And broadband took a back seat, with battery-powered laptops and an analog phone line his primary means of communication from his New York office.

"[As at WorldNow] if the power goes out at the station, the editors can publish via laptops and phone lines from any remote location," he says. "We also have a generator in Minneapolis in case the power goes out there."

Colleen Seitz, executive producer at IBS affiliate WEWS(TV) Cleveland, says that, because people in the area didn't have power, the station expected viewers to use laptops or Palm Pilots to access the station's site. "We added updates from the mayor, more video, slideshows and the long lists of who had power and water and who didn't. It was dark, hot, and we had a lot of sweaty people in the newsroom."

When it came to building a contingency plan, Zagorski says. the technology was actually the easy part. "Once the technology protocols are in place and you figure out what gets plugged into what, there is the trickier part of the human side. There is always someone on vacation or standing in for someone else at a station."

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