Media General's tech cavalry—some 20 strong—will hit NAB in force for the first time in nearly five years.
The goal is not just to have more bodies on the show floor. It's also to make sure the station group has a presence at the off-the-floor sessions and seminars that can often provide valuable information on broadcasting techniques and trends.
For Ardell Hill, senior vice president of broadcast operations, the more education and technology awareness the better. The group is considering a move to tapeless acquisition and some centralized operations, both of which could result in financial and operational savings. But a misstep could cost thousands of dollars to fix or jeopardize the quality of the on-air product.
"If we have guys attending relevant sessions, that helps determine what is important," says Hill.
Media General will divvy up the hardware hunt by category, a move that allows engineers to spend quality time seeing new products and exploring ones that may be off their radar.
"If something is lurking in one of the four corners of the hall—although, in the case of the NAB show, it's more like 80 corners—one of our scouts will be able to get a sniff of [something we didn't know about] and grab some information," says Hill.
Media General has a number of projects under way, including consolidating master operations for its CBS stations (a project that should be completed by the end of the year), converting eight of its stations' newsrooms to the AP/ENPS newsroom system, and adding nonlinear editing capabilities to more stations. The gear for those projects has already been selected.
As for new projects, the transition to tapeless field gathering is one of Media General's top priorities. Hill says that, if the company commits to anything new at NAB, it will be a tapeless field acquisition product. At this point, he says, the group is leaning towards Panasonic's P2 system. The group could put the system to use this year, then roll it out across the company during the next two or three years.
"I am concerned about the support products necessary to be able to affect the kind of cultural transition [tapeless ENG] will mean for our photographers and reporters," he says.
Beyond ENG, Hill and his team will take a closer look at centralized graphics operations. A marketing and engineering team from Media General has already visited centralized operations at NBC and Belo for ideas. Centralized graphics facilities are viewed as a way to have a group's best artists working on the most important projects. They also have a chance to shape the look of all the stations in the group, not just one facility.
Now that Media General has become familiar with how other groups handle centralized operations, it has time to investigate the technical options on the show floor. Graphic systems from manufacturers like Pinnacle and Chyron will offer new features designed specifically for centralized operations. Hill says the group will look for features or functions it might not have been exposed to in pre-NAB discussions.
"We want to see if there is someone new who has come into the arena," he explains.
As always, Hill hopes to find a new tool that will solve an existing problem. "There are a lot of people who bring you solutions in search of a problem. But it's much harder to find a solution for a problem that has been around for a while."