At NAB: Looking for New,And Ways to Stretch the Old

For top engineers at TV stations, delivery solutions, upgrades and compliance tech are key priorities
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TV stations continue to struggle with the dilemma of finding better ways to deliver content for expanded newscasts and multiplatform delivery. That being the case, many of the engineering teams travelling to this year’s National Association of Broadcasters show April 16-19 will once again be trolling the halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center in search of efficiencies to make resources and dollars stretch further.

This reality has pushed media asset management solutions, IP video delivery, production automation and station in a box products onto the lists of many of the top technologists and engineers at a cross-section of eight station groups interviewed by B&C in the run-up to the show.

But with the economy improving and capital budgets seeming to be holding steady, this NAB show will also see increased interest in some newer technologies—virtual newscast sets among them—as well as HD upgrades, improved technologies for news operations in the field, weather systems and replacements for aging equipment.

With deadlines looming, many stations will also be taking a close look at audio technologies to help them comply with Federal Communications Commission regulations related to the CALM Act, and systems to handle the new closed-captioning for Internet content required under the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act.

In short, the week will be mighty busy. “It’s like drinking from a fire hose,” quips Marty Faubell, VP of engineering for Hearst Television. “It is a wonderful learning opportunity not only to see new technologies from vendors, but also to catch up with colleagues and share ideas with them.”

ABC: Eying the IP Transition

Dave Converse, VP and director of engineering for ABC Owned Television Stations, says that one of his group’s key priorities at NAB will be keeping an eye on the move toward IP technologies in the broadcast infrastructure.

“The technologies we are employing are changing,” Converse says. “I used to say they were changing gradually, but I’m not sure it is still all that gradual. We recognize and the vendors recognize that we are dealing with a transition to…software, IP technology support for the industry. So we’ll be looking closely at the changes in the vendor community as they help us support our changing world.”

As part of that transition, Converse and his teams will also be studying systems for streamlining multiplatform workflows and better media asset management systems. “We are not in a position to build up a new staff every time we have to start sending content to a new platform,” he says.

Technologies to implement new regulations on controlling audio levels as part of the new rules for the Calm Act and offering closedcaptioning for Internet content are also high on Converse’s list. Also, streamlined workflows from the field and newer technologies for electronic newsgathering are beeping on his radar. “We are doing a demo with an IP satellite truck,” Converse says, adding that the vehicle would both reduce costs and require less manpower.

CBS: Fielding Better News

Technologies for improving field operations for news teams will be the top focus for CBS owned-and-operated stations at NAB, reports Jeff Birch, VP of engineering at CBS Television Stations. During the show, the group will be looking at both the “next generation of smaller cameras” and better technologies for transmitting video back to the studio, Birch says.

CBS has already deployed backpack solutions to transmit video over cellular networks. But Birch stresses that the group is also looking at newer satellite or microwave technologies that can offer more reliable transmission. “3G and 4G technologies have allowed us to get stories we would have never gotten in the past, but it leaves us dependent on outside entities, and I’m looking to minimize that risk,” Birch says. “We don’t want to be in a position where their network goes down and we’re out of business.”

The CBS group recently launched a smaller weather truck in New York and has plans to add similar trucks at four or five other stations.

Birch’s team will also be taking a close look at a number of other technologies, including solutions that might streamline the process of file conversion, digital asset management, virtual sets, production automation systems, archiving, graphics, solutions to streamline the handling of local spots and channel in a box as part of CBS’ plans to launch digital sub channels. “The only thing I’m not really looking for is studio cameras,” Birch says. “Everything else is fair game.”

Cox: Refining Workflows

While Cox’s capital budget is remaining at about the same level as last year, the station group is not looking at “any big massive new systems this year,” reports Dave Siegler, vice president of technical operations at Cox Media Group. “We are really focusing on a lot of our current systems and work" ows and are looking to refine and adjust those workflows, with a lot of software upgrades.”

As part of that process, Cox is studying software upgrades to help streamline newsroom workflows, such as editing, and solutions that would “refine workflow in master controls,” Siegler adds.

Other technologies include solutions for implementing the CALM Act, products for streamlining multiplatform delivery of content, centralized trafficking systems and media asset management solutions.

“We are not looking to purchase or implement anything this year, but we think there is a lot of value to implementing a common MAM/PAM [media asset management/production asset management] solution across the group,” Siegler notes.

Fisher: Building on HD Upgrades

After making some major high-definition upgrades to its Seattle operations last year, Fisher Communications is looking to build on those efforts to further improve operations at all of its stations, notes the company’s VP of technology, Brian McHale.

As part of the installation of a new fully HD-capable master control at KOMO in Seattle, Fisher also bought new Sony PMW 500 field cameras for its Seattle and Portland operations. That move is allowing Fisher to redeploy some of the older cameras and equipment to its stations in 100+ DMAs, so they can upgrade to 16x9 newscasts.

“It is a way to improve their competitive position this year,” without the group having to shoulder the hefty costs for full HD upgrades, McHale says.

At NAB, McHale will be taking a close look at a media asset management system that they hope to implement this year at KOMO, broadcast exchange format (BXF) integrations with traffic systems, virtual sets, less-expensive trucks for ENG, station in a box technologies and weather systems.

“MAM is really at the top of the list,” McHale adds, because the deployment of a new MAM system in Seattle will help Fisher start sharing more content between all of its systems.

Hearst: Streamlining Spots

After deploying technologies to centralize the ingest of national spots, Hearst Television is now looking for solutions that can help address the complex problem of handling local spots.

“With all the mom-and-pop clients and ad agencies [delivering local spots] as files, the stations are struggling to deal with the different formats, and get them into the system,” notes Hearst Television’s Faubell. “So we will be out at NAB looking for better workflows and technologies to centralize the ingest of those local spots.”

Hearst will also be taking a close look at tools for implementing the CALM Act, closed-captioning for online content, solutions for better monitoring of IP video delivery, weather graphics and BXF integrations for live logs. “We have the fund this year to pilot a project for live logs, and that will be a big effort for us,” Faubell says.

Media General: Shushing the Regulators

Technologies to control audio levels to comply with the CALM Act and solutions to implement closed-captioning for online content “are the top two priorities” at NAB for Media General, reports Mark Turner, the company’s VP of broadcast operations.

While many Media General stations already have solutions in place to comply with loudness regulations, Turner notes that the group wants to improve those tools by setting up systems to address the problem as content comes into the station.

Transcoding solutions, finding technologies to help beef up overall news acquisition efforts, spot and programming playback systems, news editing, mobile DTV and ENG vehicles are also on Turner’s NAB shopping list.

The NAB show offers an opportunity to think about some bigger tech questions, Turner adds. “If I was starting a TV station from scratch today, would I be doing things the same way?” he asks. “We want to make sure we are not missing the opportunity to get the job done with less cost than might be the case with traditional tools.”

Nexstar: More HD Newscasts

HD upgrades will be a top priority for the Nexstar Broadcasting group this year, reports Blake Russell, the company’s senior VP of station operations. On April 2, the group launched HD newscasts at WBRE and WYOU in Wilkes-Barre/ Scranton, Pa.; it is planning to do two more HD upgrades per quarter for the rest of the year, for a total of eight in 2012, Russell says.

Nexstar is also upgrading a number of master controls and moving some stations to 16x9 newscasts, which will add to Russell’s shopping list at NAB. “Besides the HD and master control upgrades, we have a lot of one-offs,” he says, making 2012 one of the group’s biggest years ever for improving operations.

In no particular order, Russell says he and his teams will be paying close attention to graphics systems, station in a box solutions, new routing systems, ENG trucks, non-linear editors, new sets and centralizing Avid news systems. In each case, Russell says he is also closely monitoring ways to do things differently, to streamline operations and reduce upgrade costs.

E.W. Scripps: Working Like a Network

Following the completion of its acquisition of nine McGraw-Hill stations in December 2011, E.W. Scripps Co. is focusing on better integrating those stations with its existing operations. “It gives us an opportunity at NAB to look at a whole bunch of new approaches to do business at those stations, and to assimilate them into our workflows and our approach to newsgathering,” says Michael Doback, the company’s VP of engineering.

In many cases, this will probably mean deployments of solutions that the Scripps stations are already using. “We have been developing work-flows and technology solutions over a number of years, and I think we will probably expand on those solutions,” Doback says.

In addition to an ongoing replacement of older master control and routing equipment, Doback and his team will be taking a close look at trucks, archive systems, LED lighting and technologies that can further expand their “next-generation newsgathering efforts,” he adds.

Throughout, standardization of technologies will be a major theme. “Now that we have more stations, we want to work more like a network and deploy technologies across the enterprise so that people can go from operating unit to operating unit,” Doback says.

E-mail comments to gpwin@oregoncoast.com and follow him on Twitter: @GeorgeWinslow

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