New BOC in mind at NAB

CBS gets serious about shopping for ideas, products for new facility

As if NAB isn't busy enough, attendees from CBS will most likely be even busier. Why? Because the network will be looking for products and technologies that will play a role in a new broadcast operations center the network will build to get it ready for future demands.

"Our current center has been reliable, but it doesn't suit the needs for a flexible broadcast world in the future," explains Bob Ross, CBS vice president, East Coast operations. "So we're working on a replacement for that system."

Ross says the new system will be server-based, have a lot of software and operate at a multitude of levels. "Today, it's difficult for us to handle both SAP, video descriptors and interactive services, like Wink and WebTV, that are add-ons to a system designed 10 years ago," he explains. "So we have a number of people that will be going to look at both software and hardware specifically to support a new origination center for CBS."

The goal for CBS at NAB will be to try and put some closure around it and narrow down the vendors, according to Ross. "We have some thoughts on how we want to do that," he says. "It has to be able to work from HDTV all the way down to streaming video to desktops, even for internal clients."

More than 50% of the energy that will be needed to get the new facility up and running will be put towards software issues. "We're going to move stuff around as files; there is no doubt about that," says Ross. "We'll need to be able to move them around slower than real-time, and we'll also need to move it around faster than real-time."

Metadata will also play a major part in operations. "Metadata will be needed to keep track of the material," explains Ross. "And [the facility] needs to be simpler to operate and, therefore, more cost effective over what we have today."

The issues surrounding metadata and just how it is defined and standardized is something that seems to be concerning more and more broadcasters. "I would like to have the metadata issues sorted out a little more before we commit to a final design," adds Ross.

The goal is to have serious work on the facility begin later this year or early next; however, that is subject to numerous potential delays, whether from the vendor side, from broader technological issues or even internally.

Ross also will look at HDTV equipment, which shouldn't be a surprise given the prominent place CBS has in the HDTV camp. And even after a number of successful HDTV sporting event productions, including the Super Bowl, Ross is still hungry for improvements. Ross says it's still impossible to replicate a HDTV version of an NTSC broadcast that doesn't compromise the production on some level.

"With the capability of the switchers, the trucks that are available, you just can't do a Super Bowl in HD that has all the production elements that exist in the NTSC world," he says.

Ross is looking for better graphics tools and production switchers for HD, although he says the products he has seen are getting there. "There are several viable HD switchers out there and a couple more on the horizon," he says. "And the other pieces we're looking for are nonlinear editors. They are plentiful and great for NTSC, and we need them affordable for HD, as well."

Ross says his focus with regards to "new media" will be to look at streaming products that can be used internally by CBS network properties. "It's a separate set of issues and complexity when you're talking about streaming archives to the public at large, but right now we send around tapes via Fed Ex to be approved all the time, and we lose a day," he says. "So I need to be able to move that material from A to B via streaming for a variety of reasons."

So what does he expect to see at NAB? "I think we'll see lower prices and higher capacity for video servers, which I think is good for everybody," he says. Especially those looking to install a new broadcast operations center.