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At PBS, It's All About IT - Broadcasting & Cable

At PBS, It's All About IT

Public network seeks to make content delivery efficient
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André Mendes hopes vendors will give NAB a face-lift. PBS's chief technology integration officer wants it to resemble Comdex, the massive computer industry show.

"We're bringing an IT mentality to the broadcast environment," says Mendes, and that means leveraging Internet protocol for distribution and looking for standards-based software to replace proprietary hardware. "Standards reduce cost and allow us to focus our resources on what it is we do at PBS: high-quality content," he says. "Spending on technology is not our mission."

At NAB this year, he will be looking for applications that will help PBS manage workflow. He describes the new broadcast paradigm as a supply chain, and he wants to make the delivery of his product as efficient as possible.

Specifically, Mendes is concerned about the amount of time required to perform monitoring. "I want to automate all of the monitoring of everything and only look at the exceptions," he said. "We need to eliminate false negatives and false positives with technology so we physically look only at the cases that truly need our attention."

PBS is in the midst of installing a new operational method designed to allow stations to become more automated and use IP-based delivery. One goal, Mendes says, is to aggregate monitoring in one central location and greatly reduce the worker-hours required to perform the task.

Mendes will also be looking into content-management technology and transitioning to advanced codecs. Developments in those areas could lead directly to a better PBS approach, making it easier to handle content in the form of computer files and improving video and audio quality as well.

"We've accomplished satellite IP delivery, and we'll be looking at workflow management and asset management this year," he says. "And we want to move all systems away from MPEG2 as quickly as possible."

According to Mendes, improvements on MPEG are rare, so he will be looking for MPEG4 and Windows Media-based systems at NAB. A number of manufacturers will introduce products related to Windows, particularly the WM9 format which, like MPEG-4, offers greater efficiency in bandwidth. Codecs for MPEG-4 will be introduced by a couple of encoder manufacturers, giving WM9 some competition in that market.

"With these advanced codecs, we can save 20% to 60% of transport costs," he said.

On high-definition, Mendes says the bottleneck is not in consumer adoption or distribution systems but in the availability of high-definition content consistent with PBS's educational mission.

"We've seen an inflection point in consumer adoption and interest in HD, especially since the Super Bowl," he explains. "It's now a matter of how the material is produced and when the content providers are ready for high-definition. The sets are sold, and the systems are ready."

He will be using NAB as an opportunity to build strategic partner relationships with vendors. He has already done that with the vendors involved with PBS's move to IP-based delivery and storage, but he'll be looking to strengthen those bonds and even forge some new ones. The influx of IT technology is doing more than changing the way broadcasters operate: It's also changing the burden on vendors.

One area he depends on vendors for is digital asset management and automated archiving. "We want a viable alternative to tape and will be interested to see what is available in DVD, even in prototype or demo stage. It's something we would like to add to the self-contained pre-assembled architecture designed for local stations."

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