After spending the last couple of years upgrading the production and transmission facilities for HGTV and Food Network to launch high-definition simulcasts of those channels, Scripps Networks is now shifting its attention to other areas, such as better managing and monetizing of its considerable store of video assets.
At NAB this year, Scripps engineers will be checking out digital archive solutions, IP-based delivery systems, and format and standards conversion gear for distributing its assets internationally, says Mark Hale, senior VP of technology operations and chief technology officer for Scripps Networks Interactive.
While Scripps has sent as many as two dozen staffers to NAB in previous years, only about a half-dozen engineers will go to Las Vegas next month. “One of the things we've decided to do is to spread our attendance across CES, NCTA and other shows in addition to NAB,” Hale says. “We want to make sure we're staying in tune with advances across the industry with consumers and also our distribution partners, so we're spreading folks around.”
That means a more hectic pace for the Scripps team at NAB, but according to Hale, “The good news is we've narrowed our focus this year at what we'll be looking at.”
Scripps is actually in year four of a five-year media asset management plan in which it is making key assets easily searchable through a file-based system. Over the past year, Scripps has captured more than 25,000 broadcast longform assets and put them under management, along with some 25,000 shortform assets for its broadband platform.
“We own the rights to almost 90% of our content,” Hale says. “So it's very important to get the content under management and make it accessible to the business side, producers and affiliate sales, and be able to monetize it.”
The archived content is stored on a Sun StorageTek PowderHorn digital data-tape archive. The PowderHorn archive acts as nearline storage to feed Scripps' Omneon play-to-air servers as well as its various data servers for Web distribution to syndication partners like Hulu. Scripps has created a file-based system that lets the content be searched and viewed on the desktop using low-resolution proxies.
The plan for this year is to digitize some 25,000 episodes of tape-based content from Scripps' archives, partly by using an existing Odetics robotic cart machine to feed the PowderHorn system. The only hitch is the PowderHorn is nearing the end of its life. So Scripps will be evaluating large archive solutions from Sun, Sony and Spectra Logic and weighing the benefits of spinning-disk, data-tape and optical-disc storage.
Scripps has yet to launch hi-def simulcasts of DIY, Fine Living or Great American Country, so Hale will also be evaluating HD transmission gear. HGTV HD and Food Network HD are transmitted using MPEG-4 compression gear from Cisco, while Scripps' SD networks are delivered using Motorola MPEG-2 equipment. Like other programmers, Hale is considering moving to a single HD feed for each Scripps network and using satellite receivers with Active Format Descriptor (AFD) technology to provide distribution partners with a standard-def output.
Hale is also evaluating accelerated IP delivery technology from Aspera and others, to better manage the flow of content between Scripps studios in New York and Nashville, and its technical headquarters in Knoxville.