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Streaming Snowplows Circle Detroit - Broadcasting & Cable

Streaming Snowplows Circle Detroit

WDIV uses Streambox software to pull live storm video
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WDIV

Detroit has been a
pioneer in using Streambox's software-based encoder for IP-based newsgathering
in both the Detroit
area and internationally. The station relies on it instead of traditional
microwave and satellite links to backhaul coverage for both TV newscasts and
its Website. The NBC affiliate, owned by Post-Newsweek, has used Streambox to
cover everything from a local long-distance yacht race to the aftermath of
January's massive earthquake in Haiti,
combining it with both wireless EVDO data cards and BGAN broadband satellite
transmitters.

This winter, WDIV took its use
of the Streambox system one step further in an effort to improve its local
severe-weather coverage. The station reached a deal with Michigan roadway authorities to place
video-capable 3G smartphones loaded with Streambox software in 25 plow trucks.

"On big weather days, the
question is always, ‘How do we show people what the conditions on the road are
and what's going on?'" says WDIV News Operations Manager Jeff Liebman. "Then we
had an idea: Why don't we show people what the inside of the county snowplows
are looking at? They're traveling on the roads themselves, and you've got to
figure they're pretty safe."

The Sprint Samsung Moment
smartphones, which are affixed to the windshield of the trucks using a
suction-cup mount and are powered by the vehicles' cigarette lighter, can begin
streaming video back to the station with the push of a button. Drivers
volunteer to carry the phones, and the audio is muted. The road authorities
don't get paid for carrying the phones, but instead receive an on-air mention
during WDIV's newscasts.

According to Liebman, the
Sprint 3G service, which costs around $44 a month per phone, delivers a
throughput of about 250 to 300 kilobits per second. He adds that the image
quality from the phones' 2-megapixel cameras is pretty good when transmitted
using Streambox's proprietary ACT-L3 compression scheme.

The system has proved
successful but has been used sparingly, as Detroit has only had a few significant snow
events this season. But the two times WDIV ran live snowplow video on its
Website, it was one of the three most popular streams for the day. "It must
have struck a chord with some people," Liebman says.

The Sprint phones placed in
the plow trucks were loaded with Streambox Live software, which became
available late last fall. Streambox Live represents a new business model for
the Seattle-based company, which counts CNN and Fox News Channel as major
customers but has sold its technology to fewer than 150 local stations,
including Fox, Belo, Hearst and LIN outlets.

Stations have generally bought
expensive Streambox software licenses (about $3,000 each) for their laptops and
used corresponding rack-mounted hardware decoders, which run about $8,000, to
decompress the IP-delivered streams at the station and feed them to
conventional broadcast equipment. But Streambox Live is designed to be a
managed service in which Streambox only charges for the video that stations
use.

Streambox Live's encoder,
which can run on PCs, laptops or smartphones, is free. Video compressed with it
is sent securely to a Streambox server at one of the company's data centers,
along with a digital rights-management (DRM) tag that identifies both the
producer of the video and its destination. Each stream is also auto-archived
for on-demand access. The end-user, such as a station, can then use the DRM tag
to select a live video stream to be routed to its Website (taking the feed live
to air still requires a Streambox decoder or some other type of scan
conversion).

Streambox Live's DRM system
allows a broadcaster to pull live streaming video from multiple sources and
also lets a professional journalist-or an everyday viewer-contribute video to
multiple stations or networks.

"It's a many-to-many type of
system," says Streambox CEO and co-founder Bob Hildeman. "Stations can view
what's being sent in, and bring in what they want. It's designed to allow
broadcasters to deploy an unlimited number of software clients."

Hildeman says that streaming
video through Streambox Live costs 50 cents a minute without a contract, and
can go as low as 5 cents a minute with a contract. The service is available for
Windows Mobile-capable smartphones, and Streambox is beta-testing a Streambox
Live app for Apple's iPhone that should be ready by NAB. Hildeman expects the
iPhone app to be popular with the large number of stations that have already
created their own apps for the iPhone, both as a way to get breaking news from
journalists in the field and as a source of user-generated video.

Streambox is also working to
improve the speed of its core service for stations like WDIV that use laptops
with 3G wireless data USB cards in the field to backhaul live video. That will
allow them to either deliver less-compressed video or use more forward-error
correction to avoid compression artifacts.

Using a Mac laptop, Streambox has developed a way to "bond" two
3G aircards to improve throughput, much as early users of the BGAN broadband
satellite system like CNN figured out how to bond two BGAN modems. By combining
cards from different cellular providers, such as AT&T and Verizon, the
bonding scheme can achieve a throughput of more than 1 megabit per second with
a latency of only 2 to 3 seconds. Streambox also plans to demonstrate a
companion hardware device at NAB that can bond four 3G cards.

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