Automating DirecTV

DirecTV's Los Angeles Broadcast Center recently installed Columbine JDS' D-MAS 8000 multichannel automation system to handle automation demands of more than 500 DirecTV channels.

According to Joe French, vice president of Columbine JDS's DAL division, work on the system began in 1998 and has been a focus of the division's attention since then. "One of the major challenges was that what we had originally contracted for in terms of number of channels actually doubled," he explains. "And to continue to expand the requirements and meet the on-air date was a difficult task."

Five CJDS Los Angeles staffers are on-site full time, French says, and a program-management group and a development unit are dedicated to the project.

The system will control video servers from Pinnacle Systems and archiving systems from StorageTek and Avalon via a Pro-Bel routing system. French says working with video servers provides its own set of challenges. "When something goes wrong with a tape machine, you go over and kick it and can see what's wrong with it. The level of complexity with video servers is very high."

DirecTV operators typically control 30 to 40 channels of programming, depending on the number of interstitials a channel may have. An over-monitor display makes it simple for operators to tell if there's a problem with a channel. "It's a very heads-up automation system, where the operator doesn't have to look down to check schedules," French says.

The A8000 multichannel automation system is based on a "podless" architecture that allows any operator to control as many as 1,000 channels from any location. "That sort of virtual environment," French says, gives DirecTV unlimited flexibility in how to run and grow the system.