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Buying in a down market

Bud Harrison, vice president of engineering for New York-based Granite Broadcasting Group, sees this year's NAB as an opportunity to make sound decisions and plans. After a year of DTV and with capital-expenditure pressures resulting from a down advertising market, this is a year to look for what will improve on-air quality at a reasonable cost.

"Broadcast television will come back, but we don't know when, and it may come back to something less than it was before," he says. "We're seeing increased competition from other mediums, and we will have to find ways to maintain the core assets of the broadcast medium—quality, uniqueness and locality of the product—on less money."

That makes this a time to make smart decisions rather than speeding toward hastily set goals. "We will be working hard at NAB, but it's a different kind of struggle," says Harrison. "This is a year to catch our breath and think."

Even so, specific needs have to be addressed, and he will be looking for particular technological advances. "There are some logical next steps we can take on budget and in tune with our changing financial reality."

Those steps include parts to plug into the group's DTV strategy, supporting on-air presentation with commercial/program servers, networked technology for the newsroom as well as exploiting digital connectivity. "We need to keep moving and accomplish what we can right now," he adds.

For example, he likes much of the technology available based on the DV format, but he is sensitive to the concerns of the professionals using the equipment. "We are keeping track of DV so we can move if and when it hits a critical mass of professional acceptance."

Other specific technology purchases will be left to the individual stations. "Switchers, graphics and cameras are purchased on a station-by-station basis," he says, "but, if we can get double duty out of something, we will."

Aside from those specific areas, however, the current technology landscape demands that he spend most of his energy on planning. After several years when the DTV build-out defined needs and plans, the road ahead is less certain and will take careful consideration, according to Harrison: "It's wide open right now, and we'll be looking to set plans so we can buy smart when the time comes."

That time could come as soon as this year, and he will spend the show looking hard at specific areas for growth that he will be able to implement as soon as possible, with a focus on what can be accomplished in the next three years.

One of the most important areas for consideration will be centralcasting. He has heard the buzz and will spend a significant amount of time at NAB looking into solutions that will work on current architecture. While the group has no immediate plans for a move to centralizing content, Harrison says, "it's something we have to look at and determine if it is a practical as well as financially sound alternative. A number of groups have looked at it, but, to date, the results have been mixed and somewhat inconsistent."

That planning would be advanced by cross-platform transportability of media and metadata among different types of servers across the network fabric. Last year at this time, Harrison was looking to tackle the same issue, and he said one of the problems was that vendors were afraid of commoditizing their servers. A year later, he is still looking for flexibility that will allow for servers from different manufacturers to work more closely.

New technology, new trends and matching plans to a moving target of a budget will keep Harrison on his toes this year. In maybe the only holdover from years past, NAB will be the place where those trends and plans come together.