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Carrying news of Japan

Whether it's a sumo-wrestling match or a rebroadcast of today's Good Morning Japan wake-up show, Japanese expatriates are increasingly turning to TV Japan for round-the-clock news and information.

That used to mean more work for Studio Manager Tommy Sakon, who had the thankless and often precarious job of ingesting and rebroadcasting hours of direct feeds from Japan using aging, tape-based equipment.

In response, TV Japan decided to buy digital equipment and set up shop in a newly renovated 10,000 square-foot facility located on the 15th floor of a 100-year-old office building on Broadway in Manhattan. Systems integrator IMMAD ECVS began installing equipment in November and finished on Dec. 30, one day before the job's New Year's Eve deadline. After extensive training and debugging of the systems, Sakon and the TV Japan crew moved in on March 15.

"We need to have a flexible operation over here," says Sakon. "If something happens in Japan-like a terrorist bombing-we will have a satellite news broadcast come in from NHK. We have to switch to that live broadcasting pretty quick."

TV Japan started small about nine years ago, offering only five to six hours of programming a day. That gradually increased to 23 hours a day. Several hours of news are broadcast bilingually. The English version is available to EchoStar customers as a secondary audio channel.

Sakon gets nearly 24 hours'worth of feeds daily from public broadcaster Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK). The feeds are recorded, edited to include commercials and rescheduled for American viewers. The service is available via subscription from DISH Network and 18 affiliated cable companies, mostly in New York, California and Hawaii. A seven-hour abridged version of the daily programming is delivered unscrambled to EchoStar and select cable homes.

DISH Network is the main carrier, contributing 14,000 of TV Japan's 46,000 mostly Japanese subscribers who are either permanently or temporarily living in the United States. A close second is Oceanic Cable of Honolulu, which has 12,000 subscribers.

According to Lou Coppola, senior engineering supervisor with IMMAD ECVS, the new TV Japan facility is designed to optimize the ingestion, turnaround and archiving of that material using video servers, automation and lots of backup.

Previously, TV Japan was ingesting all programming and interstitials onto tape. Now that material is recorded on one of two Pinnacle MediaStream 700 servers, where it's shuffled around to fit TV Japan's programming schedule. The other MediaStream serves as a backup. In addition, a Flexicart with four Betacam SX VTRs (Sony DNW-A75s) is used to back up the MediaStreams and to archive NHK programming for later rebroadcast.

Everything that's received and transmitted within 24 hours goes directly into the servers. Material that must be archived goes to the FlexiCart, which can also be used to play out the nearly 5,000 regular Betacam tapes from the old TV Japan library.

A traditional online editing room utilizes a Philips DD-10 production switcher, an Editware DPE-531 editor, a Sony MXPS-390 mixer and a Chyron Maxine! character generator using the Japanese message compose feature. The room has been wired so that the edit room can double as a control room for multicamera video shoots in the office area.

Currently, TV Japan does no news production, but the facility is linked using fiber-optic transmit-and-receive equipment with NHK Studios in New York so that breaking news on Wall Street can be transmitted from there.