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“Channel Builder” Helps Digital Shift

Stations launching digital channels are getting a boost from a new product. Decisionmark, which provides program guides, scheduling software and signal-reception information to broadcasters and DBS operators, has launched Channel Builder: a “station-in-a-box” solution for broadcasters looking to use DTV multicasts to offer local content that’s separate from their primary program feed.

Marketing a server-based playout system is a departure for Decisionmark. The Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based company has focused on selling software products ProximityTV, which includes market-analysis and copyright-compliance tools, and TitanTV, which provides broadcasters and consumers with analog and digital TV listings.

In introducing Channel Builder, the company joins a growing list of vendors that have launched automation-intensive products aimed at helping stations ease into DTV multicasting.

OmniBus Systems, for example, introduced iTX, a playout system based on off-the-shelf storage that includes master control, graphics and content-management functionality, at April’s NAB show. Miranda Technologies plans to launch its own channel-in-a-box system, Xstation, at the IBC show next month.

Harris, meanwhile, has enjoyed strong sales of its Leitch Digital Turnaround Processor, which allows local graphics to be inserted into remotely encoded multicast programming, such as music channel The Tube.

Meanwhile, Decisionmark’s Channel Builder is a four-rack-unit configuration assembled from off-the-shelf computer hardware. It includes a small video server, serial digital inputs and outputs, and associated software that allows a program director to quickly create a “DTV subchannel” by blending live video, stored video, graphics and data.

CEO Jack Perry says that Decisionmark has been working on the product for the past two years, with the bulk of the work focused on automation software that allows a broadcast playlist to be created as easily as possible. “We can take any data feed a person wants to tap into, such as an RSS feed, and automate the delivery of that,” he says.

The first station to use Channel Builder is ABC-affiliate KCRG Cedar Rapids, which is owned by Decisionmark parent Gazette Communications. Its “9.2” channel is broadcast as a DTV multicast, alongside the station’s normal HDTV signal. It’s also carried on Ch. 109 by local cable operator Mediacomm.

The channel features a mix of video reports, program-guide information and graphics crawls with the latest news headlines. It also displays promos for ABC programming.

KCRG programs its digital station, 9.2, in 15-minute blocks, with nine minutes of news and weather, a 30-second radar update, and a 5½-minute feature pulled from the nightly newscasts. Dan Austin, director of programming and traffic for KCRG, says the software is easy to use: “When you decide to update something, it’s just a simple matter of dragging and dropping, or a few clicks on a menu.”

Perry doesn’t think that digital must-carry is a make or break for the kind of DTV multicast program enabled by Channel Builder. Nonetheless, he believes such hyper-local content is attractive to cable operators. Since such a DTV subchannel is transmitted at a bit rate of about 1 Mbps (megabit per second), it doesn’t detract from the quality of the primary broadcast signal, he says, and also shouldn’t represent a huge bandwidth burden for cable operators looking to add local content.

Supports Standard-Def

The Channel Builder system costs $25,000, plus an annual service fee that includes software updates (10% of the purchase price, similar to other broadcast software). It currently supports SD operation, consistent with the DTV multicast application it is designed for, although Perry says it could be upgraded in the future to output high-def content if there is customer demand.

Decisionmark has demonstrated Channel Builder to some 60 broadcasters in the past few weeks, in “markets from No. 4 to 94,” says Perry.

The system is of particular interest to stations looking to offer a local DTV channel to compete with NBC’s Weather Plus service. “If you’re the weather leader in a market,” he says, “you have to answer the challenge that Weather Plus has put out there.”