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Emmis shares hub

It's share and share alike at Emmis Communications. The company recently put the finishing touches on a new centralcasting hub at WKCF(TV) Orlando, Fla., which will send broadcast streams via DS3 cable to four Emmis stations: WKCF, WVUE(TV) New Orleans, WALA-TV Mobile, Ala., and WFTX(TV) Fort Myers, Fla.

Florical automation and Grass Valley Group Profile servers and two MAN systems are the backbone of the facility; Tandberg's TSM system manager helps get files ready for transfer. Emmis Director of Operations Joe Addalia says the company has gone through the learning curve and, with the addition of WALA-TV two weeks ago, is handling master control for the three Fox affiliates and one WB.

One aspect of the facility may represent a trend in broadcast-station rebuilds. WALA recently moved into a new facility, and "I would have to guess that it may be the first ground-up television station without a master control," Addalia says. "There is a dedicated space for it because you never know what will happen down the road, but their master control is a bunch of equipment supplied for centralcasting, meaning encoders and decoders."

There is a backup server that can be controlled from the hub or locally and a basic 16x1 switcher, but there is no master-control room with satellite equipment.

"We do maintain network downlinks," he says, "but they're strictly backup."

The capital cost saving comes in around $1 million, with even more saving because there is no design and prep.

Florical's AirBoss device servers are located at the regional stations to control the Grass Valley servers, two VTRs and a router. The system moves the files between the hub and spokes, and Florical's Time Zone software allows a hub in the EST zone to control two stations in Central.

Three people work at the hub at all times, making sure things go smoothly. Addalia notes that one of the myths of automation is that it allows a reduction in staff. It doesn't, he says, adding that it does allow the workload to be shifted to as much as a day prior to broadcast. "It really doesn't reduce the man-hours. It allows you to do more and have a better on-air look with more accuracy."

Redundancy is always an issue with centralcasting, and Addalia tackles it from two fronts: the server side and the transport side.

"Our goal is to have two copies of everything separated onto two MAN systems," he says. "We'll have the Florical system be responsible for making the two copies, and the MAN will make it available for air. And that allows us to have the level of redundancy we require."

The other redundancy concern is the reliance on DS3.

"Emmis was very concerned about system redundancy so they had a fairly good DS3 cable infrastructure between their hub and spokes," says Florical Chief Technology Officer Mark Bishop. "So what we set up offers four to six hours of protection that is sent down the spokes in case one of those cables goes down and they have a problem with one of the links."

According to Addalia, the DS3 reliability has been fairly good, and there haven't been any true DS3 failures. "Also, the bandwidth of the DS3 allows us to put anything down the bandwidth and manage it ourselves, and that's a big plus. Other lower-bandwidth or on-demand systems don't have the flexibility there."

Despite the praise for DS3, he does have one more wish for connectivity: Make it cheaper. "We do hope and expect that there will be some relief on the local loop charges. We really feel they're out of order."

Those charges are the doing of BellSouth and Sprint. "They really sock it to us," says Addalia in seeming disbelief. The cost of the local loop connections to the four stations, a distance of about seven miles, is equal to that paid for the long-haul 1,000 miles of connectivity between Orlando and the local markets.