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Equity's News Ops Look to the Sky

Although most centralcasting operations take the low road of underground fiber for program delivery, Equity Broadcasting recently signed a 10-year deal with PanAmSat that will have its centralized content delivered over the very high road of the Galaxy 10R satellite.

A centralized facility in Little Rock, Ark., sends out content to 17 of Equity's 22 stations. The group looked at how it could most effectively deliver the content and found that a central automated satellite hub (or what Equity calls CASH) was the best way. "We built one large digital master control that can handle up to 50 stations," says CEO Larry Hunter. "We can add more by adding encoders for the satellite uplink and modify the servers for master control."

He cites the cost saving realized at WPXS(TV) St. Louis as a typical situation among Equity stations linked to the centralized facility. The station has 13 people working there, saving approximately $25,000 a month in staffing costs.

"We still have the public presence of sales people, but we've taken away the hidden presence of having a 24-hour master control with three guys watching meters and inserting commercials," Hunter explains.

Investigating centralized operations, the group realized that a point-to-point LAN line wouldn't work, especially for its stations based in the West. "They can't get a signal without microwave hops, and sometimes it's a third-generation signal," Hunter says. "But, with satellite, we get content to every receive facility we want to."

The group also has a VSAT return path from the stations. It isn't full bandwidth but provides a dial tone and can allow commercials to be sent from the stations to the Little Rock facility via high-speed Internet connectivity.

As with most growing groups, one of the goals is to improve the quality of the stations' news operations. Equity has used the facility to create a news operation similar to that deployed by Sinclair. Anchors in Little Rock host the national news while reporters in different cities file local stories inserted into the national news. The program is then sent back to the station for airing. Currently, only Equity's KUTH(TV) Salt Lake City station is taking part, but, Hunter says, in six months, five more—KPOU(TV) Portland, Ore.; KKTU(TV) Cheyenne, Wyo.; KTVY-TV Las Vegas; WPXS(TV) St. Louis; and KEYU Amarillo, Texas—will be involved.

PanAmSat expects to play an increasing role in centralcasting, according to Senior Director, North America, Ron Rosenthal. "This is a model where we see tremendous opportunities, especially in light of what is going on with the FCC in terms of market penetration. Station groups are looking to do two things: cut costs and make additional bucks."