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The Final Push

Media General’s shopping list won’t be as long as usual at this year’s NAB. Still, the station group is set to spend $35 million to convert its 16 stations to full digital power. Eight will make the move this year; another eight will do so in 2006.

For Ardell Hill, Media General senior VP, broadcast operations, that means hammering out deals with Harris for transmitters, Dielectric for antennas and transmission lines, and various tower-construction crews around the country.

“We’re spending a ton of money to get those digital signals out there to viewers,” says Hill. “We’ll be committing to the contracts this year, but it will take the manufacturers two years to build it out.”

The group will continue its transition to Panasonic’s P2 solid-state–memory recording format for news acquisition. Up to a dozen of the group’s stations are expected to be up and running with the new format and tapeless news production by the end of the year. News-editing and related products from the Grass Valley Group will work alongside AP’s ENPS newsroom system, which will also handle content management.

“We’re really focused on the opportunity to further centralize things like graphics,” adds Hill. Graphics-automation tools and related products that improve graphics-centralization efforts will be on Media General’s wish list.

As stations move to digital and establish new workflow patterns, they have to rethink how they manage content, and even assess the efficiency of their physical plants.

The plus side is that the new workflows will give stations the ability to automate mundane tasks more easily. That will mean increased reliance on IT-based products.

Hill says IT-based solutions offered by traditional video-equipment manufacturers have reached sufficient “maturity” for Media General to attain its goals: “There are excellent solutions out there that can get us where we need to go.”

Consumer products deserve some of the credit for the maturation process, as simple versions of digital products have trickled up to the professional user.

But it’s a long road, and Hill still hopes to see more interoperable products at NAB. “We need to have systems that make it as easy to share video as files as to share it as composite NTSC video. It’s critical that the industry continue to respond with solutions that aren’t based on proprietary file formats,” he says. “We want to be able to generate a file in any manufacturer’s format and move it to other platforms without having to manipulate the file.”

He will also keep an eye out for HD gear. He expects to see HD cameras at competitive prices at NAB. But, he says, related gear, like editing and switching, makes generation of original HD content at all of Media General’s stations a bit difficult. One solution he sees is to install HD gear in larger markets and repurpose content to smaller stations in the chain.

“We’re conservative by nature,” he says about Media General’s approach to HD. “We’ll look at something, think about it, talk to peers across our landscape to see what they think and then make sure it fits our own needs.”

Even though Media General is conservative, it will be liberally seeking ways to get viewers to jump on board with HD. Says Hill, “We’re looking at ways to generate HD content for our stations to help drive the message to the consumer that they have HD content available other than prime time.”

Shopping List:

  • Graphics gear
  • Graphics-centralization systems
  • IT-based products
  • Media-management tools