It's all about content at CNN

Traditionally, there's been a clear dividing line at NAB between traditional broadcast technologies and emerging technologies in interactive television and streaming media, with companies divided between the Las Vegas Convention Center and the Sands. And many broadcast facilities have reflected that division. But Gordon Castle, CNN's senior vice president of strategic digital systems, hopes to see the lines between traditional and new companies begin to blur.

"We hope to see those lines go away with MPEG equipment, so I can take clips from a Grass Valley to a Sony to a Pinnacle to a Leitch and back to my DVD authoring equipment," he says.

Castle says he's hoping to see developments in the Long group of pictures (Long GOP) MPEG format. Long GOP MPEG groups 15 frames at a time and at 15 Mbps offers the same quality of production as I-Frame only, which handles just one frame at a time at 50 Mbps.

Regarding products, Castle will be looking at servers, editing systems, processing equipment and distribution equipment that use native Long GOP MPEG. He's planning to look at "all the normal candidates"-Sony, Avid Leitch, Pinnacle and Grass Valley, as well as a variety of companies from nontraditional broadcast areas, such as DVD authoring.

Continuing a major move to digital media asset management, CNN's focus at NAB will be on content-content creation, content management and manipulation of content over multiple platforms. CNN is creating material for a variety of platforms, from traditional video to interactive material for use across a variety of platforms, including broadcast and interactive television, the Web and emerging wireless applications.

"We've got a technical plan in place that aims at making content more accessible across our enterprise," Castle says. "We've been moving toward the replacement of videotape and analog production to using compressed digital video and moving around files. We want to change the way we ship material around the world."

In that vein, Castle is also hoping to see new initiatives in MPEG 4 technology. "There are so many companies that are so new that they will not make announcements until NAB," he says. Castle adds that MPEG-4 allows for more efficient production because it's able to handle multiple streams within one compression format. "That simplifies our video-streaming efforts," Castle says. "We don't expect to go out and buy a lot of MPEG equipment, but we expect to see progress in this area."

The news network will be looking to add large-capacity video and data-server systems to suit its evolving business model. Castle says he expects traditional broadcast vendors, such as Sony, Leitch and Pinnacle, to offer more data capabilities and take advantage of general computing like support for high-speed Ethernet connections for fast transfer of video material.

"It's not just a movement to 601; it's a movement to data-based production using video compression and video files in place of tape-based production," Castle says.

Castle also hopes to find more convergence around developing industry standards, including MXF. MXF is the Media Exchange format that makes use of Extensible Markup Language and is being developed within the Pro-MPEG Forum and AAF (Advanced Authoring Format) Association. The hope among proponents of the format is that it will allow for the seamless exchange of program material between file servers and digital archives.

With one of the largest field gathering operations in the broadcast world, CNN will be looking at new equipment that will allow it to do greater degrees of production in the field.

"CNN is endeavoring to be more agile and flexible in the field and is looking for more field equipment that's smaller, lighter, more able," Castle says. "We're looking for software for a general laptop that allows us to edit and process video, and we're looking for simple and flexible ways to connect these laptop computing systems to cameras and transmission equipment."