Meredith: Readying Its Hubs

Meredith Broadcasting Group, which owns 12 stations, is currently shopping for the necessary pieces of two new technical hubs that the station group aims to create in Atlanta and Phoenix. The hubbing project, which is scheduled to be completed by early 2010, is being spearheaded by VP of Technology Larry Oaks, who joined Meredith in November after serving as director of engineering-special projects for LIN TV Corp.

The first phase of the project, scheduled to be completed by midsummer, will consolidate master control, traffic, research and business-office functions for WSMV Nashville, WHNS Greenville, S.C., and WGCL Atlanta to a hub in Georgia's capital city. After that's completed, a second hub will be created at KPHO Phoenix that may incorporate Meredith stations in Portland and Las Vegas.

Joseph Snelson, VP and director of engineering for Meredith, says the group hopes to have a lot of that equipment identified by NAB, but will likely still be looking for a few pieces in Las Vegas. While groups like Media General have hubbed traffic functions in central locations but kept physical master controls at each station, Meredith is looking at more of a full-blown central-casting approach to its hubs.

“The model we're looking at is more of centralized distribution, where the assets will be at the hub as opposed to just centralized control,” Snelson says.

New gear that Meredith is evaluating includes video servers; most of its stations have servers that are eight or nine years old. Meredith will also be looking at automation software; it currently uses Harris' ADC system, which could potentially be redeployed in the new hubs.

Snelson expects that Meredith's existing WideOrbit traffic software will also be able to seamlessly adapt to the hub model, though he would like to see the WideOrbit software fully implement support for the BXF (Broadcast Exchange Format) data-exchange and messaging standard that lets traffic systems communicate directly with automation software. Snelson has been involved with the development of BXF for years, and was part of the original SMPTE working group behind the standard.

“Before BXF, everybody was doing proprietary things that didn't work too well,” he notes. “BXF reduces a lot of this to a common denominator where traffic and automation systems can talk to each other, and ultimately approach the model of instantaneous changes or close to it. Likewise, the automation system can report back to traffic if there is an issue. It opens up a whole two-way street.”

Meredith is currently producing HD news at its stations in Atlanta, Phoenix, Nashville and Kansas City, but isn't yet doing hi-def acquisition or live shots, just HD pictures from the studio. The group uses Panasonic P2 camcorders and Avid NewsCutter editors at most stations. Snelson says he is particularly interested in Panasonic's new AG-HPX300 P2 HD camcorder, which has 10-bit, 4:2:2 image processing and a suggested list price of $10,700. “That's an impressive little camera,” he says.

With the analog turnoff approaching in June, Meredith is looking at upgrading and/or building redundancy into its DTV transmission chain at its stations. Snelson will be evaluating encoders, multiplexers and studio-to-transmitter links at NAB.

“Like most broadcasters, we're really turning our eye to the backup facilities that we were typically used to with analog, such as hot standby microwave links,” he says. “We've been upgrading those slowly on the digital front. When we built our digital infrastructure, it was a single thread. But now that analog is going away, we want to make sure the digital stream is protected, with backup encoders and backup multiplexers.”