NAB 2012: An EyeOut for Efficiencies

An improved economy is encouraging broadcasters and programmers to bring longer shopping lists to this year’s National Association of Broadcasting Show, which runs April 14-19 in Las Vegas. But interviews with a selection of technologists and engineers who oversee more than 45 broadcast and cable channels in the U.S. indicate that many of their investments will be designed to streamline their operations, reduce costs or make it possible to deliver more content to more devices on much tighter budgets.

That has made automation, channel in a box solutions, media asset management systems, less costly IT infrastructure, technologies using open systems or standards and software that can streamline workflows the most highprofile needs.

But not everybody is feeling the squeeze; a number of companies, notably NBC and ESPN, are also reporting plans to build major new facilities, and others will be taking a close look at some next-generation technologies, such as 4K cameras that deliver much higher resolution than the current HD standard.

Most companies report that they will be bringing a similar amount of people to the NAB show this year compared to 2011, though NBCU will hit the Strip with a much leaner contingent.

Fox: Integration, Ingest and IT

Improved file-based workflows, a more streamlined ingest system and next-generation master controls are among the major technologies engineers at Fox Networks will be closely examining during this year’s NAB, reports Jim Hopkins, senior VP at Fox Networks Engineering and Operations.

“We have made a lot of progress with fi lebased workflows,” Hopkins explains. “But we still have islands of file-based workflows that we want to tie together from a media asset management point of view, and also from a content sharing point of view, so that the media can be more efficiently shared across multiple platforms and multiple facilities.”

Another major focus for Hopkins and his team will be the creation of a common ingest system. “We want to bring in content and record it once and make it available for distribution in multiple formats, rather than recording and storing it multiple times,” he adds.

Beyond that, Fox is also looking at building what Hopkins is calling “non-traditional master controls” at its network facility that would rely more heavily on IT technologies.

“We feel like traditional master controls are expensive, not very flexible and they aren’t meeting the new workflow needs of newer media,” he says. “So we want to build something that is really powerful from a production point of view, yet easy to use and configurable so we can better manage our resources.”

NBCUniversal: Looking for Scale

After creating a much more standardized infrastructure for its network and cable properties in recent years, NBCUniversal will be focusing on technologies to further integrate those operations and on solutions that can cost-effectively expand the amount of content they deliver, says Ian Trombley, general manager, East Coast television and on-air operations at NBCUniversal.

“I’m faced with exponential growth in linear, non-traditional, multichannel and multiplatform distribution but I can’t increase my costs along with the amount of growth in the volume of content,” Trombley says.

To help address that issue, Trombley will be paying particularly close attention to channel in the box solutions. “We don’t see it as a silver bullet or think that one size fits all, but we think it is a very interesting development for the multichannel playback environment,” he says.

NBCU execs also note that their teams are interested in control room automation systems, systems for multiplatform distribution and technologies using open systems and standards, such as FIMS (the Framework for Interoperability of Media Services) that simplify the process of integrating different products.

“We spend a lot of time, engineering resources and money integrating systems, and that needs to get a lot easier,” says Jeff Mayzurk, general manager, West Coast technical operations, operations and technical services, NBCUniversal. This is particularly important because they will be “focusing more on software than hardware at this year’s NAB,” he says.

One major project that will be top of mind for the NBCU teams at NAB is the construction of a new broadcast center on the Universal lot that is scheduled to go live in 2013. “We are trying to design true state-of-the-art facilities that do a better job of integrating IT and IP networks into the broadcast facility,” notes Mayzurk.

Both Trombley and Mayzurk praise vendors for moving to more open systems. “There is a lot of focus on next-generation tools that will help us further integrate the workflow capabilities we need,” Mayzurk says.

PBS: Automating for Quality

As public broadcasters continue to struggle with tight budgets, PBS’ contingent at NAB this year will be paying particularly close attention to technologies that allow them “to squeeze every bit of efficiency we can out of our operations,” reports John McCoskey, chief technology officer at PBS.

These include: systems for better automating quality control, service-oriented architectures, FIMS implementations that would simplify the complex process of integrating multiple vendors, and technologies for expanding PBS’ ongoing shift to an IP-based infrastructure.

PBS will also be involved in a number of demonstrations. During the PBS Technology Conference in Las Vegas just before NAB, PBS will introduce its WARN Act implementation and its Next Generation Interconnection System (NGIC) for file-based distribution of content. Then at NAB, PBS will demonstrate how mobile DTV signals broadcast from the Vegas PBS station can deliver emergency alerts.

Beyond that, McCoskey will be looking at 4K cameras and displays and talking to PBS stations about some of the technologies the local stations might use to centralize their master control operations.

The public broadcaster is also in the middle of a major upgrade of its operations building, which should be completed in 2013. “We believe it will take us to the next level of quality of service to our stations,” McCoskey notes.

ESPN: Eyes Wide Open

ESPN teams at NAB will have “eyes wide open” for developments in a number of newer technologies this year, says Chuck Pagano, executive vice president of technology at ESPN.

At the top of his list will be solutions to take “IP transport in production deeper and deeper into our infrastructure,” as part of a strategy of going to an “all IP fabric,” Pagano adds.

The ESPN crew will also be talking to vendors about next-generation solutions for a new 195,000 square-foot digital center that is expected to go live in 2014. “We’re starting to challenge our vendors to come up with the new solutions we need,” Pagano notes.

Also important during this year’s NAB will be solutions for cross-platform delivery, automated production control room solutions, virtual technologies, next-generation master control rooms, transcoding technologies, simplified editing systems, playback solutions that have a smaller footprint and voice recognition systems for closed-captioning and meta data, Pagano says.

And ESPN is paying close attention to 4K technologies even though displays capable of rendering 4K images will not be widely available for several years. “Our sports fans are voracious adopters of new technology, so we are starting to play around with 4K in the same way we spent some time playing around with 3D early on,” Pagano says.

Discovery: Still in Launch Mode

As Discovery Commnications continues to launch new services, particularly in international markets, the programmer is looking for technologies to make that process much less costly and more efficient, notes Glenn Oakley, Discovery executive VP, media technology, production and operations.

“We had 17 launches of new feeds outside the U.S. last year and I expect to have over 20 new launches this year,” Oakley says. “We have nearly doubled the number of channels around the world in the last four or five years.”

But as Discovery continues to localize its services and expand into new markets, the programmer is increasingly looking at channel in a box and other solutions to reduce costs. “Localization opens up the opportunity of local insertion ads, but it also means that each channel has to be cheaper and operate more efficiently than the last one because the revenue opportunities get smaller and smaller,” Oakley notes.

As part of its international expansion, Discovery is also launching more HD feeds, which will require some hi-def upgrades to its infrastructure.

And the Discovery team at NAB will be eying technologies to expand and speed up its global file-based delivery of content and to more closely tie together its global operations, Oakley says.

Another major focus will be solutions for streamlining and speeding up the delivery of content to multiple devices, he adds.

“I give vendors the same speech I give my own people,” Oakley says. “We are expanding and growing into new markets, but each market and channel is smaller. That means we have had to run more efficient operations, and we are challenging our vendors to understand that dynamic and deliver lower-cost solutions.”

Scripps: 360-Degree Technologies

As Scripps delivers more content to more devices and expands both its syndicated and international offerings, the programmer is looking for technologies that can support the company’s “strategy of 360-degree exploitation of [our] content,” says Mark Hale, executive VP, operations and CTO, Scripps Networks Interactive.

As part of that effort, Hale says Scripps will eye new technologies to help contain costs and replace aging systems with solutions that can “scale to meet the much more dynamic business environment.”

Specific technologies Hale and his team are keeping in mind include: innovative solutions for automated workflow solutions; 3D production technologies; new file-based encoding and transcoding systems; better file-based workflows; cloud-based solutions; intelligent monitoring systems; closed-captioning systems for online delivery; advertising sales management systems; and more robust digital rights and asset management solutions.

“Our deals are getting more complex as we exploit media in all these different areas,” Hale says. “I can see entirely revamping our media workflow solution in the next 12-24 months with the new affiliate deals that are being struck.”

The Weather Channel: Looking for a Better MAM

After completing work on a new Content Creation Center late last year, Weather Channel is now eying a major upgrade to its media asset management (MAM) system that it hopes to implement over the next 18 months, says Nathan Smith, VP of broadcast operations.

Rather than implementing a number of different systems for better managing its media assets, Smith says Weather Channel is looking for a single system to handle as much as possible. “We want to take a holistic approach rather than just replacing a piece here and a piece there,” he says. “I’ll be looking for something that will give me 80% of what I need in one package.”

Also at NAB, Smith will be on the lookout for solutions to simplify the process of bringing in content from the field, technology for speedier processing of user-generated content and systems for handling the closed-captioning of content delivered to online and other digital platforms.