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At NAB, Seeking Efficiencies and Upgrades Is Good Gamble

Complete Coverage: NAB Show 2013

Judging by the comments of top engineers at many of the country’s largest programming groups, the 2013 NAB show in Las Vegas April 6-11 will be busy, with a number of networks working on major upgrades or new facilities and many channels flush with cash from last year’s strong ad market.

In addition to some major new facilities being built at Fox and ESPN, many channels are also looking for ways to save money in their operations with technologies to streamline operations, simplify the process of delivering more content to multiple devices and deploy new media asset management systems that might make it easier for them to manage how they use, monetize and distribute their content.

Although Ultra HD or 4K broadcasts are probably years away from reaching most homes, many top engineers also report that they’ll be taking a close look at the next generation of video imaging and production.

Here’s a cross section of what nine top technologists at a number of networks and major channel groups say will be high on their priorities lists both at NAB and through the rest of the year.

Fox: In Search of Start-Ups

With at least two new channels scheduled to launch this year, Fox’s tech teams will be scouring the halls of NAB for equipment and technologies for the new Fox Sports 1 and an entertainment channel, reports Richard Friedel, executive VP and general manager of Fox Networks engineering and operations.

“We are looking at all kinds of things—master control, automation, studio equipment—for those launches,” he says.

To handle playout, they are exploring channel-in-the-box solutions. “That seems to be where the marketing is going,” Friedel says. “We have deployed channel-in-the-box solutions for smaller channels and for DR [disaster recovery] solutions in the past and have had good success with them.”

While they expect to make a decision on a new media asset management system for FS1 prior to NAB, Fox is also looking for a wide range of solutions for both traditional and broadband distribution of their product. “FS1 will have an authenticated TV Everywhere stream and we are looking for streaming, authentication and TV Everywhere-type technologies,” he says. While Friedel doesn’t see any immediate move to 4K broadcasts, he notes that Fox Sports is already using 4K equipment for replays in sports and will continue to look for improvements in 4K cameras and equipment.

The company also is replacing old equipment at the network center built in the 1990s and as part of that process is looking for such products as servers and monitoring equipment.

NBCU: Moving to Open Systems

The programmer’s engineering teams will be heading to Las Vegas with plans to look at a long list of technologies for both multichannel operations and multiplatform delivery.

On the multichannel side, these include new automation technologies, software as a service, streaming encoders, cost effective production and control room tools and the “migration to an end-to-end IP-based solutions,” says NBCUniversal senior VP of engineering Keith Jackson. “The trend to IP as an industry has a long way to go, but I’m encouraged by seeing a lot of migration to IP upstream in editing and media preparation. It will be interesting to see how IP is getting incorporated into routing, encoding and transmission systems at NAB.”

Regarding multiplatform, they will be looking for technologies to simplify the process of distributing the content and streamlining workflows and developments in transcoding and file-based standards. There’s a growing interest in supplying live streams of channels, and Jackson plans to explore systems for delivering those feeds.

Most importantly, he will also be taking a close look at the move to standards and open systems. “The challenge we’ve always faced is interoperability across vendors and platforms,” he says. “There has been a great momentum to solve that but I’d like to see that accelerate.”

ESPN: Expanding Digital Production

Technologies for ESPN’s Digital Center 2, which will have nearly 200,000 square feet of space and is scheduled to start going online in the first half of 2014, will be top of mind for the company’s CTO Chuck Pagano and his crew at this year’s NAB.

“We’ll be looking for new cameras, new sets and a whole new infrastructure,” Pagano says.

Like ESPN’s first Digital Center, which broke new ground in HD technologies when it opened in 2004, Pagano is pushing his engineers to build a cutting edge infrastructure for Digital Center 2.

One key effort will be to make the facility as future- proof as possible and “be as format agnostic as we can” so the arrival of new formats and technologies won’t require major upgrades of its “cardio-pulmonary infrastructure,” Pagano says.

To help prepare for new video formats, ESPN will be taking a close look at Ultra HD or 4K technologies. “We have been playing with native 4K but it is still very early,” Pagano says. “Right now, it is truly a science project.”

In addition, Pagano says they’ll also be taking a close look at OLED video monitors for production, network technologies for reducing bandwidth, new compression schemes such as high efficiency video coding (HEVC), communications gear and Audio Video Bridging (AVC) technologies.

Telemundo: Seeking Signal Quality and Workflows

Equipment that can provide the best possible signal quality and streamline workflows by tying together editing, production and other infrastructure into media asset management systems and archives will be first priority in Las Vegas for Telemundo engineers, reports Steve Kaplan, VP of operations at the Hispanic broadcaster.

They will also be taking a close look at tools for bringing realtime integration between social media and their broadcasts and technologies that could streamline content creation.

“On top of our news, entertainment and sports, we produce primetime novelas and we are always interested in technologies that can make them look as good as possible,” Kaplan says.

PBS: A Busy Two Weeks in Vegas

In addition to NAB 2013, PBS engineers will be attending the PBS Technology Conference between April 3-5 in Las Vegas, where they will also be meeting with a number of vendors and public stations to discuss a wide range of technology issues.

For the network, PBS CTO John McCoskey reports that “technologies for doing more without spending more,” are top priorities.

He and his team will therefore be taking a close look at automation tools, solutions for streamlining file-based workflows and technologies for doing quality checks in a more automated fashion as it delivers more content to more platforms. “It isn’t just for broadcast, it’s for Netflix, Hulu, online and other places where we are distributing versions,” he says.

The network will also be taking a close look at archiving tools, IT infrastructures that might reduce costs and Ultra HD.

During the PBS TechCon, some of the key topics for stations will include centralizing master control, the application of cloud-based technologies, the implementation of the nonreal- time delivery of content to stations and production gear.

PBS is also an active member of the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) and the Future of Broadcast Television (FOBTV) initiative, both of which are trying to create a more harmonized broadcast TV standard.

“We are a founding member of FOBTV,” Mc- Coskey says. “I don’t want to say that creating a worldwide standard isn’t a big challenge. But I’m very encouraged by the involvement of top broadcasters and TV engineering organizations from all around the world.”

As part of those efforts to improve digital TV technologies, McCoskey and his team will also be actively discussing new emergency alert systems and captioning systems.

Discovery: Very Broad-Minded

Unlike in recent years, when Discovery’s engineers arrived at NAB focusing on only a few technologies, the programmer’s list this year will be a lengthy one.

“It is surprising the breadth of the projects we’re undertaking,” says Glenn Oakley, executive VP of media technology, production and operations at Discovery Communications. “It isn’t just the volume but the fact that we are involved in so many different applications of technologies.”

These include efforts to streamline file-based workflows, digital program delivery, the creation of a single file format for all their operations, Ultra HD and 4K technologies, tools to better integrate social media into their feeds, second-screen applications, channel-in-the-box solutions for new international networks and upgrades to their ever-growing international operations.

Oakley hopes to move to a global file format in the second half of the year. “It is an important initiative for cost saving and efficiency,” he says. “We are looking to vendors to make it a reality later this year.”

In terms of 4K, Oakley says they will be looking at both production equipment and technologies for handling, distributing and transmitting the high-resolution feeds. “We are looking to see the next generation in those areas,” he says. “Ultra HD and 4K is on the horizon for us.”

Scripps: Next-Gen Broadcast Tech

Programmers’ primary broadcast facilities are now over 10 years old, and Scripps will be looking for new systems to replace them in the coming years.

“Finding the next generation for new broadcast and playout systems with be the big focus for our time at NAB,” says Mark Hale, executive VP of operations and chief technology officer at Scripps Networks.

As part of that effort, John Ajamie, senior VP of broadcast operations and engineering at the company, adds that they are exploring new playback and server systems, next generation automation systems and channel-ina- box or integrated playout solutions.

While they aren’t close to a decision yet, Hale says that they would like to develop a system to tie together post production, graphics, broadband distribution and onair workflows in a way that would make their operations much more efficient.

“Another highlight is that we are looking for a next generation media asset management system,” to replace the current system that is nearly eight years old, says Hale.

Low-cost production technologies for digital platforms, inexpensive channel-in-the-box solutions for their international expansion and a new graphics storage system are also on the list.

During the market, Hale also expects to spend time with a number of their third-party vendors, including SES for additional transponder space and companies such as Sony for systems to streamline workflows.

Weather Channel: Transmission, Storage and MAM on Radar

“We have a massive amount of things on our radar at NAB, both on the core broadcast and transmission side as well as on the entire digital content management and distribution side,” says Bryson Koehler, CIO and executive VP, The Weather Company. “We are looking to really invest to take both our TV networks as well as digital into the future.”

As part of that effort, the company is planning ma jor upgrades to its transmission, storage and media asset management (MAM) systems that it hopes to have in place by the end of the year.

On the transmission side, the upgrades will help them better localize their contend and distribute it more effectively and is part of a larger move to an IP infrastructure that Koehler hopes to achieve in the next two years.

Overall, “the goal is to create a one holistic digital media capability that will power everything you see on TV as well as digital or mobile applications,” he says.

Koehler says he plans to spend time at NAB talking to Sony about its Media Backbone Conductor product; Harmonic about a variety of storage applications; CDNs like Akamai; cloud technology providers like Verizon; and Dalet and Avid about MAM.

Golf Channel: Teeing Up Archive Upgrades

Having completed the launch of a major new studio in early March, tech teams at the Golf Channel are now busy working on a major upgrade to their newsroom—so busy, in fact, that they won’t actually be at NAB for the first time in many years.

Instead, they’ve been meeting with vendors in their facility for a shopping list that highlights major topics many programmers and broadcasters will be closely examining at this year’s show—streamlining work"ows and the challenge of upgrading archives so they can better monetize their content.

The major improvement to its newsroom, which went into operation at the end of March, was part of an ongoing effort to significantly improve workflow efficiencies and speed up the way they can deliver content, notes Dan Overleese, VP of network operations at the channel. “We expanded the technology so that any editor can sit down and look at the entire work"ow to push and pull content,” he says.

Next up in “the continued development of file-based workflows,” Overleese says, is a major upgrade for their archive system. Golf is currently in the process of digitizing some 13,000 tapes and has decided to use the new Sony Optical Disk Archive solution for storage. “We will be the first to use it,” he says.

The Sony system won’t be available for installation until the summer, but the folks at Golf are already using IPV’s Curator Production Asset Management, which handles metadata and material from Avid systems, Dixon Sports Computing’s sports logger, Front Porch Digital’s DIVArchive as well as the existing library system. This is already giving the channel faster access to its archives and has allowed the launch of apps and other products that rely heavily on the material.

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