Perfecting centralcasting

When Joe Addalia, director of engineering of centralcasting at Emmis, takes the floor at NAB, he'll rely on his experience in bringing three stations to centralcasting this year, with a fourth going online this month, to help point him around the show.

"We've got full play-out from the hub and backup systems in place at the stations in case of emergencies," he says. "We've learned the dos and don'ts."

Addalia will be looking for specific technology to round out the centralcasting operations, and he'll be focusing on eight areas, many of which he finds are specific challenges that arise from the implementation of centralcasting.

Like any group involved in centralcasting, Emmis faces the last-mile dilemma. One possible solution? Microwave links. "You can spend as much money on the last-mile link as you can getting from the hub to the local telco POP," Addalia explains. "The telecom companies are pushing fiber, but we'll be looking at 45-Mb microwave at NAB."

Another big issue in centralcasting is control and monitoring. "We'll be looking for a system that uses SNMP or SNMP and XML combined for both the stations and the hub," says Addalia. "The efficiency of centralcasting doesn't pay off if we don't know everything, which we would [know] if we had someone at the stations all the time."

That need for monitoring also extends out to the transmitter site. According to Addalia, Emmis will be looking for a software/hardware combination that can get data from a box at the transmitter to the hub, not just to a terminal at the station. Again, SNMP will be important in sending a page or e-mail out to the engineer.

Weather-alert systems will also be on Addalia's shopping list. Particularly for Emmis stations in Florida, he is looking for a smooth system that can be closely tied to the local weather systems. Adding to the challenge are varying levels of acceptance for running alerts over commercials from market to market.

"Even markets where advertisers accept alerts for real weather emergencies, they don't want a crawl telling viewers to tune in for the five o'clock news," Addalia points out. "We need a system that can be located at the hub but tied to the main weather system at the station."

With respect to storage, he will be checking out DVD-ROM archiving because he is not looking for a robotic storage system. "We've had some experience there, and I'm not convinced that robotics is something we want to get back into.

"We need handheld media for longer-form content," he adds, "and DVD-ROM has several advantages over tape. It's nonlinear, and the time code is always the same, which allows us to continually use the same database records over and over."

He will be combing the floor at NAB for technology that is not necessarily on his shopping list but is worth investigating. "One major area I'll be looking at is asset management for both news and syndicated programming," he says, pointing out that "we take more than 80 feeds a day off satellite and need to know that the right show is airing on the right station on the right day."

Metadata systems will also be on the list, specifically those that enable server interoperability. "We've got Sony servers, Vibrint news systems and Grass Valley Group MAN servers, and we need them to share information and media," he explains, adding "I'd also like to see what's happening with MPEG 4 technologies and allied services for DTV."

Audio will be a focus, too. Addalia notes that there have been some switching issues with working in 5.1 channels. "We're AES standard, so we're ready for Dolby E. For the Super Bowl, we had to send out a stereo signal on the DTVs."