Reaching for the Stars

Call it Discovery's quest for excellence. Last year, Discovery's priorities for NAB were dictated by a new HD-capable 50,000-square-foot production facility in Silver Spring, Md. This year, the same spirit of expansion and commitment to ever higher production standards is setting Discovery's convention agenda.

For Marcos Obadia, executive vice president of Discovery Media Services Group, NAB 2004 is a chance to address two roughly equal imperatives: one spurred by a new build-out, the other driven by an ongoing commitment to high-definition.

"As we normally do at every NAB, we will bring production, operations, and engineering professionals from around the world to discuss needs and issues," says Obadia. "This year, those needs are led by demands for playout systems and high-definition production equipment."

Building a U.S. network origination system slated to begin operation by 2005 explains why Obadia is focused on playout systems. Specifically, he will look at storage, servers, automation, monitoring, and routing systems. "This buildout is happening while we are working on similar initiatives in Asia and Europe," he says. "The U.S. team will be working together with the international team to ensure interoperability."

The commitment to HD production isn't new for Discovery, the first basic-cable programmer to launch an all-high-def network. Yet, despite its progress and leadership in HD, the network battles to stay cutting-edge. Keeping Discovery's own production facilities outfitted with top-of-the-line equipment remains one of the group's top priorities.

"We will be shopping for our in-house production centers," says Obadia, "looking specifically at editing and audio systems. Our mission is to keep Discovery Production Group as a state-of-the-art resource with tools equal to or better than those of the market."

This mission is the result of a commitment to HD set by the network group's founder, John Hendrick. It's evidenced by the Discovery HD Theater channel, which airs original HD content from each of the five Discovery networks: Discovery, TLC, Animal Planet, Travel Channel, and Discovery Health. "The amount of HD content we manage has grown quickly from a few shows just a year and a half ago to 20% of programming for all of our networks," says Obadia.

Other technology issues for Discovery include finding a system to deliver rough-cut and outtake content of co-produced shows from the field to production for approval.

Obadia will also visit Sony and Panasonic for cameras; Avid for editing; Pinnacle, Omnibus, and Thomson for equipment to be used in master control; and StorageTek, Motorola, and Scientific-Atlanta on the transmission side.