Rock Solid

Granite Broadcasting thinks uniform. At NAB, it will be searching for master-control and newsroom automation systems that it can implement across its eight stations.

"Our goal will be to eventually migrate all of our stations onto one platform in all areas, to achieve economies of scale and to make it possible to share content between stations," says Bob Wilmers, vice president of technology and productivity and president and GM of KBJR Duluth, Minn. "Right now, it's difficult to share between one station and another on a different platform. That's why we need to get on common platforms."

Like other broadcasters, Wilmers wants to eliminate redundant functions at stations, such as the recording of syndicated content, through the use of centralcasting or hub architectures. But he's not sure the right configuration exists yet for a smaller station group like Granite. The real question, he says, is the high cost of fiber or satellite connectivity used in such architectures, noting that some early centralcasters are part of diverse media businesses able to leverage existing transmission capacity.

"If you have a high operating cost to begin with, you can make the justification to transfer to that solution," says Wilmers. "If not, you have got to look at other opportunities, whether it is a smarter application of automation in the stations, or other ways to network together, such as the Internet."

In that vein, Wilmers will explore new compression schemes, such as MPEG-4 and Windows Media 9. He adds that, for some applications, using FTP transmission over the Internet might be preferable to paying for real-time transmission over dedicated fiber.

"We're looking at different ways to get the savings we need," says Wilmers. "We do not want to replace those savings with other costs."

One area where he would like to reduce costs is by eliminating Granite's aging DVCPRO tape systems for news acquisition and production. "I don't want to be dealing with tape anymore," he says. "I don't want to be repairing heads or mechanical transports." Instead, Wilmers will check out tapeless acquisition systems, including Panasonic's solid-state P2 camera and Sony's optical-based system.

"I want to get to the position where we eliminate all dependency on tape in the field. We can bring stories back to the station and transfer them directly into the nonlinear editing systems. Or we can transfer them while we're in the field over a high-speed data connection and not even bring them to the station," he says.

Wilmers is also eyeing a common nonlinear-editing platform to replace a mix of Avid and Discreet systems at the stations, along with a common server platform for news recording and playout. Both would help facilitate his goal of easily sharing content between stations.

As he evaluates NLEs and servers, Wilmers will consider solutions from traditional broadcast vendors as well as "prosumer" desktop editors and off-the-shelf server systems that can be assembled from the IT world.

"What's happening in the deployment of video equipment outside of the broadcast world is really interesting. As the capabilities rise to a level that was once only available in the broadcast world, you have to ask the question: Is the premium you're paying for broadcast product worth it? It's getting harder to answer that question in the positive."