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Spending for Two

Sterling Davis will be tackling a two-headed monster at this year's NAB show. As VP of engineering for Cox Broadcasting, he oversees technology operations for both Cox Television's 15 stations and Cox Radio's 79 stations. So, while he is in Las Vegas, Davis will be holding separate day-long meetings with the company's television and radio engineers, as well as checking out the latest equipment in both the radio and TV halls.

On the TV side, Davis is focused on using automation software to streamline operations. He wants to expand the use of automation in newscasts, particularly for playing out content from servers.

“Most of it is done manually,” says Davis. “We have a couple of markets that started off late last year automating that process.”

Cox is also looking to further automate its “ingest” process to receive syndicated programming and commercials. While Cox uses IP-based store and forward systems from vendors DG Systems and Pathfire to receive such feeds, the process of transferring this content to stations' playout servers or archives is still triggered manually.

“We are looking at ways to move that through and get it ready for air without any intervention on the part of people,” says Davis.

On the digital acquisition front, Cox committed last year to Panasonic's P2 solid-state format and has taken delivery at a few stations. Although it is too early to judge how the P2 gear is performing, Davis says, he does have one initial observation: “It demands a workflow change in the field, and I think that's important.”

Davis estimates that, right now, 70% of the news material shot in the field is pre-edited in an ENG truck and fed back to the station via microwave. “The tape comes out of the camera, it goes to the editing device in the truck, and then they microwave it back,” he says.

This will change with the P2 system, he adds. P2 will allow memory cards to be inserted directly into a laptop editor, or video from the P2 camera can be recorded on an intermediary device such as the P2 Store hard-disk recorder. Camera operators can also edit from card to card within the camera itself.

The video files created from the P2 editing process could be sent back through a standard Internet connection, without needing to erect an ENG mast and establish a microwave feed. Cox is currently exploring options.

“I don't want to indicate that we have it all figured out,” says Davis. “We don't have to have it figured out the first day—just like we didn't have it all figured out when we originally switched from film to 3/4-inch tape.”

Davis is also keeping an eye on low-cost HD production gear, such as the HDV format, but doesn't see any Cox stations doing HD news “for the foreseeable future.” Cox has produced special events like parades in HDTV in some markets but simply rents an HDTV truck for such occasions.

Cox had been a longtime customer of traffic and billing software vendor Encoda Systems, so Davis is curious about what new automation products Harris will show at NAB after acquiring Encoda last year. “I'm interested to see what they're going to do with it and how they are going to amalgamate the traffic systems into the rest of the station.”

On the radio side, Davis will be focusing on digital transmission and studio gear necessary to launch IBOC (in-band, on-channel) digital broadcasts this year. He notes, “We have to have 21 stations on-air by June. There's a big push from the chief engineers' point of view.”

Shopping List:

  • Automation software
  • File-transfer technologies for newsgathering
  • Graphics systems
  • IBOC radio-transmission gear