TW tries Internet for news delivery

Time Warner Cable is relying on the Internet to distribute news programming of national interest to its local cable news channels.

Using Telestream's ClipMail Pro Internet video-delivery system, Time Warner can deliver news segments such as The Fortune Business Report, which is produced in New York City at New York 1, to Bay News 9 in Tampa, Fla., or News 8 Austin in Austin, Texas, without having to buy or schedule satellite time.

"We have a limited need," says Director of Engineering and Technology Harlan Neugeboren. "That's both the good and bad thing about local news: Not a lot of material needs to be shared. But there are things we do in New York that have life in other stations."

Telestream's ClipMail Pro delivers full-resolution video and audio in a store-and-forward mode. Using MPEG-2 compression and IP-based transmission, it allows MPEG files to be sent to FTP file servers for distribution, archiving and downloading to PCs. Time Warner Cable has installed the systems, which cost about $16,000 each, in each of its five 24-hour local news channels: New York 1; Bay News 9; News 8 Austin; R News in Rochester, N.Y.; and Central Florida News 13 in Orlando. Other prominent Telestream users include Paxson, Discovery, FOX News Channel and Oxygen.

"We wanted an easy system, and, for right now, this seemed like the best way to go," says Neugeboren. "We've been sending from New York to Austin for The Fortune Business Report every night, and it works."

Neugeboren is waiting for Telestream's next release of software, which should provide more scheduling capability. But he's happy with ClipMail Pro's throughput, which he is able to gauge accurately because the two boxes "handshake" as they transmit files from one Time Warner location to another.

He says the Telestream system routinely delivers at rates up to 750 kb/s over a standard T-1 (1.5-Mb/s) connection, even in busy early-evening hours. That allows a three-minute news segment to be delivered in roughly 35 to 40 minutes (the news clips are initially encoded in MPEG-2 at about 8 Mb/s); sometimes the throughput goes above 750 kb/s, allowing delivery of a three-minute clip in close to 20 minutes.

"We see pretty good performance in the Internet across T-1," says Neugeboren. "We're getting half or three-quarters of a T-1."

The cost of program distribution with Telestream is obviously cheaper than using a satellite connection, since Time Warner already has T-1 lines in place to connect to the Internet. But Neugeboren says cost wasn't the deciding factor in installing ClipMail Pro.

"We get really good rates from CNN Newsource or Conus," he explains. "But this is foolproof. The box is clever. You put the schedule in that you want delivery to stations at two in morning, and it will say 'I've got a package for you' at 2 a.m."

When a Time Warner news channel receives a clip, it is stored locally on a PC hard drive until it is manually sent to a router and dubbed onto a video server for playback. Neugeboren says that quality hasn't been an issue, even though the video is heavily compressed and is often transferred into different formats between locations.

"Even at New York 1, where we have Beta SP going to MPEG and then going out to DVCPRO [servers at other locations], it looks fine," he says. "For the on-air product, nobody can tell the difference."

Neugeboren says he is talking to newsroom-automation suppliers about writing software drivers that will enable ClipMail Pro to more seamlessly integrate its newsroom operations. "The ultimate is for a producer in Tampa to look at a list of scripts in New York and schedule it to come down the line."