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What in the World?

Got glue? That will be the theme of Discovery Networks’ NAB hunt as it searches for the tools and methods to connect its facilities worldwide more closely together. Later this year, it opens a new technical facility at its headquarters in Sterling, Va., but it is also rebuilding facilities in Singapore and London. John Honeycutt, Discovery Networks’ senior vice president, broadcast operations, says the rebuilds will create a platform for content-sharing, as tools like transcoding engines or asset-management systems become increasingly important.

“We’re always looking to see what’s happening in asset management, but we also want to explore what we call alternative distribution methods,” Honeycutt says. “Things like VOD, cellphones and broadband are becoming important.”

Diane Tryneski, senior vice president, Discovery production group, says those outlets are something Discovery has to think about when it begins the production process. “It’s not just a central server that is kicking out material to TV viewers,” she says. Discovery has to take into account how it can produce material for different platforms most efficiently.

Honeycutt says Discovery is keeping a close eye on telcos like SBC and Verizon that are looking to use MPEG-4 compression. MPEG-4 encoding and decoding is still in its infancy, but Honeycutt is impressed. “We had the guys from Modulus Video in here, and they’re making advances all the time,” he says. “We have to watch that technology and make sure stability is there, but it’s clear that the telcos and DBS providers are going down that road. As content providers, we have to ensure we deliver the content at a quality that gives the best viewing experience for the consumer.”

Tryneski will head to NAB looking for new production and post-production tools, and items like the new acquisition formats are always being eyed. “For [freelancers] producing for our network, we have standards that we set,” she says. “And when we look at production equipment, a big part is the ability to transcode it for our international services.”

Discovery now uses Sony’s HDCAM format internally and requires outside producers to send in content at 1080i.

Discovery uses Avid editing systems but is looking at what work the vendors have done around the AAF and MXF formats. It will take a look at Apple’s Final Cut Pro editing system and also investigate other less costly systems. “We can start looking at truly consumer software to do cuts for a cellphone video package,” says Honeycutt.

He says Discovery is looking for open-standards servers because any new servers need to be interoperable with existing equipment. Play-to-air servers will need more horsepower while servers for editing can be less expensive. Says Honeycutt, “Closed systems just aren’t going to work here.”

Shopping List

  • Asset-management systems
  • Nonlinear editing
  • Video servers
  • New acquisition formats
  • MPEG-4 compression gear
  • New post-production tools