Robin Berger /
08.06.2003 12:00 AM
NBC Builds Global Graphics System
Pinnacle, others let stations share the assets

LOS ANGELES

NBC is well on its way to instantly delivering its assets around the country, helped by a graphics package provided by Pinnacle, Proximity and Avid.

"The goal for us is to drive and improve quality and on-air value," said John Wallace, NBC senior VP for Broadcast Operations.

That translates into getting each of its 29 stations -- plus those of Telemundo -- ready access to all of NBC's graphics images. To do so, NBC had to move from dedicated broadcast equipment to an open architecture of workstations. That meant replacing what was done on a slew of separate character generators, stillstores and servers of various brands, vintage and efficiency with a single platform featuring centralized distribution. And, of course, NBC had to do this without disrupting on-air program delivery.

Right now, six owned and operated stations are on board, and the first Telemundo station -- KVEA in Burbank -- came online in the last week of June.

According to Wallace, the amount of graphics available to the six targeted NBC stations has increased by 33 to 200 percent, depending on the station.

All 14 O&Os are slated for uplink by September.

OLYMPIAN AGENDA

Parent company GE started the ball rolling with its digitization agenda, which analyzes its subsidiaries' processes and plots their upgrades. Phase One of the nationwide asset management strategy resulted in the installation of a DS-3 network and the establishment of its Fort Worth, Texas-based ArtHouse hub for graphics production in 2001.

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NBC newsroom staff can easily create fresh graphics on a PC by dragging graphics styles into the Deko template.

Impressed by what Pinnacle's Deko system could do for IT networking and data management during the Salt Lake City Olympics and "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," NBC ordered 30 FXDeko II systems in May 2002. The first installment was set up in Raleigh, N.C., last August.

Deko's templates and its seamless interaction with NBC's existing technologies were key to the success of the project.

Pinnacle, in addition to distribution and playback systems, worked with Avid to develop control tools (Deko MOS is also compatible with AP's ENPS, said product manager Caren Anhder). Australian asset management systems developer Proximity produced workflow tools.

GRAPHICS TO GO

NBC's newsroom producers can now create graphics on a PC by opening up an Avid iNews system window, choosing a graphic style, then opening the Proximity window for a graphic and dragging it into the Deko template for preview. If acceptable, the graphic becomes a MOS object, which gets placed in the rundown.

If producers don't find a suitable graphic, they can click on a Proximity option that lets them place an order for what they want. The order is electronically assigned to an artist queue at ArtHouse. When the new design is finished, the artist pushes a "Publish" button, which puts the image in the NBC library and in the remote library of the station that requested the image.

"A good portion of the graphics are created by the producers at their desktops-they literally are creating a composite graphic," said Richard Westcott, NBC's VP for Strategic Projects and lead engineer on the venture. "It's a very robust look: animation, moving background-it's not like you have a watered down, generic look."

ArtHouse artists work on PCs with two screens: On one they have a Proximity order management tool to receive and publish orders; on the other, a high-resolution tableau for artwork created with Adobe and Maya 3d software. The artists can switch from one to the other without missing a beat, said Westcott.

As another ArtHouse employee noted, "It's an amazing beast."

One slight drawback is the technology's inability to play animation clips back-to-back seamlessly on a single Deko, thus creating the need to use two machines simultaneously.

"There's always a point where they have to clear out a buffer and restack it," said Westcott. "When we play back-to-back animations, we have to switch back and forth between machines."

Westcott admits that Pinnacle has done a lot of work to improve the hitch. "Within the two channels there is a single FX engine -- a single play -- out manager called the Deko MOS playback controller," said Anhder.

Pinnacle also expanded playback to nine channels. And its technology can support multiple control rooms in a single configuration-something that KNBC, Telemundo's KVEA and potentially a third control room will use to their advantage. This can come in handy particularly as a backup capability if, for example, a switcher goes down during a news broadcast.


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