Raycom Goes Digital with Thomcast

As one of the largest television operators in the United States, it was no small task for Raycom Media to select a company to provide digital television equipment and installation services for our transition to digital transmission, set to be complete in 2002.
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MONTGOMERY, ALA.

As one of the largest television operators in the United States, it was no small task for Raycom Media to select a company to provide digital television equipment and installation services for our transition to digital transmission, set to be complete in 2002.

We cover a bit more than 10 percent of U.S. television households with operations in 21 states, plus 1.3 million television households in Puerto Rico. From a geographic standpoint, Raycom is the nation’s largest media company stretching from San Juan to Honolulu.

Pending FCC approval of the transactions, Raycom will own 36 television stations including affiliates for all the major networks and two independents in Puerto Rico.

As director of engineering, I am primarily responsible for the digital television conversion for Raycom Media. Transitioning Raycom’s television stations to the new digital standards could have been fraught with problems.

With digital television technology evolving daily, Raycom needed to gather information from the best and most reliable sources, so that we could make sound, educated decisions. Further, with all the rumors about slipping dates and re-examination of modulation standards, digital technology is a moving target. Consequently, you would need a crystal ball to know exactly what to expect. From our initial product investigation in 1999, to the delivery and installation occurring now (final installation will be complete by the FCC’s deadline of May 2002), it’s been clear that Thomcast Communications (now called Thales Broadcast) had the experience and product that we needed. The company was helpful, cooperative and gave us great advice. With Thomcast, we found that we could create exactly the product we needed. We worked together to come up with the best product, in light of the evolving technology, that would serve our needs.

The initial product Raycom researched and needed were transmitters. After we inked the deal on the transmitters, we turned our attention to encoders and master control solutions.

First, we brainstormed with a group of Raycom folks. Then, we talked with Thomcast. It started at lunch on the back of a napkin, in which we sketched out and talked about these block diagrams.

Those extensive discussions about encoders and master control solutions took about a year. Thomcast was intrigued by our approach and went through many iterations of block diagrams. Ultimately, we refined those napkin block diagrams into a controlled, structured business environment. Networks, whether it is NBC, CBS or Fox, provide different versions of digital. There are essentially 18 different flavors of digital transmissions. The source of high definition programming, both from networks and syndicators, can come in different formats so the digital solution must take that into consideration.

Besides the transmitter systems, we purchased 34 encoding packages, including Thomcast Amber Remultiplexers, Pearl PSIP Managers and Turquoise Interface Adaptors, to be delivered and installed by Thomcast by the May 2002 FCC deadline. As of this writing, there has been one installation and that was in Cincinnati’s beta site.

It has been a great source of comfort to have Thomcast as a technology resource, as our partner. From the transmitters to encoders to the design and implementation of our DTV master control solutions was a cooperative effort that reinforced our belief in Thomcast as a technology leader.

Together, we developed a cost-effective and practical approach to Raycom’s initial DTV deployment. Using the knowledge that we have today, Thomcast and Raycom have created what I feel is a logical path towards tomorrow.

For more information, contact Thomcast (888-872-8505, www.thomcast.com).