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BOC infrastructure in transition

The transition to digital officially began when the ATSC standard was adopted in 1996 and an analog NTSC turn-off date was established. At that time, nothing had been done to develop the production infrastructure necessary to create high-quality HD/DTV programming. And even if HD/DTV had been on the air, consumer sets were not available to receive the signals.

To rectify this problem the U.S. government, as part of the NIST Advance Technology Program, funded a consortium comprised of a few former Grand Alliance members as well as broadcast and computer industry equipment manufacturers. The charter was to develop and demonstrate an all-digital HD/DTV studio. A core functionality prototype system was demonstrated at NAB1997 that included HDTV MPEG-2 transport stream seamless splicing.

However, Sony stole the show that year with an uncompressed studio solution that in time evolved to the SMPTE 292 HD-SDI standard. At a 1.5Gb/s sustained data rate, this was thought to be virtually impossible to do profitably with technology at the time. Now that uncompressed production capabilities had been demonstrated, the inherent difficulties in editing and processing compressed HD/DTV obviated the NIST system. The broadcast industry equipment manufactures had found solid ground to begin designing and producing production equipment.

Coast-to-Coast HD broadcasting began on Nov. 4, 1998 with the return of John Glenn to space on the space shuttle Discovery. Prior to this, HD broadcasts were of local events to a limited audience of TV executives and government officials. Occasionally, an HDTV demonstration was staged for the public. The broadcasts were basically HD video and that’s it. No HD GFX. SD looked awful on an HD monitor. But the HD looked as if the event was happening right before your eyes. Once you had seen HD, there was no going back to SD.

Components of a transitioning BOC

With the evolution of a new engineering discipline born of the marriage of broadcast engineering and information technologies, technical personnel need to have a solid understanding of what comprises a digital BOC. Miranda, Omneon Video Networks, TANDBERG Television and Sundance Digital as implemented in a BOC have developed a seminar for broadcast engineers that describes IT technologies. The eight parts of “IT Developments for Broadcast Engineers Seminar” can be downloaded at in Reference 1. Relevant topics such as security, storage, networking and advanced audio and video compression techniques are covered in detail.

Transitioning to a digital infrastructure comes in two flavors: a “green field” start from scratch building of a complete new facility, or converting the current infrastructure to digital. If one has the luxury of constructing a new facility the only limiting factors will be your budget and deadline. This scenario is described in “Turner Entertainment's Network Operations Center.”

Converting an existing analog BOC to digital is a challenge. You must stay on the air while undergoing the transition. In a small operation, pieces of the infrastructure will have to be replaced in an incremental manner. When a new digital control room can be built, running both in parallel can protect going to air. If analog production and distribution resources have been replaced with new digital installations, in many instances this analog infrastructure can be converted to digital when time and budget permit. “Court TV's new NOC”, is a first hand description of this experience.

Broadcasting is expanding to multiplatform delivery. This complicates infrastructure design exponentially. What was once TV now includes Web streaming, delivery to cell phones, PPV, VOD, DVD and other ways of repurposing the original program content. A technical infrastructure that facilitates this “any asset, in any format, instantly available, anywhere” is the Holy Grail requirement that is the guiding design philosophy in any transition to digital.

Show Me the MONEY!

As we all know too well, TV is a business. Copyright is the foundation of the media business. Essence (raw audio and video) and metadata (information about the essence) together are content. Content becomes an asset only when rights are associated with it and enforced. Distribution of perfect copies of media in the digital domain has made control of rights and distribution a difficult challenge.

An asset requires management through all phases of the creation, assembly, distribution and consumption chain. From the moment essence is captured, descriptive metadata is attached to the item. This can include subject, location, date and most importantly non- destructive rights information. See reference four for a description of the metadata lifecycle.

Insuring the persistence of metadata, and in particular rights data, through all phases of production, distribution and consumption is imperative. Digital rights management (DRM) systems must be capable of identifying the rights granted to any essence. Industry standards at this time now facilitate coordination of metadata from the creation phase, using AAF, through assembly and encapsulation in an MXF wrapper. The media asset management system must track usage rights, alerting a program producer regarding distribution rights.

As the media is distributed, DRM metadata persistence becomes more tenuous. SMPTE now has a proposed standard for inclusion of the V-ISAN, similar to the IBSN, number that is embeddable in an MXF file. This now extends metadata traceability through creation, assembly and distribution of television programming. Repurposing assets for Internet streaming or DVD release complicates rights management and enforcement.

Consumption of media is the driving factor of DRM implementation and rights data must extend back to essence creation. This situation has become critical with the advent of media copying applications and enforcement will exponentially increase in complexity as personal home digital networks become commonplace. What can you copy? Where can you “consume” it? How many copies can you make? What is an illegal copy?

Rights management and enforcement via copy protections such as the broadcast flag and DVD copy protection technology must be automated. Legal definitions of what constitutes personal usage are being established. A micro-payment per use model is replacing outright purchase of content.

An elegant design

New business models are driving infrastructure technology, i.e automated DRM through the complete chain. The copyrights of source, program and consumer are being defined. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, although comprehensive, cannot cover every scenario. Who knows what new yet to be invented technologies will impact the means by which media is produced, distributed and consumed?

It is extremely challenging to design and implement an infrastructure, at a reasonable cost, that enables multiplatform distribution, persistent rights enforcement and automated micro-payment collection. Broadcasters have complained about the cost of converting to digital. The answer is a leaner, meaner, broader and efficient business philosophy. This will lead to profitable operation in the digital age. It is a transitioning business model, just as the digital media infrastructure that supports it is evolving a new engineering discipline.

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