Broadcasting Goes Green

Broadcast television stations have long talked the talk about environmentalism and energy conservation. They have covered it on newscasts and issues programming, become media sponsors for local awareness days and otherwise informed the public about it.

Broadcasters have also walked the walk to reduce their carbon footprint, especially when it made a financial impact. One such example has been the 20-year migration from tungsten studio lighting to fluorescent fixtures, reducing both the energy needed to power the lights and the attendant cooling it took to keep from frying the news anchors and studio crew.

WPXI in Pittsburgh had started building its new facility before parent company Cox Television instituted a green initiative. The new building ultimately had a raised floor that contributed to keeping it cool.
Photo Courtesy of WPXIBroadcasters have also implemented some green initiatives in their operations that they may not know about. Canon, as an example, notes on its lens data sheets that they have excluded “harmful substances such as cadmium, PBBS, PBDPE or mercury from the mechanical parts, and at the same time [incorporating] lead-free glass and reducing the amount of hazardous substances used in electrical parts.”

Canon and other companies that are greening their equipment offerings are driven partially by corporate consciences, and partially because of requirements of their own nation or international agreements.

And then there is greening that is occurring because a better technology has come along. A good example is the replacement of CRT monitors with flatscreen panels, which use a fraction of a CRT’s energy requirements for power and cooling.

The replacement process itself may not be so green, cautioned Mark Siegel, president of system integrator Advanced Broadcast Solutions in Seattle. A dozen-plus years ago, a dead CRT monitor might have ended up in the dumpster, he said.

“Today, those have to go through special handling in order to remove the toxic components, and that gets very expensive for a broadcaster. That’s never been figured into the cost of upgrading in the past,” he said.

Siegel said he has seen broadcasters’ basement storerooms piled high with CRTs awaiting disposal, and noted that broadcast monitors usually are outnumbered by the computer monitors.

“We change our computers in this industry every year and a half,” he said, and that often includes a monitor upgrade.

Many television stations are now owned by large corporations with interests beyond broadcasting, where the broadcast properties find themselves part of a companywide green movement.

Such a top-down greening process came to Cox Television. In 2000, Jim Kennedy, chairman and CEO of parent company, Cox Enterprises, set in motion an initiative to reduce the company’s carbon footprint. That initiative has since reduced Cox’s carbon footprint by 10 percent, in spite of the company’s considerable growth since then.

Cox has since set a new target: to reduce its carbon footprint an additional 20 percent by 2017. The new initiative caught Cox’s Pittsburgh NBC affiliate WPXI-TV in the middle of construction of its new $30,000 million, 69,000- square-foot facility.

“To be honest with you, the initiative from Cox came when we were about three-quarters of the way through the project, so this ended up being a lot of retrofitting,” said Ray Carter, WPXI vice president and general manager.

He said many environmental concerns had already been taken into account, but the company asked them to be “looking for ways to make this an even greener building.”

Station Director of Engineering Annette Parks pointed to a raised-floor cooling scheme that saves the facility 25 percent in cooling costs. “I think what makes WPXI different is that our raised flooring typically goes throughout our entire facility,” except under the studio floor itself, she said.

There’s a 24-inch space beneath the technical area, and one that measures 18 inches under the rest. This allows cool air to be introduced from below, circulate through the equipment-crowded technical area, and exit through ceiling return. She noted additional considerations, such as the need to run plenum-rated cable under the flooring, which is more expensive than a regular sheathed cable. But the 25 percent energy savings are real.

So how did WPXI do on a one-togreen scale? The U.S. Green Building Council has devised its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System.

“As of now, we have 22 of the 26 LEED certification points,” Carter said, “and by the end of 2008 we will have the other four.”

Another very public, big green initiative took place in early November: NBC Universal’s “Green is Universal.” It, like the Cox initiative, came top down, said Lauren Zalaznick, chair of the NBC Universal Green Council and president of the company’s Bravo Media and Oxygen Media.

The more public part of the company’s initiative was its November Green Week, 150 hours of green-themed programming on the company’s broadcast and cable networks. Speaking at the December iHollywood Forum “Hollywood Goes Green” conference, Zalaznick said for all the expense of that week’s efforts, with advertisers getting aboard to gain their own green connections, the week was a net moneymaker.

“Going green is the new black,” she said.

She noted there has been a major internal greening at the company, including such specifics as replacing a quarter of its vehicle fleet with hybrid-fuel vehicles by the end of 2007, and an environmental audit of its facilities worldwide.

Despite all good intensions to go green, broadcasters may find some segments of the tide running against them. A recent survey of trends among remote broadcast van builders revealed a dichotomy.

On the one hand, lower-energy, lower heat-generating flat screen monitors were replacing CRTs. Smaller, lower-energy, lower heat-generating servers were replacing videotape machines. There were a dozen such examples.

In the same breath, the van builders said the 200 amp power circuits, which they had assured sports and entertainment venues would be ample well into the future, needed to be nearly doubled to accommodate the needs of new production vans. How could both points be true?

Fred Gerling, president of production van builder Gerling Associates, had an answer. “Each unit of equipment does use less power, but there’s more of them, more and more and more,” he said.

It takes more energy to power the equipment, and more HVAC to cool it. ABS’ Siegel said the same is true for fixed teleproduction facilities.

Another energy-hiking trend involves stations switching from VHF analog transmissions to UHF digital assignments. In the UHF band, much higher transmission power is necessary to more effectively penetrate the designated market area.

Cable and satellite have traditionally helped fill in dead spots, but broadcasters who want to use extra bits to send channels to mobile devices will need to cover their market with their own terrestrially transmitted signal.

Other broadcast signal penetration technologies are being proposed, including single frequency networks, which incorporate a number of transmitters-simultaneously sending the same signal over the same frequency channel. This would entail a number of lower towers using lower-powered transmitters that might be a net green negative.

Broadcasters are going to be hearing a lot more about green TV in the future, and in fact as early as April. The NAB is searching for moderators and panelists for sessions on green TV, and manufacturers have begun to cite green statistics.

A parade to green has started, and the race has begun to get in front of it.