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Systems Integrators See New Opportunities in Greenfield Markets

CEI recently transformed an empty room in Voice of America's Washington, D.C. facility into a new digital master control center.

HAMILTON, N.J.:—Demand for systems integration is spilling out beyond broadcast networks and stations to include corporations, government agencies, universities and others who now rival broadcasters in their use of sophisticated, high-end media gear to produce and distribute video content.

Webcasting, videoconference rooms, and corporate television are among the many applications now reliant upon broadcast-quality video installations for high-impact communications. At the same time, broadcast facilities continue to deal with new-age challenges, such as distributing content across multiple platforms and striving for greater efficiency along file-based workflows.

“It’s a very exciting time for systems integrators,” said Spike Jones, associate vice president of business development for Communications Engineering, Inc. in Newington, Va. “As a wider range of businesses and industries need to produce, display and distribute high caliber video, the demand is growing for our expertise in building well-integrated, highly reliable, cost-efficient media systems.”

While CEI’s client roster includes PBS, Discovery and WETA-TV in Washington, D.C., CEI also has many non-broadcast customers including the Library of Congress’ Packard Center for Audio-Visual Conservation. CEI spearheaded a SI project for the Packard Center to manage, preserve, and digitize more than six million media assets, including classic films, TV programs, music, radio and sound recordings, stored in climate-controlled vaults.

For Voice of America, CEI transformed an empty room in VOA’s Washington, D.C. facility into a new digital master control center. This new file-based workflow enables VOA to broadcast news and cultural programming in multiple languages to a global audience of over 123 million via the Internet, radio, television, and social media.

“With the ever-expanding universe of origination channels that are not necessarily run by traditional broadcasters, common broadcasting challenges, such as digital asset management, are now impacting a broader base of customers,” said Lore Potoker, CEI’s marketing manager. “Corporations and other non-broadcast entities are turning in greater numbers to systems integrators with broadcast experience to ensure that their [largely video over IP] networks cost-effectively meet their business objectives.”

According to Mark Siegel, president of ABS in SeaTac, Wash., station groups that used to comprise the lion’s share of the SI business now tend to keep their projects in-house, relying instead upon their own engineering staff to handle them. “They increasingly view systems integration as an additional expense when in reality there are many ways our services can be cost justified,” Siegel said. “Experienced systems integrators can bring in a fresh perspective on how to solve their technical challenges.”

ABS recently built a new master control facility for KBNZ, the CBS affiliate in Bend, Ore. ABS recently built a new master control facility for KBNZ, the CBS affiliate in Bend, Ore. According to Conor Miller, the station’s chief broadcast engineer, “We had to build a very efficient, scalable, and cost-effective master control. We never got the sense that [ABS was] just pitching products. They helped us design the project in the best way for our business. [It] gave us another set of professional eyes on the project and an advocate for all the vendor relationships.”

Dave Van Hoy, president of Advanced Systems Group, a systems integration firm in Emeryville, Calif., agrees with Siegel that the traditional broadcast business is no longer a growing market for them. “We’re seeing an increase in demand for our services by corporate production groups, especially Silicon Valley giants, looking to communicate through new channels.”

For many projects, Advanced Systems Group teams up with ABS and works as a single SI entity. While both companies are full-service SI firms, their strategic partnership formed two and a half years ago, leveraging Advanced Systems Group’s expertise in file-based workflows with ABS’s expertise in baseband video.

Many SI projects are intended to reduce the operational cost and complexity associated with master control or network operations center. This is the case with a new SI project called JMCO (Joint Master Control Operations)-Centralcast, the first of its kind regional centralcasting hub.

JMCO-Centralcast will centralize the broadcast operations of nine PBS stations, including seven New York and two New Jersey PBS affiliates, from a single TOC (technical operations center) in Syracuse, N.Y. Azzurro Systems Integration in Northvale, N.J., is spearheading the project.

“We’re still in the design, procurement, and pre-building phase,” said Marc Bressack, executive vice president of Azzurro Systems Integration. “We expect to be going onto the site in July and the system will be going to air by a November 1st target date.”

JMCO-Centralcast will centralize the broadcasting of 35 feeds, including the HD, SD, and other feeds generated by the nine PBS stations. Bressack adds that “there is a possibility it will be rolled out to other PBS stations in other regions in the future.”

Like any industry, broadcasters are being forced to become more efficient in their operations, according to Joseph Policastro, senior director with Broadcast Integration Services (BIS) in Union City, N.J.

“Enabling clients to do more with less continues to be a driving force in the SI business,” Policastro said. “Broadcasters want to expand their channel capacity and deliver to multiple platforms while containing costs.” On two major projects for Viacom/MTV Networks, BIS transformed their existing facilities to a higher level of efficiency so multichannel and production capacities could expand.

BIS just completed a new TOC within Viacom’s Hauppauge, N.Y., network operations center. It expands channel play-out capacity as well as routing and monitoring for up to 80 additional HD/SD-SDI broadcast origination channels. The design employs scalable “building block” platforms to facilitate modifications and expansion.

“Technology is advancing so rapidly that [broadcasters increasingly] need to have a systems integrator helping them work through the workflow issues,” Policastro said. “We can provide the technical expertise to evaluate the options that are before them and help determine the right technology to fit their needs.”