The value of a good engineer

With all of the talk about how IT (which, by the way, means It's Temperamental) is overtaking video in broadcast facilities, one would think that we video engineers are about as useful as an old vacuum tube.

Now, before you buy into that malarkey, maybe we should consider just how expensive IT technology might really be.

At a recent industry conference, the breakfast discussion focused on system reliability. “My facility is running at four-nines reliability,” said one broadcast engineer. Another said that his station was about the same. “Me too,” a third engineer said. “I'd get fired if we lost so much as a minute of air a month.”

Curiously quiet was one fellow at the table who happened to be new to the industry but in charge of his network's IT broadcast chain. What about your facility? I asked him. “We find that IT-based equipment is highly reliable, typically 99.99 percent uptime,” he responded. The table sat in stunned silence.

Let's run the numbers. Four-nines reliability works out to a downtime of about 32 seconds per year. That's what broadcasters expect from their systems. The IT guy said his broadcast facility had about two-nines reliability, which amounts to being off the air a whopping 52 minutes and 33 seconds per year!

That echoed my experience with IT mentality. The Broadcast Engineering Web site failed yesterday at 3 p.m. Between the time IS was notified and the time it was fixed was four and a half hours. When the site finally did come back up, the search engine didn't work. In broadcast vernacular, that's like getting the transmitter back on the air (after four and a half hours) but not noticing that the microwave is down. Duh!

Let's consider how a typical IT-trained engineer might deal with broadcast-system failures.

The transmitter goes off the air.

The IT guy tells MC to put up a graphic that says, “We're off the air.” He then pages the outsourced engineering company.

Lost air time=30 minutes

Cost to the station=$20,000

During prime time, the network satellite feed goes down in a thunderstorm. The IT-educated MCR operator runs PSAs while he looks for a backup tape.

Cost to the station=$12,000

One of the cameras loses the color green during the 10 p.m. newscast. With the show's director screaming to get it fixed, the IT engineer tells him, “Use what you've got; I'll log the problem.” (A video engineer would slap the side of the camera, clearing the intermittent and everything would return to normal.)

Cost of replacing the hair the director pulled out in frustration=$10,000

So, what's the value of a good video engineer? Priceless.

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