Tech News

Major Fire Destroys Part Of Sennheiser’s Plant In Ireland
A Sennheiser headphone production facility in Tullamore, Ireland was badly damaged by fire in the early hours of May 3. Fortunately, no one was injured in the fire. In spite of the substantial damage to the factory, Peter Callan, general manager of Sennheiser Ireland, is confident that operations will resume in a relatively short period of time. Adjacent facilities have already been secured and the rebuilding process has begun. The cause of the fire is as yet unknown.
In addition to the Tullamore production facility, Sennheiser has three other factories—two in Germany and one in the U.S.

TSG, VSG Join Forces
The Systems Group (TSG), a leading integrator of advanced digital television systems, has announced a strategic alliance with Venue Services Group (VSG), a wholly owned subsidiary of National Mobile Television (NMT). The agreement will allow the two companies to offer a wider range of services to their respective clients.
“The quality and creativity of The Systems Group mirrors VSG’s commitment to quality and service,” said Dave Shaw, president of Venue Services Group. “This alliance will bring a whole new dimension to the integration business.”
“NMT’s experience regarding advanced mobile unit operations and design will be a strong addition to our project engineering capabilities,” said Chris Mehos, president of The Systems Group. “This alliance with VSG will allow TSG to provide our customers with proven systems solutions for both fixed and mobile facilities.”

The Digital Network Launches
The Digital Network (TDN) launched its datacasting services last month after receipt of initial funding from KERA-Dallas/Fort Worth and the Pacific Mountain Network (PMN).
TDN, based in Dallas, is a distributed application network company founded on technology developed initially by KERA. It manages the distribution of large, complex digital files with a comprehensive hardware and software solution. This will allow educational institutions, public safety organizations, and corporations to obtain near broadcast-quality multimedia content via datacasting from their local PBS station.

FCC Commissioners Face Off At NAB
It’s that time of the year again. Time for the “Regulatory Face-Off,” the annual NAB ritual whereby the FCC Commissioners tackle the latest issues regarding broadcasting regulations for a packed crowd of NAB/RTNDA attendees. This year, Commissioners Kathleen Abernathy, Jonathan Adelstein, Michael Copps, and Kevin Martin held court on Tuesday, April 20.
Considering the events of the past few months, it’s no surprise indecency enforcement was a hot topic among the Commissioners. The general consensus was that the FCC should implement a “hands-off-until-you-really-mess-up” policy toward indecency on the airwaves. Commissioner Copps said he felt broadcasters have generally done a good job of policing themselves, so it was not necessary for the FCC to watch them too closely. Commissioner Martin seemed to concur. “The FCC has the obligation to enforce the current indecency statute, but it also needs to reaffirm the right broadcasters have to police their own programming,” he said.
Another big issue was whether or not the FCC needs to more aggressively punish stations that don’t comply with the digital transition deadlines. Again, the Commissioners seemed to want to take a “hands-off-unless-there-is-an-egregious-violation” approach. Commissioner Abernathy said most broadcasters have taken the digital deadlines seriously, and that at this point, it’s more important to push consumers to buy digital sets.
Perhaps because of reality TV’s stranglehold on the airwaves these days, programming that serves the public interest was a major issue brought up by the Commissioners. Commissioner Adelstein said the FCC needs to require broadcasters to carry a certain number of hours of programming serving the public interest “as soon as possible.” He especially wants to see more candidate-centered discourse for election coverage. “Can you spare five minutes for the issues?” he asked broadcasters. “And I’m not talking about horse-racing. I’m talking about real issues.”
Commissioner Copps said the FCC needs to examine how multicasting can help serve the public interest: “There are 217 stations multicasting in this country, and they have no idea how they are supposed to [serve the public interest],” he said. Commissioner Abernathy said the FCC should pressure broadcasters more on this issue, but it should not become a mandate.
The specter of cable must-carry also floated throughout the conversation. Currently, the FCC is considering a plan that would fast-track the mandate that all over-the-air broadcasters must turn over their analog spectrum to the government once 85% of American households can receive digital signals. The new plan would count toward the 85% threshold those homes receiving digital broadcast channels from cable. Broadcasters have in general been unhappy with the plan: Because there is no mandate that cable must carry broadcasters’ digital channels, broadcasters are concerned they’ll be sending digital content to cable, only to have cable downconvert it back to analog to please those viewers without digital converter boxes. NAB CEO Eddie Fritts summed up broadcasters’ concerns about this in a keynote address a day earlier: “Our DTV and high definition signals are all dressed up with no place to go.”
Regarding the new plan, most of the Commissioners stressed it was only in preliminary discussions. “We haven’t even been briefed yet,” commented Commissioner Abernathy. Commissioner Martin said that before even considering mandating such a plan, the FCC would need to discuss exactly which types of signals from cable would count toward the 85% threshold. Commissioner Copps added that the FCC also needs to take into account the 15% of people who would, as he put it, “be stranded without a signal.”
Overall, the Commissioners seemed to take a more conciliatory attitude toward working out problems between the FCC and broadcasters. This was a marked contrast to the stern words FCC Chairman Michael Powell had for broadcasters in his keynote address on Monday, April 19. Facing competition from cable, satellite, wireless, and other “new media,” broadcasters, he said, need to “Adapt, evolve, or die.”
—Sarah Stanfield

GMs And NDs: Keeping The Peace
Panelists at “Fostering Strong Relationships Between News Directors and General Managers,” held at the recent RTNDA@NAB convention, looked to solve the often conentious relationship between news directors and general managers. Panelists included Chris Berry, president and general manager, WMAL-AM, Washington, DC, and John Matthews, news director, WMAL-AM; Lucy Himstedt, vice president and general manager, WFIE-TV, Evansville, IN, and Bob Freeman, news director; and Roger Ogden, president and general manager, KUSA-TV, Denver, and Patti Dennis, vice president and news director.
Perhaps not surprisingly, all the panelists contributed their success in working with one another to good communication. All kept in good contact with one another on a daily basis, usually via email or by instant messaging. Ogden and Dennis also make a point of watching at least one of KUSA’s newscasts together on a daily basis, as do most of the other panelists.
The method of communication, according to the panelists, is only as important as the manner in which each message is presented. For example, Dennis mentioned that when she first started working with Ogden she was a “bit of a blurter. [Now] we have a pretty good structure and a good line of communication.” It’s also important that the news director keeps communication “short and sweet.” “Lucy hates surprises,” said Freeman. “She likes to be presented with ‘just the facts, ma’am.’”
Trust is also an important factor, as sometimes a general manager will have to defer important final decisions to the news director in certain situations. For example, when the news of the Columbine High School massacre broke in 1999, Ogden was attending that year’s RTNDA convention. Dennis had to make the key decisions in regards to what news to put on the air that night. Said Ogden, “It’s important to have a level of trust, so when you need to make a decision, you can make one that your colleague would trust.”
Finally, honesty can make or break the success of a newsroom. According to Freeman, news directors should never try to give excuses for an egregious mistake. “Take the fall,” he said. “Not just for yourself, but for your department. And learn from your mistakes.”
—Sarah Stanfield

H.264 Fees Change
To address the broadcast industry’s reluctance to adopt backwards ATSC-compatible H.264 compression for next-generation DTV systems, MPEG LA has implemented new royalty and licensing rates.
While no one argues that the MPEG-4-based H.264 codec is more efficient and will provide better video quality than MPEG-2 for transmission, broadcasters have cringed at the thought of paying royalty and licensing fees in the DTV world.
Over-the-air broadcasters can opt for one of two royalty fee payments: either a one-time fee of $2,500 per transmission encoder or an annual fee of $10,000 if the broadcast goes to more than 100,000 households. There is no royalty charge for markets of less than 100,000.
There is no charge for Internet, cable, and satellite providers serving less than 100,000 households. For services with more than 100,000 subscribers there is a $25,000 annual fee, which can top out at $100,000 depending on the number of subscribers.
The initial term of the license is through December 31, 2010, with a grace period in which no fees will be payable for products or services sold before January 1, 2006.

Leitch Scoops Up Videotek
Making good on his promise to create an end-to-end solutions portfolio à la Sony and Thomson, Leitch Technology president and CEO Tim Thoresteinson announced at the company’s April 18 NAB press conference that Leitch has acquired Videotek. The deal will set Leitch back $18 million. Leitch and Videotek, a test and measurement solutions manufacturer, shook hands on the sale only minutes before the press conference. “We gave the lawyers a 12pm [April 18] deadline,” Thoresteinson quipped, “and they finished the paperwork at 11:55. That’s what I call maximizing your billing.”
Leitch will fund the acquisition through its existing cash balances. The purchase of Videotek will allow it to enable what it calls Integrated Content Environments (ICEs), streamlining workflow for broadcasters. It will also add test and measurement, video demodulators, routing switchers, color correctors, and processors to Leitch’s product portfolio.
Thoresteinson said Leitch chose to purchase Videotek because much of its customer base is the same as Leitch’s and because Videotek’s signal processing technology is similar to the signal processing technology already embedded in many of Leitch’s products. The acquisition will also help Leitch meet its goal of providing an end-to-end broadcast product portfolio to the industry. “We’re no longer known as just a box supplier,” said Thoresteinson. “We have broadened our product offering. From a product perspective, we really provide a total solution to broadcasters.”
—Sarah Stanfield

NEP Gets New Equity Investment
NEP Broadcasting has announced that Apax Partners and Spectrum Equity Investors will acquire a majority equity interest in the company from Wachovia Capital Partners. The new investment capital will be used to enable the company to enter new geographic markets, to make selective strategic acquisitions, and to support current and future customers in the transition to HD broadcast technology. NEP’s executive management team will continue to lead the company and will maintain a significant equity interest in the company upon completion of the transaction.

SignaSys Launches PBS Station Engineering Donation Program
SignaSys has announced the launch of a program to provide up to $2,500 in services as an in-kind donation to the PBS community. This donation program is intended to support the current work being done to prepare for the PTFP/NTIA grant applications to convert basic master control or production equipment to digital technologies.
“SignaSys has enjoyed the privilege and benefits of doing substantial amounts of business with PBS member stations in the last few years,” said Roland Hoffmann, president and CEO of SignaSys. “This is a way for us to give back to the community that has contributed to our success.”
Here’s how the plan works: SignaSys will assign its staff to discuss technical needs and desires with the chief engineer, prepare the list with proper equipment configurations for review by the chief engineer, populate the list with list pricing, deliver the finalized list to the chief engineer in MS Excel, and invoice the above services with a 100% credit for a payable balance of $0.
SignaSys will compile an equipment list of whatever equipment the station prefers, review it for system compatibility, and provide list prices for all components. The equipment can include any manufacturers, such as, to name a few examples, encoding systems from Harris, Harmonic, Tandberg or others; server systems from Omneon, Thomson, Leitch, Pinnacle or others; automation systems from Crispin, Sundance, Harris, Florical, Novus, or others; router or master control systems from Miranda, NVision, Utah Scientific, Leitch, Miranda, Evertz, or others.
For more information, contact Gene Simons, solutions development manager and PBS project expert at (408) 350-7209.

Sundance Digital, Telemetrics Collaborate On Automated Newsroom Camera Control
Sundance Digital, in partnership with Telemetrics, is making camera control available as part of Sundance Digital’s NewsLink v2.0, the company’s second-generation rundown-centric solution for streamlining on-air news operations.
Sundance Digital and Telemetrics have incorporated a control protocol into NewsLink v2.0 that transparently wraps cameras and other production devices along with traditional digital media sources into the rundown-driven MOS workstream. “Station management can now adjust each show for the best balance between staff economy and enhanced competitiveness,” said Fred Schultz, vice president of news automation for Sundance Digital. “Telemetrics has demonstrated vision and leadership [in] developing their control protocol. Camera information now travels in each story as the rundown is changed, and is available for immediate revision when necessary.”
“Telemetrics is pleased to extend its intuitive, customer-proven control of camera and pedestal functionality into automated digital newsrooms,” said Anthony E. Cuomo, vice president and general manager of Telemetrics. “With NewsLink’s management of virtually all new and legacy media devices, Telemetrics now offers an obvious value for every station going digital. Telemetrics delivers substantial economies from staffing over and above the economies from NewsLink’s automation of digital media.”
NewsLink v2.0 debuted at NAB2004. It broadens the capabilities of the original version that supplies the necessary integration and operations layer for broadcasters to complete their digital newsroom build-out. NewsLink ties newsroom computers with broadcast server/editors and supplies all additional functionality necessary for complete digital news workflow. NewsLink v2.0 adds management of cameras, audio consoles, and video switchers to its existing line-up of server, editor, and graphic system controls to facilitate automating the live newscast. A manual Rundown Manager is now available for facilities without a MOS-complaint newsroom computer system, or to serve as a “life boat” in the event of an NRCS crash. In addition, the Director’s On-Air user interface has been upgraded with operator-feedback-based enhancements.

TBS Taps Thomson For New Digital Center
Turner Broadcasting System (TBS) has committed their signal routing and distribution systems to Grass Valley brand systems from Thomson. The Grass Valley systems will be used in four separate divisions within Turner Broadcast for HD and multi-format mobile production to produce, distribute, and manage the flow of programs and commercials to, from, and within its new Network Operations Center in Atlanta, and to facilitate programming for various domestic and international networks.
As part of a company-wide transition to digital signal routing, CNN in Atlanta and New York have upgraded to the latest Grass Valley routing switchers; Turner Entertainment Network (TEN) is expanding its existing Grass Valley routing systems; Turner Studios is deploying a new Trinix chassis for HD signal routing; and the TBS satellite teleport is deploying two large Trinix routers and four smaller Grass Valley systems for satellite feed reception and distribution. The division is also deploying several Jupiter control systems to manage the hundreds of multi-format source feeds it handles daily.