HPA 2013: The Broadcasters Panel

INDIAN WELLS, CALIF. – It may have seemed like overkill to build a backup control facility, but Tony Cole said the move came in handy last fall. Cole, vice president of broadcast operations engineering for ABC, said distribution at ABC has always been robust—New York and Los Angeles are up on separate Galaxy satellites. Adding a control room cost about $2 million he said.

“We put them both on the air in December of 2011,” he said. “The following September, Sandy hit the coast.”

On Saturday evening, Oct. 29, ABC started losing the signal from New York. For the first time ever, the satellite dish moved, he said. The dish is rated to 120 mile-per-hour winds, but the technician checking it literally saw the main uplink dish move, so uplinks were moved to Los Angeles, he said.

“Later, we lost all the fibers from New York to L.A.,” he said. “The vaults downtown were flooded. We switched all origination over to L.A.”

New York took it back at about three or four in the morning, but until then, it was switched back and forth between New York and Los Angeles.

“Not one second of air time was missed,” Cole said. “In the end, we were asked if we wanted more money for a build-out. I said, ‘yes.’”

Cole said ABC is now working on electronic program delivery and building out infrastructures to support file-based workflows, which, he said, are more costly than analog workflows despite assumptions to the contrary.

Bob Seidel, vice president of engineering and advanced technology at CBS said the network announced a year ago they would accept file-based delivery. A few months in, they required it. Here’s what happened, Seidel said.

“Please roll the tape,” he said to audience chuckles. The clip illustrated a flawless system. Seidel was later asked about quality checking. He said ads are QC’d one time on ingest and digitally cloned for distribution to various sites.

“In terms of programs, it’s pretty much the same,” he said. “Standard delivery is 50 Mbps, 4:2:2.”

CBS Worldwide Distribution uses Pitch Blue to move files. Seidel said CWD now has 900 boxes in the field serving 1,400 television stations (including Canada, Mexico, South and Central America). He said CWD instantly receives notification when material is delivered to the station.

“We have close to four-nines reliability,” he said. “It’s worked out very well. In terms of labor savings, there’s no one in master control. We make hundreds of thousands of air dates with the system.”

Glenn Reitmeier, vice president of standards and policy at NBC Universal, spoke to multiplatform distribution. He said clearing rights was the most complicated part of getting content on various devices and platforms a la TV Everywhere, but that it would fuel the development of more devices and platforms enabled by advanced compression such as HEVC and DASH.

Audience measurement is another challenge, he said, though he had numbers galore from the London Olympics. NBC did more than 5,000 hours of coverage from the Games, watched by 219.4 million people—up 2 percent from Beijing. Coverage averaged 31.1 million viewers per night over 17 days. Online, there were 57.1 million unique viewers, up 10 percent from Beijing, and 10.1 unique views on mobile devices, up 55 percent.
More than 94 million on-demand video streams were viewed (6.7 million hours), and more than 64 million live video streams were viewed (13.4 million hours), he said.

John McCoskey, chief technology officer of PBS, noted the network’s full transition to MPEG-4, and DVB-S2 with carrier ID on satellite. He said PBS also was wrapping up non-real-time file distribution to stations, and a restoration of a “35-year-old broadcast facility, down to the foundations of the building.”

The PBS disaster-recovery site is now in Lincoln, Neb.

The network is also working on Mobile-EAS, creating a redundant path to SMSPs for alert messaging. Non-commercial educational licensees must-carry CMAC messages, he said. Infrastructure hardening is the second phase.

Beyond broadcast, PBS is doing 190 million video streams per month versus zero three years ago, with 7 percent going to mobile devices. (Mr. McCoskey corrects me. The mobile figure is 70 percent.)

Mark Aitken of Sinclair asked the panelists about the adoption of “next-generation” television in the next decade. Siedel said too much depended on regulatory uncertainty.

Clyde Smith, senior vice president of new technologies for Fox Network Engineering and Operations said broadcasting was “over-regulated and over-stalked.”

“If you look at the cellphone industry and LTE, they come up with a major upgrade to their standard every year. They don’t have to go through the FCC.”

~ Deborah D. McAdams