Launching A Secondary Channel

It seems like everywhere you look these days, a TV station or network is promoting a second or even third channel. Networks and stations throughout the United States are offering everything from 24-hour music channels to ones dedicated to reruns of classic television shows. And then there are info channels, which feature mainly local weather, news and sports in a T-bar format around content repurposed from the main television channel.

Secondary channels are becoming familiar, thanks to the increasing transition to digital broadcasting and high definition by broadcasters. Due to the 19 Mbps of bandwidth allotted to broadcasters with a digital license, 13 Mbps of that bandwidth can go to the HD channel, while 6 Mbps can be allocated to a secondary subchannel. These secondary channels can be great for generating extra revenue for your network or station, provided you know how to launch them in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible.

As discussed, the main benefit of launching a subchannel comes down to extra money in your station or network's coffers. When you launch a subchannel, you are typically taking content from your main channel and repackaging it for the subchannel. For example, you can take the news on your main channel and repurpose it to create a news-only subchannel. You can promote the subchannel on your main channel, so that interested viewers will know to watch it. Then you can draw in sponsors based on these viewers.

There are several types of subchannels. Some broadcasters will make their main channel HD and create up to three SD subchannels. Often, these take the form of sponsor-driven info channels on such specific topics as local weather, news and sports. Others take their main HD channel content and build new playlists and rundowns to add different content to their SD subchannel(s). Although this can be a bit more expensive than creating an info channel, the additional revenue generated by advertisers attracted to the new content generally offsets the cost.

Before we talk about launching a cost-effective subchannel, it's important to discuss what you would traditionally need to set up a subchannel. The first thing you need is a multichannel automation system, with additional ports to control a video server--either the one you already have or a new one. Then you would need a branding box, possibly new features for your graphics system, as well as a method of getting your traffic system to output another channel.

Not only would this take many hours to implement, but the costs of buying these systems can also be prohibitive. Think about how these costs would affect the additional revenue you would gain from the new subchannel. In the long run, would the costs of buying the automation, server, branding box and other systems needed to launch the subchannel eventually pay for themselves in revenue? It's a point worth pondering.

Another challenge of launching a subchannel the traditional way involves integration. As broadcasters are well aware, not all broadcast systems get along with each other. You will generally need one vendor for the automation system, one for the server, and one for the graphics engine, as well as any other major broadcast systems you want to integrate. Getting the technology in place to allow these systems to "talk" to one another can take several weeks, not counting the time it will take to get the systems delivered to and installed into your facility. In addition to the direct cost, this added need for people-power may affect the viability of the new subchannel.

There is a more cost-effective solution to the vexing problem of launching a digital subchannel. It's basically a television channel in a box--an all-in-one package for creating and launching a subchannel. Miranda has developed such a system: the Xstation. As far as we can tell, it is the only solution of its kind on the market today that consolidates an automation system; a video content and asset management server; branding system; graphics engine; traffic system; and the potential for HD up or downconversion into one single unit, providing all the software and hardware needed to create, schedule and air complete DTV subchannels, without any compromises in graphics capability. With the Xstation, there is no longer the need to buy and integrate completely new systems to launch a subchannel, so you can get your subchannel on the air quickly, and start realizing revenue faster.

Many of the main components of the Xstation center around the Xmedia Server-LX video content and asset management server. The server, which features up to two terabytes of storage, works in conjunction with the Xstation's Vertigo XG graphics engine, the Xplay automation system, the Xbuilder scheduling and data entry system, and the Xstudio authoring environment. Another important component of the Xstation is its data parsers, which you can use to feed content from the AP NewsWire, FTP, Bloomberg and other media outlets to your subchannel(s).

A major component of the Xstation is the Vertigo XG graphics engine, a full-featured system for graphics creation, rendering and playback which allows you to render and play back any type of graphical element, from multiple crawls and tickers to full-screen graphics with 3D transitions. It takes the graphical layout built in the Xstudio and displays it as an actual SDI or HD-SDI video signal. It also provides single- or dual-channel graphics and video playout capability for realtime broadcast applications. You can link on-air graphics elements from the Xstation's Xmedia Object customizable library of common elements through drag-and-drop operations, and then control the broadcast from user-definable soft control panels.

Xplay is the automation system of the Xstation. It runs through your playlist, making sure everything runs as scheduled. It also provides you with a preview of upcoming events like bugs and crawls. The Xbuilder is basically a playlist manager, allowing you to schedule new content for your subchannel. It has a clip and template repository that you can cull from to drag and drop into and create an entire playlist for the day, with full scheduling information.

Xstudio is the authoring environment for the Xstation, a place where you can build your branding layouts, create graphics, and add any intelligence, like weather updates or news data, to them. It features a keyframe animation editor and timeline for realtime animation playback, along with unlimited virtual keyers that can be controlled independently.

Unlike creating and implementing traditional subchannels, it is quite simple to integrate the Xstation into your existing broadcast facility. The preferred method is to take the log from your traffic system and import it using the Xbuilder. From that point on, the Xstation provides everything you need to get the channel on the air. Launching a new channel in this manner can be done in as little as two weeks, including the commissioning and the training of station personnel.

Once you have implemented the Xstation, you can efficiently and quickly launch a subchannel. No matter whether it is an info channel or a channel with new content, it is likely to affect your bottom line--in the best possible way.

Mansour Brek is the Vice President of R&D for Miranda's Graphic Products.