PBS to purchase prepackaged IT systems

Even with digital broadcast gear, buying in bulk can save money.

Looking to streamline its production operations and save on equipment costs, the Public Broadcast Service (PBS) has entered into an agreement with a consortium of technology vendors to have them supply an integrated package of digital equipment for an IT-based broadcast system for a large number of its member stations that will ease the transition to a digital infrastructure.

The new ACE system is designed to automate repetitive processes and reduce costly manual operations. It can also be easily replicated to accommodate the disparate production environments among up to 60 PBS member stations.

Five public stations, which have not been announced, will be going online with the new equipment in the second half of 2004. Additional deployments covering roughly 50 other small-market public stations are expected by the end of 2006.

The group of equipment companies involved includes Accenture, BroadView Software, Intel, Microsoft, Miranda Technologies, Omneon Video Networks, OmniBus Systems, and SES AMERICOM. The companies have pledged to work together to develop interoperable broadcast systems and software interfaces to help PBS engineers during installation and make it all work seamlessly.

Designed by PBS Technology & Operations, in Alexandria, Va., the ACE system will use products and software from the nine vendors in a tightly integrated system that facilitates economical playout, master control, and monitoring operations. Key components include automated channel operations; multi-level automated systems monitoring; remote diagnostics; and locally hosted scheduling, traffic, and underwriting functions. A representative of the consortium said the system will also simplify management of incoming and outgoing programming at the local level.

André Mendes, PBS chief technology integration officer, said that, “By integrating ‘best-of-breed’ technologies from a consortium of leading suppliers, we have created a simplified broadcast model that is easy to replicate, expand, and service, yet flexible enough to preserve the character of individual member stations.”

According to the companies involved, PBS’s ACE system relies on standard components and a secure, highly redundant network to consolidate basic operational services across all facilities and processes. It said participating PBS member stations will benefit from an easy integration and installation of proven play-to-air systems. They’ll get standardized training, support, and remote monitoring of local master control operations.

The ACE solution includes: a networked server infrastructure from Omneon Video Networks; network-based automation and video asset management from OmniBus Systems; video interfacing, routing, master control switching, channel branding and visual/aural facility monitoring over IP from Miranda Technologies; traffic, scheduling and underwriting software from BroadView Software; and satellite bandwidth and communication services from SES AMERICOM.

The system package also leverages the Microsoft’s .NET integration architecture and Windows Server software; server and desktop components and software-enabling services from Intel; and program management, design and integration services to be provided by Accenture.

For PBS general managers like Dennis Haarsager, of public stations KWSU/KTNW (located in the campus of Washington State University), ACE represents a convergence of standard computing architectures and advanced communications with mission-critical broadcasting requirements. “This will enable significant cost reductions and greater efficiency along with improved reliability throughout broadcast operations,” he said. “This transition will provide PBS and participating member stations with a much stronger ability to adapt to the fast changing broadcast landscape and integrate future technological advances into our program management and play-out infrastructure.”

A demonstration of an ACE model station will be showcased at the 2004 PBS Technology Conference in Las Vegas, April 13th – 17th and at the subsequent NAB2004 convention.

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