Signs in the sky: Demand for HD news SNG backhaul grows

Most local origination of TV programming is news, so it stands to reason that one way to assess the current state of HD deployment on a local basis is to ask someone with a unique perspective on news contribution.

With that in mind, HD Technology Update spoke with Ron Rosenthal, regional vice president, broadcast solutions North America, Intelsat, to learn about the demand for HD satellite newsgathering (SNG) backhaul services for news.

While most of the company’s HD news backhaul to date has been for the broadcast networks, signs of a shift to greater demand by local TV newsrooms for HD SNG backhaul are on the horizon.

HD Technology Update: How would you assess the demand for backhaul of HD news at this point?

Ron Rosenthal: As a satellite company, my assets are located at 22,000 miles above the earth. So, my task and the task of my team in North America is to create and deliver a value proposition that, through products or partnerships, enables our customers to increase existing revenue streams, create new ones or reduce costs.

Over the last 18 months, we’ve observed a tremendous amount of growth from news organizations who are looking to further their ability to acquire and distribute HD content. This trend has generated the need for a solution that integrates satellite capacity with production facilities and transmission trucks to deliver HD content to the news stations.
One of the successes we’ve had is a partnership with PSSI, Media Arts and Mira Productions. Mira Productions and Media Arts are responsible for the production, Intelsat provides the space segment and PSSI is providing the HD transmission trucks. This ecosystem approach delivers great advantages to both networks and television stations.

HDTU: Does that business model speak to where stations are with HD news acquisition capability?

RR: The one-stop shopping that combines space segment, production and HD trucks is attractive to TV stations because the HD trucks are not as abundant as the SD trucks are. Another offering we have — and have been offering for several years now — is our on-demand service. On-demand leverages a self-access, self-deploying, pop-up dish capable of SD and HD services. The service allows a single reporter going out into the field with the camera, tripod and essentially with a unit that weighs between 75 and 85lbs, to do his own live shot with anywhere between a .75m and 1m dish. A reporter can backhaul his own live shots to the station with a single touch of a button.

Back in April at NAB, we demonstrated that, depending on the size of the BUC and the power we’re putting through the antenna, Intelsat OnDemand service can transmit HD pictures. So, in a time when stations are looking to cut costs and maintain their overhead, Intelsat can enable TV stations or affiliates to have a one-person crew, who can go out in field, be the camera man, the reporter and the satellite transmission technician.

HDTU: Could you compare the amount of usage by networks and local stations of HD backhaul for SNG at this point?

RR: We are seeing it grow. I’m seeing it grow more at the network level. Over the last 18 to 24 months, we’ve seen the sale of HD sets picking up. As a result, the appetite for HD is increasing. Early on, the appetite was more focused on sports. Now, the local affiliates see more opportunities for HD news due to the fact that their customers seek more regional and local content. Quite frankly, no one wants to be caught behind the eight ball. They want to have as much local content in HD as possible. As the networks distribute an HD signal, viewers don’t want to see an SD signal for their local news. The requirement to maintain the high quality across the board is there.

HDTU: What steps are being taken to accommodate efficient encoding and bandwidth utilization for HD field contribution?

RR: The demand for HD content from the local stations, station groups or the networks is there. Right now, we have an SNG neighborhood on SBS-6, which is located at 74 degrees West, and we have one on Galaxy 11, which is located at 91 degrees West. What we need to do is look at the market requirements for those stations that have gone HD and are looking for more HD content. We’re looking to create neighborhoods for HD SNG services to make it easy for the operator in the field to know where to point for HD content. If I have one satellite where my customers can look for that contributed HD content, there’s a valuable proposition there because I don’t have people searching all over the sky for HD content.

HDTU: Are you seeing demand for data services to support file transfer of edited news packages from the field?

RR: The biggest demand I am seeing from news organizations is for VoIP, or data services, from the field. When there’s a producer out there sitting in a truck, he needs to be in contact with the station. Whether it’s IFB or a regular phone call back to the station, he needs to have the ability to feed the story and appropriate metadata. We have had a tremendous amount of success with ABC News. Leveraging Intelsat OnDemand service, ABC has been providing VoIP services from the field over the last three years.

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