Stations Seek to Sanitize Signals

A/V delay boxes help prevent obscenity, fines


At the 2004 Super Bowl, when Justin Timberlake caused Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction, that live television moment resulted in controversy, hefty fines for CBS and its affiliates, and calls for tougher laws to discourage broadcasters from letting offensive content slip by again.

Recognizing that punitive fines--potentially in the hundreds of thousands of dollars--could cause their operations to fade-to-black, broadcasters are scrambling to find low-cost audio/video delay boxes that would ensure airing only family-friendly fare, while insulating them from fines.


"This is a hot topic of conversation among broadcasters," said Jim Barclay, production products marketing manager for Accom, Inc., in Menlo Park, Calif. "After the Janet Jackson/Super Bowl incident, we were approached by broadcasters who asked us to find a simple, effective solution that would prevent profanity from airing during live events. After some research and development, we introduced AirCleaner.

"While delay boxes used to focus on audio, today's delay boxes must be able to delay video, audio or both, in SDTV or HDTV telecasts, at the push of a button. And the process cannot be automated. You must have an operator sitting there, watching the live show, who can take swift action to prevent a profane word or obscene image from going out to the transmitter," Barclay said.

AirCleaner offers a delay of up to 60 seconds for SDTV and up to 11 seconds for HDTV, with up to eight channels of audio in and out. "A 30-second delay can also be split to give two operators 15 seconds of delay each for redundancy," said Barclay. "If AirCleaner had been used during the Super Bowl last year, the offending image would never have aired. The operator could have cut to an auxiliary shot of the crowd or an aerial view." AirCleaner also allows the operator to cut to a shade of black, or blur or defocus the image.

"The issue of profanity delay is largely an American problem," said Barclay. "But our product has applications worldwide as a delay box for correcting audio-video synchronization problems."


"Affiliates that produce their own local news and sports can benefit from the Pipeline," said Bob Kelly, vice president of sales for Prime Image, Inc., in San Jose, Calif.

"For example, after the home team loses the playoff, broadcasters have no way of knowing what disgruntled fans might say or do while their live cameras are rolling. Congress has passed legislation that provides for fines of up to $325,000 per station for each instance of obscenity or profanity should a viewer file a complaint with the FCC."

The SD Pipeline was available prior to the 2004 Super Bowl, but Kelly said the incident "only served to emphasize the problem that already existed. Consequently, we were already well-positioned with a product that precisely fit what the broadcasters were looking for. We did step up our advertising and direct sales efforts in response to the incident."

Relatively soon after the Super Bowl telecast last year, CBS and ABC ordered Pipelines for all their O&Os nationwide. "Many Pipelines were sold to other major networks in New York and Los Angeles; and many groups and individual affiliates stepped up and purchased it on their own instincts," said Kelly.

The latest version, called the HD/SD Pipeline, supports 1080i and 720p HDTV, as well as SDTV; it can delay video, audio, or both by about 10 seconds, allowing the operator to cut away to a safe, secondary source; cut to music; or display any graphic so viewers don't switch to another channel.

"This is a solid-state device that doesn't rely on any moving parts, and it's very easy to use," said Kelly. "While the Pipeline has been on the market for 10 years, market demand is relatively high today due to two factors: Broadcasters want to keep their content within the bounds of what the FCC has mandated, and they want to be good corporate citizens providing programming suitable for family viewing."


Interest in delay devices spreads across the spectrum, from the networks to the local affiliates, according to Danny Wilson, president of Singapore-based Pixelmetrix Corp.

"While we've seen equal interest from networks and affiliates, local station engineers want this to be the networks' problem because their budgets have been squeezed by the DTV transition," said Wilson. "But top-market affiliates often produce their own live news and sports, which makes it necessary for them to employ their own video/audio delay box and to hire an operator--an added expense--to keep an eye on the live show and a finger on the controls of the delay box."

Prior to the Super Bowl incident, Pixelmetrix offered only a multi-hour version of its DVShift delay system, which has ASI (MPEG transport stream) inputs and outputs that make it well-suited to time shifting across time zones.

But, "as a result of the Super Bowl," said Wilson, we introduced a new product line under the DVShift family which had SD and HD inputs and delayed in seconds." Within six weeks of the Super Bowl incident, Pixelmetrix began to promote the fact that its DVShift now offered short-term delays of 10 seconds or 60 seconds for HDTV and SDTV, respectively--just long enough for an operator to cut away to a different camera or shot. DVShift's short-term delay can also synchronize wireless RF cameras with wired cameras so both signals arrive at the truck or master control at the same time for better program continuity.

The multi-hour version of DVShift offers a long-term delay, programmable for hours or days, making it ideal for managing broadcasts across different time zones. "DVShift is used by Danish broadcasters to delay their programming, which is also seen in Greenland. While it's acceptable to air adult shows after 10 p.m. in Denmark, that's the dinner hour in Greenland," says Wilson. "So they use DVShift to delay the entire [MPEG-2] compressed stream--including video, audio, closed captioning and interactive content--which is stored in gigabytes or terabytes of storage. The compressed content is then aired in Greenland after a pre-programmed delay of about four hours."


"Broadcasters are definitely demonstrating increased demand for video/audio delay boxes," said Linda Chang, director of sales and marketing for Hotronic in Campbell, Calif. "Local affiliates want to have a video/audio delay box on their live shows even if they've never experienced an incidence of obscenity or profanity. They don't want to take chances anymore."

As the improved version of the AL86, the AY86 has been serving the broadcast market for three years. "Since the Janet Jackson incident, the AY86 has been a popular unit due to its practical features and reasonable price," said Chang. "In the last two years, we have also seen increased demand from the international market for this video/audio delay unit for live programs."

Hotronic's AY86 Video/Audio Delay system is frame-by-frame adjustable for up to a 7-second delay; or for up to a 20-second delay. The AY86 supports SDI digital and analog formats, along with four channels of AES/EBU audio. In the event that objectionable video or audio occurs, the operator can mute or cut the audio, and cut away to a secondary source or graphic. "The up to 20-second delay version was purchased by CCTV (Central China TV) which uses the system to filter out objectionable content," said Chang.


The Doremi V1-MP2 is a video disk recorder that uses MPEG-2 video compression. It features composite, S-Video, YUV and SDI I/O for SDTV, and it can operate as a VTR replacement. The V1-HD model supports HDTV, and both models provide up to eight channels of digital audio (AES/EBU) or six channels of analog audio.

"This product came out before the Super Bowl incident, but we took advantage of that fact in our marketing and, as a result, sales went up. We definitely saw a surge in calls from our resellers and major market stations that do live news, sports, and events," said Ramzi Shakra, marketing director, for Doremi Labs in Burbank, Calif.

"Previously, we promoted the product's broadcast time zone delay of 1 to 12 hours; but after the Super Bowl, we stressed the short-term delay, which can be as little as one or two seconds."

With many of these delay systems priced under $15,000, vendors say that this relatively small investment can be easily justified if it prevents a fine and viewer disapproval.

Claudia Kienzle