System Design Showcase: ZNS

The Bahamian broadcaster will go from analog SD to digital HD in one move.
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The transition to digital across the Caribbean is interesting to monitor, with various nations studying transitional successes and challenges across North America, South America and Europe. Concerns about signal interference between neighboring countries in the eastern Caribbean persist, while the entire region has its eye on the impending June 17, 2015, “digitalswitchover” date — the current deadline for many international countries to surrender analog spectrum.

Many regional broadcasters prefer the gradual transition model of moving from analog to SD digital, which offers a less aggressive learning curve and a natural progression toward HD. However, with June 2015 approaching in less two years, there are benefits to bypassing SD in favor of a direct-to-HD transition. This is the approach Unified Video Technologies (UNIV) took with ZNS, the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas.

More than 75 years ago, ZNS was launched as a government-funded, non-commercial radio station, broadcasting two hours each day. Since 1950, ZNS has been partially funded by advertising revenues, and ZNS today operates three radio stations, a free-to-air TV station (TV-13) and the cable TV Parliamentary Channel (TV-40). ZNS has remained a significant, unifying force in the Bahamas, keeping the widely dispersed population informed about national developments. However, it has lost audience share in recent years as viewers switched to crisper HD/SD programming offered through cable and satellite services.

The straight-to-HD transition offered a potentially winning strategy to draw viewers back, but it required an internal sea change. This included not only a complete redesign of the technical and operational spaces, but also a professional training program to ease the transition to new technologies and procedures — notably the drastic change to a tapeless, file-based workflow. This was necessary to accelerate the learning curve for ZNS personnel faced with a challenging situation.

Design and implementation... How was it done?

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