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On Top of It

Deborah McAdams is the Executive Editor of TV Technology.

What exactly is a TV station, you may ask yourself if you are one of most people not directly involved with a TV station. Who cares where TV comes from besides TV people? Conceptually, it's like water from a faucet. It's just there.

Interspersed among the more than 50 million programming channels are occasional scenes of telegenic people seated at wood-veneer desks in front of azure backdrops emblazoned with italicized logos. This is the iconography of local TV news, but it's replicated in so many forms that it doesn't inspire the kind of ownership typically reserved for local sports teams. And that's too bad.

TV stations are some of the most inventive content hubs around the country. In addition to producing their own material, they take in and redistribute everything from national network programming delivered by dedicated satellite feeds to video clips shot on smartphones sent over cellular networks—including, I hear, commercials.

Something as seemingly simple as getting an iPhone clip on the air involves enough processor power to steer Rover on Mars. iPhone video is just one of several file types that have to be reconfigured for compatibility with a string of devices that may or may not handle the original file type; edited into other file types; formatted for the large screen, the small screen, the computer screen, the cloud, the archive and platforms not yet perceived of; and cataloged in such a way that a one-minute clip can be dug out of 10,000 hours of programming. Often live. On the fly.

Who else is doing this, you may ask? No one. Not in this way, with this much content, from so many disparate sources. Broadcasting may be popularly disparaged as a content delivery dinosaur, but dinosaurs ruled the world for 135 million years.