TECH SPOTLIGHT

ABC O&Os Sold On Channel In A Box

The station group is moving ahead with installing Miranda's iTX system at all eight of its stations by the end of the second quarter. Technical uniformity across the group is key, says ABC tech Dave Converse. “Philosophically, when you want to address a problem, you want to address it the same way. Right now, when we have a problem, we have to solve it eight times."

To achieve greater efficiency and group-wide technical uniformity, ABC Owned Television Stations is replacing master control at its eight stations with the same channel-in-a-box (CiaB) solution.

David Converse, VP of engineering for the group, says his team is working as quickly as possible to install Miranda Technologies’ iTX  CiaB at the stations with a goal of going live with the technology in the second quarter.

Converse says the move to CiaB, which integrates all elements of master control room is a single software package and box, is being driven mostly by the desire for operational “consistency.”

“Philosophically, when you want to address a problem, you want to address it the same way. Right now, when we have a problem, we have to solve it eight times. Do you want to solve it eight times in the future, or one time?”

ABC is familiar with Miranda’s technology. The station group’s Live Well digital network is powered by the iTX system. “Right now, that network is at about 75% distribution, so with that kind of demand, I’d say the (iTX) solution is working out pretty well,” says Converse.

ABC’s move is important to the industry, as traditional broadcasters have been skeptical of CiaB, saying that full-service TV stations are too complex for the technology.

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“I think there was skepticism because there’s a lot more at risk when it comes to master control,” says Joe Zaller, an industry analyst and owner of Devoncroft Partners.

“The channel is a complicated environment; there are a lot of moving parts, so there can’t be a weakest link in that chain,” he adds. “If something goes wrong, you potentially have a more serious problem than a news production problem. If it fails and you miss a commercial, you can’t get it back. If I’m turning my cash register over to you, I not only want to be convinced that it works, but also want to know what you’ll do when it doesn’t work.”

Zaller adds that he expects more stations to buy CiaB solutions in the next year or two as their existing equipment ages and they need a cost-efficient solution. “The business benefits of these solutions will remain compelling, and as the systems continue to evolve and develop, more will come on board. These vendors aren’t sitting still.”

Scott Rose, senior product manager for Miranda’s iTX solution, couldn’t comment on ABC’s purchase because the company signed a non-disclosure agreement, but says its CiaB solution has taken off in the past year and a half.

“TV is too complicated,” he says. “There are too many boxes, each need power, air conditioning to cool, an engineering team to maintain it…. You wouldn’t design TV like this today if you started from a blank sheet of paper.

“We’re at a point now where broadcasters are asking, ‘Why do we still have this?’ ”

Rose says bigger station groups likely didn’t want to be the first to test the technology, but many are now coming up on their capital refresh cycles. “You’re not going to throw something out if you still owe money on it. I think when many of these broadcasters are ready for something new, a channel-in-a-box solution is an automatic choice for them.

“A lot of these stations might be at a point where they can’t hold off any more. They have aging servers, some of their equipment is at the end of its life and they want to start planning for the future,” he adds.

Like other vendors, Miranda incorporates its existing technology into its CiaB solutions. “Our approach is to use technologies that Miranda already owns and build them into the product.”

Rose says the approach is similar to what Apple does with its Mac computer lineup — only allowing users to run the Mac operating system on Mac hardware.

One of the components Miranda needed for iTX solution was proven closed captioning technology. Instead of developing its technology, Rose says, Miranda acquired Softel, a captioning leader. Terms of the deal, which was completed at the beginning of this year, were undisclosed.

It’s unclear what the impact will be on day-to-day operations at the eight ABC stations once they go live using iTX. WABC New York Chief Engineer Kurt Hanson declined comment for the story. Other ABC chief engineers couldn’t be reached for comment.

Rose says CiaB solutions do allow for fewer people to work in master control. “But quite often, it frees the operators to do other jobs around the station. A lot of stations aren’t laying off as much, because they’ll have an operator tackle another task at the station. Channel in a box systems enables them to do more after cutting costs.”

Converse would not comment on how CiaB would affect day-to-day operations, except to say the technology is more efficient.

“Channel-in-a-box solutions make sense to me because you can accomplish everything a channel needs in a single appliance. You have everything you need with a lot less architecture, compared to a very complex work environment that you find in a traditional master control room.”

Andrew Dodson is TVNewsCheck’s technology editor. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewDodson. Contact him with news tips and story ideas at 303-800-4581 or [email protected]


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