TECH SPOTLIGHT

News Services Moving From Satellite To Cloud

Most of the satellite-delivered news sharing services are migrating their distribution from satellites to cloud-based systems.The main reasons are faster upload and download times, no hassles over booking satellite time and the cost savings that come from no longer needing dishes and servers. The exception is NBC News Channel, which still has concerns about the cloud's reliability.

The days of local TV newsrooms swapping stories with network news services via satellite may be numbered.

As of last month, all CBS Newspath affiliates now download stories off the cloud using an Internet browser. ABC NewsOne is gearing up to launch a new, completely redesigned cloud-based system in early 2014, and CNN’s Newsource has only a few stragglers still using the satellite.

Fox News Channel’s feed service, Fox NewsEdge, continues to use satellite as its primary delivery method of news videos to Fox affiliates, but the cable news network says it’s currently in negotiations with vendors and hopes to make a move in early 2014.

NBC News Channel is the only feed service still not convinced about the cloud’s reliability.

“Satellite is based on everyone getting the same thing,” says Dave Cunningham, president and founder of Generation Technologies, the company behind NIMxchange, the CBS Newspath’s longtime vendor that has engineered the move from satellite to the cloud. “Today, the same thing doesn’t cut it. You have 25 megabits of satellite capacity. That’s not enough to deliver all the combinations of different formats that stations need.”

CBS has been rolling out its cloud service for a year, but it was only in the last three months that that most stations made the conversion to the cloud.

BRAND CONNECTIONS

Unlike the satellite service, which required stations to have dishes and servers to store clips, the NIMxchange cloud service requires no hardware.

Generation Technologies, the company behind NIMxchange, has an underground data center outside of its Overland Park, Kan., headquarters and also uses hosted cloud services by Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure to store and distribute the thousands of clips produced each day, and transcode those clips into multiple formats.

At the station, the user interface looks nearly identical from the days of satellite, says Annie Noland, GM of Generation Technologies. “The stuff that’s going on under the covers is really what has evolved.”

What affiliates and the network will notice is the speed and costs associated with the cloud-based system.

It takes about 11 minutes for one station to upload a three-minute clip to the cloud, the system to transcode it into multiple formats — SD, HD, MPEG-2 and h.264 — and for another station to download it, Cunningham says.

When everyone was using satellites, especially leading into nightly newscasts, the system would back up, Cunningham says. That same three-minute clip could take an hour to upload and download.

“There was a reason why, in the satellite world, we strongly encouraged that contributions be under three minutes,” Cunningham says. “It just takes too much time on a satellite to transport that much content. And if it’s really busy, a clip could have uplink fade, and then the broadcaster has to transmit it again.”

In terms of cost, Cunningham points to the fact that stations don’t have to invest in equipment. “Suddenly, you have no server, no dish, no l-band infrastructure — all of that is really expensive,” he says.

Chris Halford, director of sales at Generation Technologies, gave the example of a station covering a professional football game, creating the post-game story and then loading it up on NIMxchange from the stadium. “The benefits were speed, but also a big savings in cost as they didn’t need to reserve satellite time, which could be expensive,” he says.

CBS declined to participate in this story.

Other network news services are realizing the benefits of the cloud and shifting their technology in that direction.

ABC NewsOne is working with its distribution vendor, DG PathFire, on a cloud solution, says Al Prieto, VP of NewsOne. Dubbed VideoFusion, it should be ready to go in early 2014.

“It’s a complete refresh,” Prieto says. “It’ll look different, work better and have more bells and whistles that makes it easier to access content in all file formats. It’ll be a big improvement.”

CNN Newsource, the cable news network’s syndicated news service, led the way to cloud distribution in 2010 with Bitcentral’s Oasis. When it launched, 80% of its station promptly made the switch, says Fred Fourcher, founder and CEO of Bitcentral. Today, nearly all Newsource subscribers download content from the cloud.

“The reason for that is because you can get more with the Internet download than you can with the satellite download,” Fourcher says. But it took some convincing to get all the broadcasters on board. Even in 2010, many stations didn’t have adequate bandwidth for day-to-day Internet use, says Fourcher.

“There was this fear that this new system would take over their bandwidth, or they’d have to go buy additional bandwidth,” he says. “But our system uses residual bandwidth, and doesn’t occupy primary bandwidth.”

That means Oasis is designed to use only the bandwidth at a station that’s not being used instead of commandeering all of it.

NBC News Channel still uses satellite as its primary method to deliver video files and feels no compulsion to change, says Robert Horner, president of the Charlotte-based feed service.

“We have no immediate plans to leave behind our satellite-based way of operation,” he says. “When I have visited with stations who are clients of a cloud-based operation, I still don’t hear what I’d like to hear about the speed and reliability of the service. I still hear some clients encountering problems. At the moment, we’re comfortable with what we’re doing.”

NBC News Channel does have a cloud-based method of distribution available for its international clients, and any U.S. station that might run into an emergency, like a down server.

“I think we’ll continue to explore cloud-based methods, but I’d be a little surprised if that was our only method anytime in the near future,” Horner says.

To stay up to date on all things tech, follow Andrew Dodson on TVNewsCheck’s Playout tech blog here.


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