With the Cox stations about done with their conversions to HD news, Technical Operations VP Dave Siegler is focused on media asset management, storing and indexing digital video and making it easy to push content online and onto mobile platforms. Other priorities include consolidating back-office and IT functions as well as integrating traffic and master control with BXF.
Cox’s Top Tech Task: Store, Repurpose Video
There’s a new guy calling the technical shots for Cox Media Group. He is Dave Siegler, who in February succeeded Sterling Davis as VP of technical operations for the group, which includes 15 TV stations in 13 markets. (Davis, who retired at the end of 2011, continues as a consultant, but restricts his duties to representing Cox on industry committees.)
Siegler is well steeped in the Cox culture, having spent the better part of seven years as the chief tech for the group’s ABC-independent duopoly in Charlotte, N.C., WSOC-WAXN. In that role, he brought HD and production automation to the newscasts, launched mobile DTV service and installed new traffic and automation systems.
The new job brings Siegler back to Atlanta where parent Cox Enterprises maintains its headquarters and dominants local media with the Atlanta Constitution-Journal and flagship ABC affiliate WSB. Prior to joining Cox in 2005, he was manager of studio engineering for Turner Studios in the Georgia capital.
His peripatetic career also includes technical stints at Post-Newsweek Stations’ WDIV Detroit and WJXT Jacksonville.
In this interview with TVNewsCheck, Siegler says he has no big projects — no new station construction or rebuilds — on his plate, but he still has plenty to do. High on the TV list: finding ways to index and store all the video files that pour into stations and to repurpose video for the Web and various mobile offerings.
An edited transcript:
You have fairly recently completed new facilities in Pittsburgh and Dayton. Anything else of that magnitude on your plate?
No big significant ones. Most all of our stations are now HD for news and that’s a good place to be. It took us a few years to get there. We’re in the good and fortunate position of shoring up our backups and redundancy plans. One of the things that is outlying for us is media asset management, which we’ll be jumping into in 2014 or 2015.
What do you mean by media asset management? That has different meanings for different people.
For us, it has to do with cataloging and indexing our archive footage so that we are able to put our finger on video quickly. We’re pretty well off of videotape now. We’re very much file based, but with that comes being able to locate material.
One of the technologies that the vendors are pushing is the so-called channel in a box. Does it have much value for the kind of full-service stations that Cox operates?
The value is if you need to add a channel quickly such as a subchannel, a dot-2 or a dot-3 channel. But even in that area, we’re in really good shape. We have done the build outs of dot-2s and dot-3s across our portfolio. So at this point we don’t have a big need for it, but it’s good to know that we can light up a new subchannel very quickly.
Do you see the technology evolving to a point where it could handle a full-service station with all its moving parts?
Yes, in some form or fashion. It’s a matter of changing business trends and technology trends. But in a decent sized market, I don’t see channel in a box as the solution for the whole station operation. We take the approach of we want a lot of control, a lot of oversight, so we can manage those channels. We don’t feel that putting in a channel in a box and having no operator is the best way to go.
What’s your solution for pushing content online or onto mobile platforms?
We’re very actively engaged in exploring those options right now. We have put out a bid and we have received some RFPs. I am printing those RFPs right now to read on a plane tomorrow. At least initially, the challenge is that there is not a single vendor that can solve all of the needs. So it probably will become a multi-vendor solution.
When do you think you will have a decision on that?
Certainly within the next couple of months.
What’s your take on using bonded-cellular technology for ENG?
We’re using the LiveU system for newsgathering and it’s a fantastic tool. It’s just a great way to be able to get from out of the way places where you cannot get out from a live truck. We have several of those units in our group. We love them, but with it comes some limitations. If you have a large crowd around using their cell phones, it’s a problem. So we have taken the approach that LiveU will not fully replace a live truck. With a live truck comes things like generator power and shelter from the elements. So we see the cellular technology for news gathering as an augmentation tool.
But it does mean less money going into the trucks?
Yes. We’re taking a careful look at some of our markets where we may skip a live truck in one year and go with one or two of the cellular packs and then get back onto the cycle of another truck. So we’re trying to adjust that cadence of trucks versus cellular technology to get the right blend. That’s very much market driven.
Are you sending multimedia reporters out by themselves — one-man bands?
We’re doing some of that for those stories that make sense, for something that we don’t anticipate would go live or would be a breaking news story.
How do you equip them?
We’re a Panasonic P2 house and so they have a smaller scale P2 cameras. They will acquire that video and bring it back into the station for further editing and processing directly from the P2 cards or, if they outstrip the capacity of those cards, they would download it into a laptop which they have with them.
What do they have for editing in the field?
We’re Avid and they have the lite version for the laptops. They generally don’t do a lot of editing. Generally they will come back to the station for editing, but they could do rough cuts if they need to.
When I last spoke to Sterling, he said that Cox was involved with consolidating back-office functions and IT. Could you elaborate on that a little bit?
Sure. The main focus and direction for Cox Media Group recently is to focus the field locations on locally generated content, meaning news and sales. So what we want to do to make more efficient use of everyone’s time and energy is to consolidate things like accounts payable, accounts receivable, expense reports, payroll — the sorts of things that are more mechanical and repetitive in nature. Then, we don’t have to necessarily have all of that skill set deployed out into the field. We can roll up payroll at a corporate level and administer that more effectively and efficiently than having it distributed across 34 locations.
Where do you stand in terms of mobile DTV? Can you tell me how many you have on the air and what your rollout plans are?
In more than half of our markets, we are transmitting in mobile DTV. While we do have a few budgeted to deploy next year, we’re at a point now where we want to see devices and see how the public is going to accept this. We are a firm believer in mobile DTV and accordingly have made investments to lead to the success of it.
Sterling wasn’t a big fan of centralcasting. Are you?
No. As a company, we’re very traditional. We have had a good history of being very decentralized. That’s changing as we consolidate some things like back office, but we don’t feel that there’s a lot of economic sense in doing centralcasting at this point in time. Of course, we could always explore that, but right now our focus is on consolidating back office and creating a truly digital media environment.
You were an early adopter of the news production automation with Grass Valley Ignite. Does that always include camera robotics?
No. That’s an add on. I would say we have robotics in three-quarters of our markets. The big goal is to minimize studio staffing and we have achieved that in all but the smaller markets. You don’t always get a lot of economics by taking just one or two people out because you still have got to do prompter and lighting and things of that sort.
Do you have the loudness problem under control?
We do. We have plans for that. We are going to make the deadline for the compliance [with the FCC rules]. We have formed a committee that went out and vetted solutions and vendors and they came back with a really good solution. For us, it has got to be scalable from small to medium to large markets and we have got a really good plan in place.
What’s the solution?
It’s a three-vendor solution, but I would rather not [identify them] right now.
I know that Cox has been working with BXF for integrating trafficking and master control. How has that been going? Is that as beneficial as advertised?
It’s coming along well. As with any new technology that might be the cool thing of the day, you wait and see how things develop and how the manufacturers come along with their solution. We have Harris for automation and traffic. We have deployed BXF in several of our markets and we can now make minute changes to our logs for master control.
We’re in a situation where, in theory, a traffic manager from home on a laptop with an Internet connection could go in and literally make a change to the log up to just a minute or two before air. We’re making use of it in that fashion and that helps us out with maximizing revenue. It helps with last-minute changes with political where you wouldn’t want to necessarily wait until the next broadcast day.
Read other Tech One On One interviews here.