Northwest stations defining an ADDE they can share
Originally published in
Current, Sept. 24, 2001
The other day a technician flipped a switch and out came a program on the DTV transmitter of Seattle's KCTS. It was not an extraordinary event, except that the technician and the video were located in Spokane, on the opposite side of Washington State.
The digital video zapped across the state at 8 megabits per second on a pieced-together series of leased fiber-optic lines.
Similar hookups, using a range of technologies that could save money and enable new services, may someday assemble program feeds for stations throughout the Northwest. Thirteen licensees from Montana to Nevada have signed on to plan the Northwest Advanced Digital Distribution Entity, known more intimately as the Northwest ADDE.
Dennis Haarsager, father of the scheme and g.m. of Washington State University's KWSU in Pullman, says the ADDE is "well into the planning stage." Engineers are drawing up technical plans and preparing specs to get bids from fiber transmission vendors. If construction bids come in between $15 million and $20 million, Haarsager says, "we may have a deal."
The club brought together all the stations in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana. Then it added California and Nevada stations in Eureka, Redding, Sacramento, Fresno and Reno. Now it's looking toward Alaska, Haarsager says.
"In the end, the real art form is not going to be the technology," he remarks. It's the feat of getting agreement among partners. "Each licensee has a different schedule for DTV equipment, financing, legal structures. Getting those things to sing at the same time is the real art form."
In other regions, ADDE talks are in earlier stages. In the Northeast, managers of New England stations met in June for preliminary discussions about creating an ADDE-like set-up, according to David Liroff, chief technology officer at WGBH in Boston. And in the Great Plains, the state networks in Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota have discussed the idea of sharing a master control, according to Rod Bates, g.m. of Nebraska ETV.
An ADDE is a big sister of the joint master control facilities already operating for two stations in Denver and planned for multiple stations in New York, Philadelphia and elsewhere. But a true ADDE serves stations that are separated by substantial distances, says Haarsager.
Stations will be wise to band together in something like an ADDE, Haarsager figures, because they will want to deliver multiple channels of programming for various delivery platforms as well as video on-demand for schools and other clients.
The Northwest ADDE would have two classes of participating stations:
For years, efficiency-minded managers have seen the chance to automate, share equipment and reduce staffing in the 170-plus control rooms of public TV, but some technicians fear being displaced.
Stations have to resolve staff jitters about the "ominous"-sounding idea of letting someone else run your master control, says Bates. "I don't think you deliberately want to overrule your staff. You want them to buy into the concept."
Interplay of costs
TV's ongoing switch to digital formats makes the ADDE possible, says Liroff. That allows compression to reduce transmission time and packetizing so that video can be sent conveniently over the Internet or other networks. "Once everything is in digital form, you can move programs around as easily as computer files. The vast majority of programs do not have to be distributed on a real-time basis."
Haarsager bases his vision of an ADDE on very low costs for fiber-optic transmission between cities. Those prices are halved every nine or ten months, he says, though the intercity rates are much lower than the local last-mile connections at each end, where there's less competition among vendors.
The shape of future ADDEs and of the next PBS interconnection system, for that matter will be determined by the interplay of costs, according to Liroff. Planners are peering into the future to see what may happen in the next two years that would cause them to regret a design for an ADDE.
It's probably not the most efficient set-up to have a complete copy of the PBS schedule at every station, Liroff says. Neither is it best to have just one for the whole country. Costs will help determine where ADDEs would make sense and what they would do.
If the costs of digital storage fall faster than the cost of transmission between cities, stations may keep programs on their own local servers, even if the servers are overseen by technicians and computers at a central location. If equipment-makers create a cheap "master control in a box," there will be less incentive to share facilities.
If long-distance fiber transmission is relatively cheap, stations may create ADDEs based on shared program interests or philosophies rather than regional proximity, Liroff observes.
And some ADDE-like functions can be built into the next PBS interconnection system, which would help determine which tasks ADDEs would handle.
The potential variations on ADDEs are endless. In Texas, public TV stations are talking about creating an ADDE-like hookup that would handle streaming video and other digital material but not standard broadcast programs, according to Rod Zent, g.m. of KAMU at College Station. If the Texas Public Broadcasting Association can find funding, they'll go ahead with the project.
The 14 Texas stations would share access to the material through a statewide intranet capable of carrying 1.5 megabits per second equal to a fraction of a DTV signal. They would have many ways to distribute it locally, says Zent datacasting it over their DTV signals, for instance, or sending it to the 100 videoconferencing sites in the state university system, or routing it to local schools on request.
|To Current's home page|
|Earlier news: Encouraged by CPB, nearby public TV stations are establishing shared master control rooms, 2000.|
|Later news: PBS plans new interconnection system compatible with ADDEs, June 2002.|
|Outside link: Haarsager's website.|
Web page posted June 26, 2002
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