Costcutters expect salary savings in automating station control rooms
Public TV's payroll of control room technicians is Target No. 1 for economizing as the field tries to cut costs for the leaner future.
A group of public TV stations this fall  will begin beta-testing of PBS's Local Insertion Server, a combination of software, a digital disc and other hardware that can be programmed to automatically insert station breaks, promos and other material into a stream of programming.
CPB planner Doug Weiss, who has launched into a detailed study of potential automation savings for both TV and radio, says he believes the field could achieve the savings of $45 million to $61 million that Lehman Brothers projected for the year 2000 in its report for CPB last spring. The savings would amount to only a few million next year, but would grow to between $24 million and $32 million by 1998, according to the Lehman figures.
Lehman assumed that automation and unattended recording of satellite feeds could allow stations to eliminate 50 to 70 percent of public TV's transmission and scheduling-related jobs by the year 2000, a CPB background paper explained.
The automation equipment would cost $50,000 per station, according to the paper.
Public TV's Small Station Association last spring proposed a one-year field test of automated handling of satellite feeds, and CPB is considering backing the proposal with a grant from the new CPB Future Fund for TV, according to Weiss.
In the test, the new Local Insertion Server would be used to customize a specially designed, seamless PBS satellite feed, according to David Dial, president of WNIN in Evansville, Ind., who coauthored the proposal for the Small Station Association. Dial predicted annual savings of about $24,000 a year.
Prototypes of the server, commissioned by PBS from Microvision Inc. in Mud Lake, N.J., will be used in the beta test this fall, and the gear will be available for sale from the company next spring, says PBS engineering chief Mark Richer.
PBS also is making available its program database in standard formats so that stations can use it in scheduling programs without wasteful retyping, Richer says.
Weiss expects to find potential staffing economies in fundraising, membership and program-guide functions as well as in technical operations. Technicians freed up from control rooms also may be moved to revenue-producing jobs in teleconferencing, he adds.
Web page posted Oct. 31, 1998
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