The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) is a private, non-profit corporation whose members are America’s public TV stations — non-commercial, educational licensees that operate more than 350 PBS member stations and serve all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Guam and American Samoa. Like most broadcasters, PBS has to adapt to a new world. John McCoskey, CTO, PBS, talks about the challenges of modernizing this American broadcasting institution.
VIA SATELLITE: What technologies are you looking to implement in your broadcast systems infrastructure during the next 12 months?
McCoskey: We have a lot of big projects going on — both in-flight and under way. I think our biggest is related to a project we call Next Generation Interconnection System (NGIS). That is a 10-year project that deals with all aspects of our distribution of content to our member stations. A big chunk of that is satellite transponder leasing. For example, we are going through a big upgrade from an MPEG2 to an MPEG4 satellite distribution across our entire system. We are in the process of rolling out a non-real time distribution, so file-based distribution to stations. We are sending them tested files so they can take them to air at the station level.
VIA SATELLITE: What trends do you see emerging in broadcasting during the next year?
McCoskey: I think we are going to see changes and growth in alternate distribution platforms. We are really focused on having flexible workflows, so as new elements become available we can match them up without taking a lot of time or spending a lot of money. On the tactical side, we are very active in mobile digital TV. I think this year will be a critical year for mobile TV, as it is finally getting traction in the United States. There are two significant groups on the station side, which are making commitments to launch mobile TV.
At PBS, we see this technology as really important when you look at things like emergency alerts and messaging. We just finished up a pilot we did with LG that used the mobile DTV technology platform for delivering emergency alerts directly to tablets and mobile DTV enabled phones. This was not just traditional text message type of alerting, but rich media. For example, we had a station that did an example of a tornado, where you can alert the fact that there was tornado in the area, but also send a radar image and evacuation routes as rich media along with it.
This is something we kicked off after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan because we heard from our broadcast colleagues, such as NHK, that the one infrastructure that really did not go down as a result of that tragedy was the broadcast infrastructure. In Japan, about 90 percent of the phones have mobile DTV capability, and it was a way for people to connect, to hear what was going on and get emergency messaging and alerts and so forth. From a mission standpoint, it is a really important thing to do, and that is actually moving forward through the standards process. So, the ATSC standards organization is engaging on this, and we expect to see a standard come out from that.