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BBC’s digital savvy turns heads in U.S.

Aug 13, 2001  •  Post A Comment

The latest wave of the British invasion is sweeping the United States.
BBC Technology has signed digital media consulting pacts with two major American broadcasters-Fox and DirecTV.
Earlier this year, the BBC’s internal technology development team assumed an identity of its own, becoming a wholly owned subsidiary of the broadcasting network looking to capitalize on its expertise in media asset management tools by wooing other media companies as consulting clients.
As the budding consultancy opened its first U.S. offices in the San Francisco Bay area, Los Angeles, Atlanta and New York, BBC Technology officially announced its American debut at the National Association of Broadcasters’ April convention in Las Vegas.
BBC Technology was hired by Fox to help Fox Sports and Fox Sports Net to adapt a portion of their existing archives of taped video programming into digital form. BBC’s digital storage blueprint would create a searchable electronic library of Fox Sports’ content that could be edited and enhanced by post-production professionals from an intranet control facility. Recently taped video would be cached onto servers, while footage more than several days old would remain in tape format.
“As we cast about for a project team to work with us to investigate what is available to solve this challenge, we found BBC Technology was uniquely suited because of their experiences and insights in this area,” said Andrew Setos, executive vice president of the News Technology Group.
BBC Technology recommended the video storage mechanism to Fox Sports as a tool that would improve the quality and efficiency of Fox Sports’ post-production pro-cess by giving the network’s behind-the-scenes staff easier access to a wide array of video content for highlights and replays.
“Rather than working in discrete silos, they [Fox Sports] now become a production community,” said Mitchell Linden, head of BBC Technologies’ digital media solutions group. “What that means is improved programming.”
For example, if a player were injured during a sporting event, the system would help a network retrieve video clips showing the player in action to fill time while the injured player is carried away.
BBC Technology is hoping it can build on the momentum of the Fox Sports project by attracting additional clients in the American broadcast industry.
“We have been contacted by every major news organization in the U.S.,” Mr. Linden said. “They are all moving to this model.”
The consultancy is developing a similar solution for one of its parent’s media properties, BBC News, in Great Britain.
In the United States, CNN is assembling a complete digital video collection with the assistance of technology partners IBM and Sony Electronics. Mr. Linden said IBM and Virage are two of BBC Technology’s major competitors in the digital-asset-management arena.
“IBM is both a competitor and a partner [of ours],” Mr. Linden said. But Mr. Linden declined to specify whether IBM is providing video servers to BBC Technology, citing a nondisclosure agreement with BBC’s server vendor.
Aside from the Fox relationship, satellite television broadcaster DirecTV has also commissioned BBC Technology to build a system capable of controlling the satellite transmissions of television broadcasts to 41 locales from DirecTV’s central broadcasting facilities in Los Angeles and Castle Rock, Colo. Development of the tool, which is called Broadcast Network Control System, is expected to be completed this fall, according to DirecTV.
DirecTV’s launch of the BCNS technology will mark the system’s American debut. Prior to the DirecTV initiative, the system had been deployed by satellite broadcasters BSkyB and the BBC in Britain, RUV in Iceland and UPC in the Netherlands.
BBC Technology is supplementing its broadcast television consulting business with work in the nascent digital cinema industry. The company is advising film industry participants about practical methods for transporting digitally encoded films over broadband pipes into theaters.