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News services taking digital-feed plunge

Apr 29, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Daily scheduled news feeds to affiliates will be a thing of the past at most TV stations by the end of the year.
By that time, stations subscribing to news feeds from ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN will have to be able to receive stories and video automatically on their desktop via a digital delivery system.
That means news services, such as CNN Newsource, ABC NewsOne and CBS’s Newspath, will be able to eliminate the daily scheduled feeds of nonlive stories to their affiliates, since those packages will be sent immediately. They will be distributed digitally via satellite rather than through the traditional analog satellite feed. Stories arrive like e-mail and are categorized and organized on the desktop.
The leading companies providing such technology to the feed services are Pathfire in Atlanta and BitCentral in Irvine, Calif. Earlier this month, Pathfire announced plans to roll out its service to all 680 CNN Newsource affiliates in North America. ABC NewsOne is weaning its 180 affiliates and 30 national and international clients off the daily news feeds and onto the Pathfire service, a process that should be completed by June. NBC NewsChannel has provided the service to its 200 affiliates for more than a year, while CBS plans to launch BitCentral’s service during the summer. Pathfire’s CEO Mike Eckert says he is in talks with Fox about implementing the service.
Neither Pathfire nor BitCentral would disclose costs, but CBS’s John Frazee, who heads Newspath, said CBS is paying in the “single-digit millions” for the service. There is no direct charge to the TV stations for either service.
Both companies install and operate the servers at the affiliated TV stations. The video is received via satellite and sent automatically to the servers, so no one has to “catch” the incoming video feed.
Stations are enthusiastic.
“It will be as revolutionary as going from film to videotape,” said Chuck Samuels, news director of ABC affiliate WOKR-TV in Rochester, N.Y., which has beta-tested the Pathfire system. “Everything is with a mouse click,” he said. “You don’t have to wait for tape to rewind.”
ABC affiliate KSTP-TV in Minneapolis has been using Pathfire’s Digital Media Gateway system for more than four months for some types of stories, said Amy Morris, executive producer with the station. “Just the other day we requested footage [of new airline] JetBlue because it may come to Minneapolis,” she said. “I called NewsOne, and they put it on Pathfire 30 minutes later. In the past, I would have waited all day. … It speeds up the process and makes life a little easier.”
However, the service hasn’t always been easy to use. Ms. Morris said delivery has been slow at times, and stories that arrived were old. Mr. Samuels also said the service operated slowly at first, but both agreed the speed has since picked up. Pathfire said it guarantees 99.9 percent service availability and has been meeting that standard for more than a year.
The benefits of the service, however, far outweigh such struggles, said Bob Horner, president of NBC NewsChannel in Charlotte, N.C. “If we thought it was a medium-size win, we probably would have given up because of the difficulty,” he said. “But this is the biggest change in the feed service industry ever.”
Because of the ease of use of the service, NBC affiliate WNYT-TV in Albany, N.Y., uses about 30 percent to 35 percent more material from NBC NewsChannel than it did when the stories came via analog satellite, said News Director Paul Conti.
One of the reasons CNN Newsource chose to deploy Pathfire is because the service is being used at NBC and ABC already, which makes the transition seamless for those affiliates that also subscribe to CNN’s service, said Susan Grant, president, CNN Newsource sales.
CBS’s Newspath has opted to roll out Pathfire competitor BitCentral’s MediaPipe service this summer. The service isn’t cheap, but it should make Newspath more competitive, said Mr. Frazee, senior vice president news services with CBS News.
Like its competitors, Newspath provides the service free of charge to its affiliates, though they usually incur some minor costs, such as providing a telephone line for diagnostic checks of the system, he said.
MediaPipe is a Web-based application, while Pathfire’s DMG and NewsTracker need to be installed on stations’ computers. The benefit of a Web-based application is that many TV stations don’t possess computers with a lot of processing power to run an intensive application, and they don’t need to upgrade their PCs to use MediaPipe, said Fred Fourcher, CEO of BitCentral. KSTP, in contrast, had to upgrade its computers to run the Pathfire application.