Rebuild a TV Station on the cheap

My ooVoo Day With... John Wall

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I’ve been having some hallway discussions with our CEO Chuck Peters (or as I affectionalty refer to him as “Chucky P”).  I think it started after I was talking too much about how cheap I thought I could rebuild a TV station.  I was tossing around a number which was close to 10% of the cost the consultants were estimating.

So this morning, Chucky P called me to the table about the conversation.  He’s asys – OK, mr. 90% reduction in cost…HOW?  It was a much nicer was that he asked – but seriously, he said – “tell me more – how would you do it?”

The Methodology
You first have to agree – it’s not going to be the “TV Station” it is today.  It’s a digital distribution station, a DDS.  This DDS will do many of the things a traditional station does, but it must look and adopt some of the best practices of the web.

It will be hard – and I know I don’t understand some of the TV concepts and I can hear the old school media guys saying – this is all good, but what about…   the point is to try and think about what TV will be in 3,4 and 7 years.  I’m not sure TV as we know it will exist in 7 years, so why rebuild it now to currect specs.

Slashdot ran a post Oct 05, 2006 called “Could I Run a TV Station on Linux?

  • I’m working with a low-power television station to update their playback system. Currently they’re using tape and I’ve been tasked to move them to computerized playback (MPEG-2, etc.) There are proprietary solutions (very expensive) and there are companies that bundle software with Windows and standard x86 hardware. Overall, they are generally unimpressive and won’t sell the software without bundling it with their own hardware. Tom’s Comment:  Wow does this sound familiar – this is exactly what I hear from my co-works at the tv station still today…but the interesting part is the other comments, I found some interesting one – but I’m sure I missed a couple of gems.
  • Actually, you can address a lot of those types of problems (like playlist management, etc.) with one of the many mplayer frontends on their related projects page [mplayerhq.hu]. All you need to do is choose whichever one you prefer and mplayer is your best friend for video playback.

  • The things you need are a scheduler (to determine which commercials air when), a program format spec file (to tell where in a program file the actual video begins and ends so you don’t end up unnecessarily airing several seconds of black as you might if you just paused the playback of a TV show), and a mechanism for crossfading the audio between spots to handle the case where people run it right up to the wire. You need a switcher for the video—the ability to quickly change from one foreground full-screen video window to another without any glitching. This is a lot harder than it sounds. Finally, you need a player that can start pretty much instantaneously and without glitch in the middle of a program. I haven’t found that to be true of VLC at all in my experience, but maybe it has improved a lot in the last few months….

  • For a possible controller UI, you might check out SongCue on SourceForge. I designed it for radio automation, but combine that UI with a preview pane above each controller and show a still frame from 5 seconds into a segment, and you have a UI that would work pretty well for what you’re doing, too. Maybe even show live video in the preview panes during playback. (I wouldn’t recommend the code from SongCue, though, as it’s pretty much raw Xlib, not for the faint of heart.)

  • If I were writing such a thing, I’d start with a Mac OS X (10.4 Server) box. Xsan provides a supported mechanism for handling your storage needs. QTKit can do your playback, and Quartz Composer should make switching the foreground full screen movie pretty easy. The only potential snag I can think of would be that if you aren’t careful, you could mouse over onto the live output signal, but all things considered, it’s probably the easiest way to build an app that does what you want, IMHO.

You see – this is a two year old post with ideas we have not seen people look at or try.  This is all good stuff.  I have not even begun to speak about user content – there are two projects like this going on – one for sure is based on Drupal…an open source contnet management system.  Don’t even get me started on my favorite CMS WordPress – I’m SURE it could do it with one processor tied behind it’s back.

Here is also a pre-bult server from NetTVWorld (posted from CNet) which is calling it self a TV Station in a box and also – clains the idea of a reporter taking it with them to a story and broadcasting from there.  See link in comments to here.

Conclusion

So I’m not saying I can do it – but I think if you get a TV outsider who gets the web (someone like me) and a few TV people who really have a mindset to change the scene – it could be done…for 10% ok 20% of what they think!

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