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HD for community TV

4 December 2006

Digital Rapids, through Swiss distributor VCS, has just completed the multiple encoding and live streaming of the award ceremony surrounding United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan’s receipt of the Freedom Prize from the Max Schmidheiny Foundation.

Solent TV, the first not-for-profit commercial local television station in the UK, has commissioned Broadcast Networks to install a new HD-ready studio and playout centre at its Isle of Wight facility in readiness for its launch as a new channel on BSkyB. This makes it the first recipient of the Broadcast Networks Community TV Solution.

The station, which broadcasts local news, sports and information about the Isle of Wight and Solent region, already delivers its programmes via the Rowridge analogue terrestrial transmitter as well as internet streaming and local cable TV services. From January 2007, it will be available on digital satellite across Europe, making it the first community station to access the distribution potential of Digital Satellite Broadcasting.

To enable this transition, Broadcast Networks is upgrading Solent TV’s technical infrastructure by installing a turnkey system that has been specially designed to provide community or smaller television stations with a cost-effective upgrade path to Digital and HD technology. It includes a completely new Sony XDCAM HD camera system, allowing Solent TV to acquire all of their footage on the format; an HD-ready media server and media management system from Suitcase TV; a Miranda X-Station HD-ready playout system and the new Miranda Kaleido multiview system for playout. To link Solent TV to the BSkyB platform, a new Broadcast Networks H264 encoder system is used to provide the live link to Globecast, who in turn provide the uplink to BSkyB.

Tom Haye, director of Broadcast Networks, says: “There are a large number of community and local television stations that wish to enter the digital arena. However, for many the cost of undertaking this type of upgrade is prohibitive. To address this market we co-operated with Sony Professional Services Europe to devise a turnkey solution that incorporates everything a small broadcaster needs to deliver programming digitally and in HD. The package includes equipment, system integration and training to enable staff at the TV stations to operate their new facilities.”

The entire package has been provided under a very cost-effective leasing agreement allowing small broadcasters like Solent TV to spread their payments.

The facility is now under construction and will be completed by December 2006 in readiness for the launch on BSkyB on 15 January.

Paul Topping, the station’s head of broadcasting, says: “This is a huge project for us and we spoke to a number of system integration companies to see who could best meet our needs. Broadcast Networks was the only company that could offer a complete turnkey solution that fitted our budget. We are a small broadcaster and therefore don’t have our own engineering or facility departments. What we needed was a company that could provide everything, from equipment supply to installation, training and service provision. Broadcast Networks’ experience and technical know-how has enabled us to turn a very complex project into something manageable. This allows us to concentrate on what will be on the viewers TV screen rather than worrying about how it gets there.”

Paul Wallis, area sales manager at Sony PSE, who worked with Broadcast Networks to develop the new studio package, said: “We were happy to support this initiative because we could see that it has huge potential, especially in developing markets such as Eastern Europe. The Broadcast Networks Community TV solution is more than a television station in a box. We anticipate great demand for it as it is a neat and cost-effective complete solution for so many small broadcasters. Once the concept has been proven at Solent TV, we will be working with Broadcast Networks to roll the service out around Europe.”

Solent TV, which is owned by the charity ‘Island Volunteers’, was awarded the RSL (Restricted Services Licence) on the Isle of Wight by the ITC (now Ofcom) – to broadcast to the Isle of Wight from 31 October 2002. Its flagship news programme, Solent Tonight, goes out each weekday evening in various time slots, driving the audience to the broadcaster’s prime-time schedule. Solent Tonight is also available as video-on-demand from the broadcaster’s website where it attracts 15,000 downloads each week.

“Our programmes are primarily aimed at Isle of Wight residents, but we are attracting viewers from much further away,” Topping said. “Approximately three quarters of a million people can watch Solent TV across the Isle of Wight and the South of England via our terrestrial signal or through the service provided by Isle of Wight Cable. However, because of the topography of the island, historically there have been some viewers who can’t receive our terrestrial or cable signal although they can access satellite channels. This is one reason why we decided to broadcast via BSkyB.”

Topping added that 4.5 million hits a month on Solent TV’s website proves that local news is what the viewing public wants.

“I believe that what we are doing with Broadcast Networks on BSkyB will inspire many other community TV stations to use satellite distribution,” he says. “Future-proofing our facilities and investing in satellite uplink technology will enable us to deliver high quality programming to a much wider audience.”

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