Max Media Expands HD Central-Casting Facility

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Max Media has expanded its Missoula, Mont., facility, so it is now playing out standard- and high-definition feeds for 12 ABC and Fox affiliate stations covering six markets in the state.

The HD central-casting facility is currently passing along high-definition programming from ABC and Fox and can handle local HD ads. The 12 Max Media stations have not launched local newscasts or syndicated shows in HD, but the facility would be able to handle such content when the stations begin providing it.

Transmitting the 12 stations from one central facility offers significant cost savings and is increasingly becoming the norm in smaller markets. “In small markets like this, it is just not feasible to have a full-blown master control in every one of the markets,” said Max Media director of engineering Mark Huller.

Other local stations are sending out feeds from Missoula to smaller markets.

“It is becoming kind of the norm, given the business,” he said. “For us, the hub system is a perfect solution.”

Presently, the central-casting facility sends out dual ABC and Fox HD programming feeds to KTMF in Missoula, KTMF-LD in Kalispell, KWYB in Butte, KWYB-LD in Bozeman, KFBB in Great Falls and KHBB in Helena.

The three largest vendors for the expanded facility are routing switcher and master control provider Utah Scientific, video-server provider Harris and encoder maker Harmonic.

Two years ago, Max Media installed a UTAH-400 routing switcher and this summer added a Utah MC-400 master control as part of the rebuild of their central-casting operations. The MC-400 includes a multichannel control system with MC-GUI soft control panels.

Each of the 12 channels uses Utah Scientific’s MC-40/EAS, which features an internal logo generator and an audio clip store. The MC-40 takes in the Emergency Alert System signal and performs keying and audio message presentation without the need for additional equipment.

Huller noted that Max Media chose Utah Scientific because it offered “the best bang for the buck,” compared to other vendors, and because it had used the vendor’s equipment in the past. “We’ve had really good luck with it and their customer support is fantastic,” he said.

Heartland Video provides a number of integration services for the project, which was done on a very tight schedule.
“We had about 25 days from the time the checks were written to the time when the project had to be completed,” Huller said. “It was a very tight timetable for what are really a total rebuild, with new servers, routers and encoding systems.”
Huller believes Max Media’s new ability to play out local ads in HD will eventually be a competitive advantage for the stations, but it will probably take a little time for clients to begin delivering HD spots.

The facility currently uses three people to operate the feeds -- one operator for ABC, one for Fox and a third to oversee activities and help out when needed.

Max Media decided not to completely automate the playout, Huller said.

“It was mostly a financial decision, but frankly it is such a basic, very-efficient system that honestly there is not a lot that can go wrong,” he said.

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