New servers, not separate feeds, will handle PBS time-zone delays

Steve Behrens
June 8, 2009

CPB will buy time-zone delay servers for 73 public TV stations to record PBS satellite feeds and delay them an hour, two hours or longer until broadcast time rolls around.

Most of the stations are in the Central and Mountain time zones, whose traditional satellite feeds, delayed from East Coast broadcast hours, were squeezed off the PBS satellite system this winter, prompting some sharp words, regional grievances and intrasystem politicking.

"We're delighted this is happening," said Peter Morrill, g.m. of Idaho Public Television. It will be "a big, big help," he said, and could help prevent slipups like the one several Fridays ago when the state network missed its chance to record the only feed of Washington Week before its scheduled airtime in Idaho.

"There are 52 times you have to get it right the first time," Morrill said. "We got 51 of them right."

The servers will imitate a delayed feed, spitting out the program at airtime just as if it were coming down from a satellite.

On PBS's request, the CPB Board on May 21 okayed spending $2 million for the batch of servers. The delay devices will be offered to Alaska and Hawaii stations as well. PBS hasn't determined yet how to serve its member stations in Guam and American Samoa, says PBS Chief Engineer Jim Kutzner.

When PBS upgraded its main program feed to high-definition (or at least widescreen digital) in December, it had satellite capacity for only two feeds of the schedule, Eastern and Pacific. It finally dropped the Central, Mountain and Alaska-Pacific feeds in February, Kutzner said.

HD feeds in PBS's satellite system occupy the capacity of four standard-definition digital feeds.

CPB expects to contract with PBS to handle the purchase and distribution of the servers.

PBS has tested four server models and will test a fifth before issuing a request for proposals to buy the devices, Kutzner told Current. He expects the servers will cost no more than $27,000 each and will come with three-year warranties covering parts and labor.

PBS's planned Next Generation Interconnection System will give stations a different piece of receiving equipment, an edge server, that will let them receive most national and syndicated programs when the PBS satellite switches to non-realtime transmission, Kutzner says. NGIS will transmit the majority of programs as files, often faster than realtime, using the Internet protocol.

Timely programs such as the PBS NewsHour and Washington Week still will be fed in realtime for broadcast immediately or on time-zone delays, he says.

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