BEC Widens Focus on Broadcast Technologies

The broadcast industry is undergoing unprecedented fundamental changes — and engineers are the people expected to help companies navigate them. In response, the Broadcast Engineering Conference offers a slate of sessions that address these cutting- edge changes head-on.

The conference is produced in partnership with the Society of Broadcast Engineers and IEEE. Sponsored by The Durst Organization and the Empire State Building, the conference began on Saturday and runs through Thursday.

“There is not one specific focus this year for the BEC, since there are so many important issues upfront for the industry,” said John Marino, vice president of Technology for NAB. “We are covering new technology developments, ATSC 3.0, digital radio, broadcast workflows, cybersecurity, emergenc y preparedness, UHDTV, broadcast facility design and much more. Many of these topics will be represented on the NAB Show exhibit floor as vendors look toward the evolution of radio and television broadcasting.”

One change keeping U.S. TV engineers up at night is the FCC’s plan to “repack” the broadcast spectrum, moving some broadcasters out of their assigned channels so that this spectrum can be resold to the highest bidder. IABM CTO Stan Moote will moderate a vendor panel today poised to answer the question, “Are We Really Ready for Repack?”

“The repack process, which is really broadcast spectrum reduction, has many variables and will impact approximately 1,200 TV stations,” said Moote. “This is very destabilizing because during this process it is extremely difficult to firm up 2016 business and technical planning. Putting the unknowns on the table in a common forum will help attendees understand repack in detail.”

For broadcasters, the FCC’s spectrum auction timeline “is the most pressing issue,” Moote said. The fact that the auction could force some stations out of their current channels means that broadcasters have a lot of questions that need to be answered, and fast.

To help out, “the complete supply chain to make the repack change-over will be examined for stumbling blocks during this BEC session,” said Moote. “The panel will also be asked questions: How will channel sharing work? In what way will the transition to ATSC 3.0 fit into the mix? What about LPTV? Will coverage and interference patterns change? Is repack realistic?”

BEC attendees, Marino said,can hear from “several manufacturers discussing issues such as transmitter upgrades, antennas, filters and the availability of tower crews to do much of the work needed at facilities to accommodate a spectrum repack,” said Marino. “Also to be addressed are the many challenges involved to provide uninterrupted service while making a channel transition.”

As broadcasters move into the IP world—not just through ATSC 3.0, but also on the Web and mobile—they are finding themselves within the sights of hackers. The BEC will delve into cybersecurity and digital content protection for operators, issues that were of no concern to broadcasters not so long ago.

“With the high-profile cyberattack on TVMonde in France and a variety of ransomware and RDS attacks on radio broadcasters, cybersecurity is a major issue that broadcasters need to follow and prepare for,” said Marino. “Many broadcast facilities are connected to the Internet, making them vulnerable if steps have not been taken to secure their critical infrastructure.”

To remedy this, BEC’s cybersecurity sessions on Wednesday, will cover many of the options available for the industry to secure its assets, as well as “best practices.” For instance, Bentley University professor Steve Weisman will delve deep into the dark realities of cybersecurity with his session, “How Worried Should You Be of a Cyberattack? Very!” 5:30 p.m.

“The main focus of my presentation is that radio and television stations are prime targets for a myriad of hackers with different motivations,” said Weisman. “Some may be hacking station websites and computers to temporarily take control of these media to embarrass the stations for political reasons; while other more profit-inclined hackers may be looking to lock the computers of the stations using ransomware, threatening to destroy the stations’ data if they do not pay a ransom.”

The dark motives for cyberattacks on broadcasters don’t end here. Many attacks can target broadcasters simply because they are commercial enterprises. “Still others will be seeking to steal information including W-2s and other personal information for purposes of income tax identity theft or other forms of identity theft,” Weisman said. “Stations will also be the target of attacks to steal access to stations’ bank accounts or to lure the stations into paying phony invoices.”

The real problem is that broadcasters are being targeted by hackers due to their vulnerability, perceived social power and presence, and ability to deliver up profitable financial goodies to criminals. The fundamental motivation for attacking broadcasters is akin to the reason bank robber Willy Sutton is reputed to have given reporters when asked why he robbed banks: “Because that’s where the money is.”

When it comes to cyberattacks on broadcasters, “such stations represent desirable targets for these hackers, often because the stations may not have paid sufficient attention to preventive actions including employee education,” said Weisman. “The main issues I intend to raise are to first identify from where the threats are coming, what are the various threats and the often simple steps that can be taken to reduce the likelihood of a devastating cyberattack.”

Also on the BEC’s agenda is the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or drones) for newsgathering — an approach that offers bird’s-eye views of events (including those where police have blocked ground access) at a time when the FAA is still ironing out the legalities of flying unmanned, remotely-controlled aircraft within U.S. airspace.

“We have a panel session covering drones and their uses for newsgathering, what broadcasters need to know about FAA and legal issues, and overall guidance for broadcasters,” said Marino. Also on the agenda are “presentations addressing radio and television coverage in conflict zones, efficiencies in newsroom production, new techniques to cover sports events, and ways that IP technology is improving work in the field.”

OTT will be covered during the conference. Mindful that broadcasters are moving into OTT content delivery, “our OTT session will cover ways to improve streaming video and protect content,” Marino said. “A presentation by TV Globo Brazil will describe how this large broadcaster developed an OTT platform customized for their viewers.”

All told, the 2016 Broadcast Engineering Conference promises to give attendees an up-to-date comprehensive briefing on the fundamental changes shaping the broadcasting industry today. In addition, “we hope that attendees will take time to learn about the opportunities that are becoming available for broadcasters by way of the educational sessions that we are offering this year,” said Marino. “These BEC sessions, combined with the many exhibitors at this year’s NAB Show, will be an ideal way for attendees to learn and have hands-on experiences with products and applications on the show floor.”

For more on radio-related BEC sessions, see page 84.