SBJ/January 7 - 13, 2002/Media

Audio enhancements go straight to TV-truck provider instead of networks

National Mobile Television, the largest U.S. provider of broadcast trucks and equipment, has signed an exclusive deal with a subsidiary of Santa Ana, Calif.-based SRS Labs to launch two new pieces of audio processing equipment exclusively through NMT, a deal that NMT President Jerry Gepner says will radically change how new broadcast technologies come to market.

Typically, technology providers market new systems directly to the networks, which then request facility companies like NMT to add the systems to their trucks. Virtually all enhancements developed over the last few years, from the virtual first-down lines to digital replay machines to real-time statistics systems, have come to market this way.

By linking directly with SRS Labs, Gepner said, NMT becomes the marketer of the technology, and it also ensures seamless integration between the new equipment and the facilities that will house them.

"This is the model that will allow live event broadcasting to take the next step in this country," Gepner said. "It's the logical evolution."

The new systems, which will launch officially this week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, are designed to improve audio feeds from live sporting events. One, called a sports audio processor, encodes compressed audio feeds with more information, resulting in a richer sound for sporting events that brings an announcer's voice to the forefront without drowning out background noise. Gepner said the difference is noticeable and will be heard on any television with any broadcast feed.

The second system, called a broadcast phase protector, is specifically for stereo, non-Dolby Surround Sound transmissions. It protects against an audio channel being lost due to a feed becoming "out of phase," a technical glitch that can happen at any point in the broadcast chain but happens most often when a consumer reverses speaker cables.

Only prototypes of these systems exist now, but Gepner said he hopes to make them standard on all 46 NMT broadcast trucks by the end of the year.

What Gepner called only a nominal fee will be charged for their use since they're primarily intended to create a point of difference between NMT and competitors, not to generate direct revenue. NMT will have exclusive use of these technologies for more than a year. They eventually will become open to the rest of the market, but NMT will act as a distributor.

SRS Labs, a publicly traded company with $28 million in revenue last year, also is using the launch as a branding play.

 AD MARKET STILL DEVELOPING: The sports advertising market for the first quarter never really developed last month, leaving the networks scrambling to sell inventory on a scatter basis, with media buyers holding out for last-minute fire sales, according to sources on both sides of the negotiating table.

Other than the Olympics, no sports properties have been well sold. There are still plenty of playoff football and Super Bowl spots to be had, and CBS has barely made a dent on the NCAA tournament beyond the mainstay advertisers who are in every year.

  YES GATHERS UP EQUIPMENT: The YES Network has reached an agreement with Amherst, N.H.-based Game Creek Video to supply cameras, broadcast trucks and equipment for all remote telecasts, including all New York Yankees games and, eventually, New Jersey Nets games.

The contract is likely worth about $2 million a year, according to an industry expert.

Game Creek President Pat Sullivan said the contract has not been signed yet but he's been told his company has been awarded the business. He would not comment on the value of the deal but said the YES Network telecasts will be "high-end, network" in terms of equipment used.

"It's definitely not a normal regional situation at all," he said. "The facilities they're using are similar to what we'd be using for a league championship."

An industry expert said renting broadcast trucks and facilities generally costs $10,000 to $13,000 a game. Game Creek is expected to handle about 150 Yankees games per year and another 35 to 40 Nets games.

The company's other clients include ESPN, CBS and MSG Network.

Andy Bernstein can be reached at abernstein@amcity.com.

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