Case Study: Satellite Replacement with Terrestrial Delivery

In the fall of 2020, Aberdeen’s AberFast engineers were presented with a challenge: find an alternative for broadcasters who utilize satellite feeds to distribute their programming. The spectrum auction sanctioned by the FCC had cut the number of available satellite transponders in half, leaving broadcasters who use satellite feeds to be hit with premiums, overcharges, and even losing their feeds altogether.

The answer has been in front of us for a while: terrestrial IP-based file delivery.

Since 2010, our AberFast Station Delivery service has successfully delivered over half a million broadcast-ready files all over the world. We have been proving that IP-based program delivery is practical and the future of broadcast delivery which is why we heavily invested our time and money in this technology, allowing us to spin up a new service for satellite replacement: AberFast Lite.

Aberdeen recorded a video interview with the client to discuss the workflow and experience after a successful launch. Throughout the article, quotes and reference points are linked in blue and will take you to that part of the discussion in the video interview. The full video is available in the player at the end.

Client Profile: In Touch Ministries

In Touch Ministries is the outreach ministry of Dr. Charles Stanley, pastor of First Baptist Church of Atlanta, Georgia. After success with a half-hour religious program called The Chapel Hour, which began broadcasting in 1972, Stanley founded In Touch Ministries and began televising the In Touch program on The Christian Broadcasting Network in 1978. His program remains one of the longest-running religious broadcasts in the US, reaching more than 800 outlets through television and radio.

Awards and honors:

  • 1988: National Religious Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame
  • 1989: Named Clergyman of the Year by Religious Heritage of America
  • 1989: NRB named In Touch with Television Producer of the Year
  • 1999: In Touch named Radio Program of the Year
  • 2017: Thomas Nelson Publishing recognizes Stanley for selling more than 3.5 million copies of his books

As one of Aberdeen’s long-time partners, In Touch Ministries began using Aberdeen’s services as a supplement to their in-house captioning & distribution workflow in 2010. After 11 years, our partnership continues to grow and Aberdeen now handles all of In Touch’s captioning and distribution for the television program.

John McKinnon, Executive Director of Programming for In Touch, recalls when they first made this move to Aberdeen:

“Captioning and file delivery is not as simple as everybody thinks it is. Once you have the systems in place to do it, it can be done, but to do it right consistently is a nightmare. And we actually did captioning, captioning of tapes, and everything else in-house for a very, very long time. […] when you start actually getting out to multiple stations and doing other things, it’s a headache all the time.”

The Problem

Over the past 30 years, a significant amount of In Touch’s broadcast outlets have received the program via satellite delivery. For In Touch, the decision to use satellite for so long was heavily based on two factors: price and quality control. The ministry was always concerned about what would happen to the quality of the program when it was distributed through multiple mediums: tape, DVD, file, sat signal, etc. Satellite allowed them to “standardize” their broadcast – they knew that each station receiving the signal was receiving the same quality. However, the desire to standardize to a file-only option had been a hot topic with the ministry for years but nothing existed at the price point they needed and it was just still cheaper to deliver via satellite. Until now.

Because of the changing satellite service business and the FCC Spectrum sale cutting the number of available satellite feeds, In Touch was forced to change satellite providers five times over the last six years. Deadlines were becoming more of an issue when last-minute changes to a program forced their team to frantically resend a feed to hundreds of stations. It was at this time that McKinnon and his team turned to Aberdeen to find a solution.

The Solution

Since 2011, Aberdeen has been in the file-based, terrestrial delivery, space with their AberFast File Delivery service and has delivered over a half-million programs around the world. AberFast was introduced to provide significant financial savings for producers by eliminating tape and delivery costs associated with program delivery. It also allows producers to reach more broadcast outlets in high definition. Beyond financial savings, the AberFast service included a broadcast QC and correction of audio and video levels on all programs before delivery. Each station also received a broadcast-ready file transcoded to their preferred file specifications through a hand’s-off automated point-to-point upload to their servers along with email notifications.

So in the case of In Touch and a broadcast that reaches nearly 300 outlets weekly, how could they scale a terrestrial-based delivery to function similarly to a satellite signal that pushes the program out to all stations at once? Aberdeen now offers a more “lite” version of the full-service AberFast where most of the white-glove treatment is removed, but there is no sacrifice to the program's overall quality.

After surveying hundreds of stations, AberFast Lite settled on the five most commonly accepted file formats that will work in their automated ingest workflows. Each station will choose one format and receive the program through the same automated upload utilized for the full-service AberFast delivery. Stations will also have access to download the files from our online portal if they happen to move or delete the program. No more worries about “missing a feed” as the file will remain available well after the airdate.

The Results

In Touch Ministries has been off satellite since May of 2021 and is currently handling all of the distribution of their 30 & 60-minute weekly programs through Aberfast – station-specific versions are still running through the flagship AberFast service and where a single version is going to 50+ stations, AberFast Lite picks up the baton.

“Captioning and file delivery is not as simple as everybody thinks it is. Once you have the systems in place to do it, it can be done, but to do it right consistently is a nightmare. And we actually did captioning, captioning of tapes, and everything else in-house for a very, very long time. […] when you start actually getting out to multiple stations and doing other things, it’s a headache all the time.”

McKinnon also added: “I would say for any organization out there that may be considering doing this, it’s kind of a no-brainer from an ease-of-use standpoint, from a pricing standpoint, from everything that I can think of. We have converted all of our deliveries over to Aberdeen and AberFast, and it’s been one of the better decisions that we’ve made in a long time. So, I can’t recommend you guys enough.”

The launch of this service has proven to be such a successful alternative, that we’re thrilled to announce that the AberFast Lite service is available to all programmers who meet certain criteria and are sending a single-version program to 50+ TV stations. Want to see if your program qualifies? Contact us to have one of our engineers go through your workflows and present the appropriate solution. Learn more about the AberFast Lite setup process here.

The discussion between Matt Cook, President of Aberdeen Broadcast Services, and John McKinnon, Executive Director of Programming for In Touch Ministries referenced throughout this article can be viewed in its entirety below.