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Cobalt Digital and Nexstar Broadcasting Develop 21CCVA-Compliant Software

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Cobalt Digital has collaborated with Nexstar Broadcasting Group Inc. to produce a software solution with text-to-speech capabilities to serve the needs of blind and low-vision people in communities throughout the United States.

The customized text-to-speech software, +TTS, is compatible with many openGear® cards and BBG-1000 stand-alone units. Customers may purchase an optional software license for the cards to help ensure compliance with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requirements and the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (21CCVA).

"Nexstar owns, operates, or otherwise serves 107 local TV stations in 58 markets across the country and is well-known for an organization-wide commitment to broadcasting excellence. As an early adopter of checks and balances to ensure 21CCVA compliance, Nexstar has an intimate understanding of what broadcasters need to best serve the blind and low-vision community.

Their direction was invaluable in helping us create text-to-speech software with the right functionality for the job," said Bob McAlpine, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Cobalt Digital. "Now our customers will be able to start implementing text-to-speech into their workflows so they can better serve their local audiences and meet the upcoming deadline of the FCC mandate on November 30."

+TTS is a complete, 21CVAA-compliant text-to-speech generation/audio insertion solution for embedded or discrete audio systems. The software monitors network and local watch folders for new text files (plain text, xml, ascii, or html), converts the text to realistic human-voice audio, and inserts it into user-configured audio channels (typically an SAP channel pair intended for playout). These text files are generated from existing graphics hardware that provides the visual text crawl on the lower third of a television broadcast.

+TTS allows the organization to prioritize alerts (for example, severe weather alerts taking precedence over school closings) and is designed to be independent of a station's graphics engine or engines. Alert tones are put in on the main program channel to alert the visually impaired that emergency content is about to occur on the SAP channel. Alerts can be played a configurable number of times, and alerts with higher priority can interrupt current lists for breaking news. After the interrupt message is broadcast, +TTS automatically reverts to normal audio programming. Compatible Cobalt cards and modules provide keyed text scrolls for added synergy when used in conjunction with optional +KEYER.

+TTS comes with a built-in, user-definable dictionary to substitute plain phonetic spelling for hard-to-decipher words and proper noun phonetic emphasis. An English-language speech engine is standard, with advanced engines available as expansion options. Cobalt will use Acapela text-to-speech voice synthesis modules from Acapela Group to provide the highest-quality voices. 

The +TTS software is available for many Cobalt card models that use the 20-slot openGear frame architecture. Existing openGear users can easily incorporate the software in the field by installing a microSD card. Those without an existing openGear infrastructure can use Cobalt's BBG-1022-FS stand-alone unit with the +TTS software solution for compact, straightforward integration into a broadcast facility. Both form factors offer a dedicated, broadcast-quality solution with redundant power and fully hot-swappable components for maximum reliability in 24/7 operations.

"Nexstar is dedicated to providing exceptional programming and service to the local communities where we operate across the United States and is committed to supporting the needs and interests of all our local audiences. The FCC regulations and requirements for implementation of text-to-speech caused us to question every potential scenario and how a text-to-speech engine could integrate into our multiple flavors of infrastructure across the company.

"We invested significant time and resources into reviewing potential solutions to best serve the local community while also efficiently and effectively implementing the FCC's mandate across our station group. Because of the variety of platforms, we had to work closely with vendors to make sure we have the tools to make it happen," said Blake Russell, senior vice president of station operations for Nexstar.

"By working with Cobalt, we're able to proceed with confidence that the engine we use will meet the FCC's requirements and, more importantly, meet the needs of the blind and low-vision community for timely access to life-saving emergency information."
More information about Cobalt Digital and its products is available at.

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