When broadcast automation first became commonplace in master control, the primary task was to pre-roll and play VTRs on cue to the playout schedule. The main issues at that time were to achieve frame-accurate performance from a mechanical device (the VTR), and to cope with the plethora of proprietary interfaces to drive the switchers, CGs and peripheral devices. The principle of accurately controlling VTRs lay at the heart of the linear edit controller, a device that had been around since the days of CMX and EECO 40 years ago. Playout automation uses the same principles, but rather than cueing the source decks to the record decks, the playout decks are synced to station time code.
The adoption of RS-422 or Ethernet physical and electrical layers for device control brought some order to the chaos of proprietary remote control interfaces. Luckily, a number of ad hoc serial control protocols from Sony, Louth and Grass Valley became standards and reduced the number the data interfaces used to control playout devices, which greatly eased the control of the many third-party products. Many products, however, were not equipped with serial remote control, so the only way to trigger an event was via GPI closure.
Automation gets easy
The big simplification in automation systems came with the advent of the video server. Clips could be played on cue with a short and predictable pre-roll. Louth’s VDCP (Video Device Control Protocol) became a de facto standard for control of servers. It seemed that broadcast automation could now be stripped of complexity. With the advent of the video server, low-cost automation systems could be purchased that met the needs of all but the most complex channels.
Make something easy, and the opportunity presents itself to add functionality — we have the power with modern processing platforms, so why not take advantage? Multichannel broadcasting adds requirements beyond the need to air programs and commercials. The brand must become very prominent to identify the channel in the hundreds or thousands available to the viewer. Alongside the need for slicker and more comprehensive branding came a rise in demand for complex program junctions. Multichannel broadcasters make extensive use of cross-promotion of their other channels — “You may switch programs, but have you tried our other channels?” The additional interstitials reintroduced complexity.
The simple, serial playlist became a complex parallel list, with several concurrent video and audio tracks playing during junctions. The playlist began to look more like an NLE timeline.
Ten years ago, a schedule was a basic linear sequence. A commercial break was wrapped with interstitial station idents and the program junction could carry interstitial promotions. These events all played to air serially. The only parallel event was typically the logo or bug, usually turned on and off with a GPI.
The break gets complex
Watch television today and a break or junction is now a visual melee of promotions, branding, tickers and upcoming listings. To create all this needed two new functions from the master control system: secondary events to manage the parallel content and graphics automation to create the clips.
Secondary events are not new; it’s just that far more use is made of them in the multichannel world. Implementing a sophisticated, automated branding strategy for a station is more than just upgrading the automation. Scheduling and sales systems can have very little support for secondary events; their focus is on the revenues and basic program schedule. The result is that complex junctions must be edited into the playlist. This doesn’t need to be a complex operation. Branding follows templates, and some simple rule-based processing of the playlist is all that is needed to add or enhance the secondary event control.
If you are looking for a slicker presentation for your channels, secondary events can bring the control you need. The only catch is the need to program the events. Does your scheduling software offer the facilities you need, or will you need some custom processing for the playlists?
As technology has made automation easier, channel controllers can get the on-air look they want and station managers can get more effective, efficient channel and cross-channel promotion.