VDS’ Streamliner

The graphics system’s rules engine enables ad and program replacement in live second-screen streams.
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With the advent of TV Everywhere, broadcast and cable content providers are compelled to offer viewers streaming feeds of their content. Sometimes this means VOD, but more often the goal is to generate a live stream that’s essentially the same as the current linear broadcast. That approach poses a challenge: There are often program content and/or advertisements that cannot be shown in the stream, due to either rights issues or commercial considerations.

One way to solve this problem is to use a completely separate broadcast chain that has the same components as the main linear channel, with an automation system and playlist that include the substitute content. However, the issues with that approach include required manpower to schedule and maintain the streaming chain, space for all the gear and, of course, the cost. That approach is even more problematic for multichannel operations.

Ideally, the broadcaster should be able to use its existing broadcast chain, including air servers and automation, existing program schedule and current staffing, with minimal interruption to that workflow.

A different approach

To solve this problem for a worldwide media company, VDS developed an enhanced version of its Promotor system for automating broadcast graphics. This new system, called Streamliner, uses an internal rules engine and robust interface-to-station automation to send standard or custom SCTE104 messages to a VANC inserter, with the messages interpreted downstream by a streaming encoder/splicer. The result is that the downstream ad server or splicer can receive embedded messages that contain instructions for replacing program content or advertisements. (See Figure 1.) These instructions can include data such as the house ID, start time and duration of the program or ad to be replaced, as well as the associated IDs of the “replacing” program or ads, i.e., the content that can be shown in the streaming output.

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Figure 1. As programs and commercial spots are broadcast on the linear channel, Streamliner automatically generates SCTE104 commands that are precisely timed to the program content.

Recently deployed at FOX News Channel and Fox Business Network, Streamliner provides for rules-based SCTE104 messages even when the operation dynamically shifts from live to recorded operations and back. The system maintains frame-­accurate operations, essential to ensuring a high quality of experience for online viewers.

The system is based on several key operations that are set to occur in an automated and coordinated manner. One of these is an interface to the linear broadcast automation playlist. For this, Streamliner utilizes a VDS module that tightly integrates the system to station automation. This interface, called Sentinel, receives real-time data from automation, with exact and dynamic information about what is actually playing out in the linear broadcast. Timing and other crucial information is always provided to Streamliner, regardless of changes made to the playlist during the day, and even if manual edits are made that change the start time or durations of the playlist events. In addition, by utilizing the right configuration with interface panels for master control review and override, the system can also manage the transition from live to scheduled programming and back, as it occurs in news operations.

Rules engine

In addition to the timing and other data from automation, another key operation is a robust rules engine. A rules engine allows the system to execute multiple business rules in an automated manner. For streaming operations, the Streamliner rules engine allows the system to make logical triggers occur in response to automation events. For example, there might be program content identified by house ID “ABD432” that cannot be shown in the stream. A rule could be set in the system in advance that provides for an embedded SCTE104 message that would indicate that house ID “ABD432” should be replaced with house ID “T88456” or possibly a list of replacement IDs to be sure that the replacement content is available downstream for stream splicing.

The rules engine would be one factor in the construct of the SCTE104 messages, as would metadata that can be entered into the system in a manual or automatic fashion based on the rules of content replacement. The metadata input allows facility personnel to make updates to the messaging rules as needed by telling the system about new content for replacement or applying other metadata. Content replacement events can be created well in advance of required air dates and applied simply by activating them. The upstream rules engine of Streamliner, in perfect sync with the main linear broadcast, allows for independent input of new replacement metadata without interrupting system operation.

With any automated operation, system monitoring and override are also key operations. As you are streaming content, you will likely need a means for personnel in master control to know if the system is passing content to the stream, replacing content or perhaps covering it with a graphic slate. With a user interface panel such as those from DNF and Videoframe, Streamliner operations can be overridden in master control if needed, and the user interface panel can provide operations personnel with the system status.

The system operates parallel to the primary linear broadcast chain without the need to deploy a separate program stream with duplicate channel release hardware. In addition, the operation uses the existing automation playlist with no changes to current scheduling operation or additional manpower. SCTE104 messages can be standard messages as described in the SCTE specification or messages with custom payloads so long as they confirm to the specification. These messages, conforming to the SCTE104 specification, are easily converted to SCTE35 for interpretation by a wide range of downstream splicers or advertising decision systems.

The combination of these operations in a coordinated, automated system provides for a streaming output that is completely in sync with your linear broadcast, allowing for real-time program or ad replacements in the stream. With this, you can effectively manage your program rights issues as well as add another source of revenue.

Finally, this operation is much simpler and less costly than deploying a complete new channel chain specifically for streaming operations.

Larry Mincer is president of Video Design Software.