Applied Technology: Turner Broadcasting System automation

Turner Broadcasting System automation

Turner Broadcasting System,(TBS), an AOL/Time Warner company, is currently in the process of moving into a new facility with approximately 193,000 square feet. All technical facilities will be moved and upgraded, and the automation capability will be expanded.


The Network Operations (Net Ops) unit provides wide-ranging 24-hour functional support for the 130 network operations staff members who manage playout of 18 network feeds originating from the Turner facility. These networks include TBS Superstation, WTBS-17, TNT, Cartoon Network, Turner Classic Movies, Boomerang and Turner South, as well as nine networks in Latin America. Net Ops departments include broadcast operations, library services, log management, sales operations, engineering and broadcast transmission.

All networks and channels transmit 24 hours a day at different levels of operation. These levels range from the highly complex major network channels – which include captioning, fully automated DSKs and live programming – to the smaller channels that operate a simple schedule on an eight-hour wheel.

Automation requirements

In deciding to fully automate the Net Ops facility, a strong factor was the desire to have the ability to add more channels and networks while maintaining a “tight” playout look, without a major staff addition for each channel.

TBS has a number of requirements for their automation system, including scalability and redundancy. The scalability is important due to the diversity of channels TBS supports.

When new networks are introduced, they generally start off as a simple channel. As these networks grow and become more complex, the automation system must be able to grow with them. Redundant operation is required throughout the facility to ensure consistent operation, and that program and commercial playout occurs as scheduled.

Automation architecture

The Pro-Bel system is divided into two parts: Sextant and MAPP. Sextant is the overall automation control architecture, which controls all devices including VTRs, CGs, still stores, audio carts and DSKs. It generates the overall playlist and is the system manager. MAPP is the media management system controlled by Sextant.

It can also be equated to a server operating system. Its functions include ingest, storage, playout and background Fibre channel transfer. MAPP also has the ability to work with near-line storage solutions.

With the diversity of channels originating from the facility, it is important to provide the operators with a similar interface so that training can cover all the channels. This enables the operators to move between channels without a massive “channel re-orientation.”

It is also important for the automation system to operate on a well-known operating system (NT 4.0 Windows 2000). This allows the hardware and operating systems for the control system to be easily understood by a wide range of technical personnel and reduces the need for specialized training in these areas.

Media management

TBS’ requirement for dual server redundancy requires the media management system to have accurate records of material on both the main and backup servers. It also has to be able to manipulate material on both servers to be able to output both the main and backup playlists. The MAPP system maintains a database of all programming on both servers to make it ‘instance’ aware of all available media. This awareness allows it to maintain and update both playlists while they operate simultaneously.

It is important for operational security and redundancy that individual networks or groups of networks not interfere with each other, however, they do need to be able to interoperate when needed. To address this requirement, the automation system is designed so that each network is able to run its own MAPP database without reliance or connection to any other network. The database also allows for mass data import and export if desired.

The automation system has to be able to fit into the TBS workflow model, which includes log management. The Sextant and MAPP combination allows TBS to convert to and from various log management systems. The conversion process allows Turner complete control. Any changes that may be required as individual networks grow can be accommodated under TBS Net Ops control.

Benefits of automation

The MAPP system provides a simple output representing the current on-air schedule. This output is scalable and can be enhanced to include interactive TV operation, which is one of the features TBS is looking to use in the future. Since this enhancement is designed to be a part of the existing system, TBS will be able to continue to utilize the same interface on everything from a simple broadband channel to multiple interactive platforms.

In general, Pro-Bel automation has made operation more efficient by enabling TBS to add channels, programs and commercial content without greatly increasing staff, and has given all networks a consistent look based on the demographics of the specific network.

Clyde Smith is the senior vice president of broadcast entertainment technology for Turner Entertainment Networks, and Duncan Lofting is the contracts manager for Pro-Bel Americas.