Associative Workflow Technologies

News crews and production departments no longer need to depend strictly on videotape as their sole source for recording media.
Author:
Publish date:

News crews and production departments no longer need to depend strictly on videotape as their sole source for recording media. Disc-based systems and solid-state memory are rapidly becoming the storage mechanisms of choice, in turn reducing the time from acquisition to air, while simultaneously providing for alternative means in repurposing and extending the usability of content.

In my previous column, I examined one of two workflow environments: the collaborative workflow—where multiple editors and journalists may use the same material to produce various renditions of a story without making physical copies of the content. In part, this collaboration is made possible by random access video servers, nonlinear editing and other nonreal-time, nonvideotape dependencies. Next, we’ll add to the content workflow capabilities by exploring the enabling technologies for what we’ll call the “associative workflow.”

ONE PIECE OF THE PUZZLE

Today, field content is often prepared for various stories and ancillary uses. In many cases, there is little advance knowledge of where the content will be used. This content is often incorporated into multiple delivery platforms or for distribution to various other entities, over different networks and communications channels. We refer to this as the associative workflow process for and between various entities throughout the content life cycle. The technologies used to make this workflow fluid and meaningful requires applications, protocols and devices that must support the creation, preparation and presentation of that content to several platforms—and work well together throughout the workflow processes.

As newsrooms, programmers and producers find added value in making their content extensible to more platforms and thus more potential end users, many systems must now be integrated in order to collect, edit, package, deliver and transmit the various finished programs. The file-based nature of this content requires systems that depend on servers that can support multiple functions. The most well known is the traditional baseband video server, often the end output device, but that is just one element of the overall chain. Today’s facilities now include components that associate content found on catch servers and then deliver it to streaming servers, Web-publication servers, video-on-demand servers, gateway servers, and more.

This associative workflow concept depends upon the utilization of file-based media and data for a number of different platforms and may be required to deliver the content to a wide-ranging set of locations. Enabling this capability requires that the information exchange as well as the network interoperates well. Beyond the support for smooth interoperability, program content and its associated metadata must be easily channeled to various entities both inside and outside the home-base facility.

THE GATEKEEPER

Over the years systems have been developed that help bring these associations closer together. One element employed in this interchange is called a gateway. Like its name says, this form of server becomes the gatekeeper that helps support content distribution between and over networks, and to ancillary delivery platforms. Gateways found in communications are considered network nodes. They are equipped with systems that are the interfaces to other networked devices operating under a different protocol.

The gateway provides for system interoperability. It may contain one or more devices such as fault isolators, protocol translators, impedance matching devices, rate converters, or signal translators. For example, when the gateway incorporates a protocol translator—sometimes called a mapping gateway—the protocol converter translates commands, scripts and even data, so that the other network device may communicate by adapting to the host network’s originating protocol.

Gateways are generally computers which act as servers since their purpose is to deliver information from the network and serving it to another service while interfacing to the receiving services’ native protocols. In broadcast related systems, the most familiar form of gateway incorporates what has become the Media Object Server communication protocol, or simply MOS.


(click thumbnail)Fig. 1: Newsroom operations and their workflows are enabled by MOS communications protocol.The MOS protocol exchanges communications between newsroom computer systems and media object servers, (see Fig. 1.) The “object” servers are devices such as video servers, audio servers, graphics devices, still stores and character generators.

In a MOS gateway (i.e., MOS protocols with its Profiles), story and content information is associated to other subsystems within the overall media-preparation and delivery platform. Functionality includes communication of essential data that conveys run-time control information, content exchange and metadata transport by and between devices, and sometimes presentation of that content at an appropriate time to a specific media device. The gateway does not necessarily perform the control functions, but it does become the gatekeeper between those other systems.

MOVING MEDIA

Looking under the hood, the MOS protocol employs Profiles, ranging from 0 to 7 (per the current and proposed versions), and whose purpose is to define basic levels of functionality enabled by the MOS protocol overall. MOS Version 2.8.x is the most current of the implemented protocols. However, like all software-based protocols, newer versions are in discussion. At NAB2007, for example, where Version 3.8.x had introductions that intend to include items such as a MOS Validator Tool for Web services and SSL (Secure Socket Layer) support for MOS Web service.

At the lower level, Profile 0 enables basic MOS XML message exchange and discovery between applications and machines using Web services via HTTP. The next, Profile 1, allows a Media Object Server to push messages to other machines, which describe objects contained on the Media Object Server. At the highest level, Profile 7 enables a Media Object Server to make changes to the running order in a newsroom computer system.

Gateways may also perform buffering between connection points, as in a WAN gateway—a server that holds and prepares files for presentation to a WAN or over a dedicated pathway to another server generally in a remote location. This gateway could operate over the public network, but is most often dedicated to a high-bandwidth connection—e.g., a 45 Mbps DS3 service—carrying private network traffic from broadcast traffic systems, accounting information, and even automation timing data. It also carves out a portion segmented for moving media content, such as MXF-wrapped files, that may be transported to a disaster recovery site or distributed for centralcasting as promos, news stories and the like. Dedicated lines, with a prescribed quality of service, provide a level of deterministic priority that aid in getting content to the secondary site with fewer delays.

COMPLEX ENVIRONMENT

Another area in the associative workflow is the process of generating graphics for live broadcast productions, especially news. A number of products now employ servers and applications that manage orders for content, ensure proper delivery and watch activities including translation or protocol conversions as a part of their services.

Most manufacturers producing graphics-related products provide those servers in their own packages or subscribe to a set of third party products that integrate with news room computer systems, automated run-down managers, news scripting and prompting systems, and live-automated news/production systems.

The server-based components found in the content production and delivery process are far more data-compute-centric than the high-performance/high-bandwidth systems of a video server; although they may indeed carry files for activities such as Web sites or video-on-demand. The complexities of an associative workflow environment, therefore, depend heavily on interoperability and the functionality of many different server elements, and for many different activities.