Automation and an integrated MCR

In the last few “Transition to Digital” newsletters, we have discussed coordination of both content descriptive and inter-process communication metadata to automate the assembly of program elements for dissemination. Metadata and the SMPTE Registration Authority simplify cataloguing and retrieval of content. PMCP and the work of SMPTE S22-10 are automating PSIP generation, content delivery and play out. All of these processes come together in master control.

Digital program insertion (DPI) technology is rapidly replacing audio cue tones. A natural extension of ATSC PMCP and SMPTE S22-10 is the automated inclusion of DPI signaling information in master control that facilitates the process of commercial insertion further downstream by affiliates and MSOs.

Standardization of the DPI process has fallen under the auspices of the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE). SCTE 118-3 2006 “Program-Specific Ad Insertion — Traffic System to Ad Insertion System File Format Specification” defines an ad insertion system as “a complete hardware and software solution that interprets the schedule file, streams content when triggered based on the schedule file, logs insertion results, and returns a verification fileto the Traffic and Billing system.”

DPI standards
Two SCTE standards enable DPI capabilities. ANSI/SCTE 30 2006 “Digital Program Insertion API” defines the communication protocol between servers and splicers for insertion of content in to an MPEG 2 transport stream. Methods for notifying the splicer of upcoming splice points are specified in ANSI/SCTE 35 2004 “Digital Program Insertion Cuing Message for Cable.” This information is carried in a splice information table, with its own PID, that is referred to in the program map table (PMT).

ANSI/SCTE 67 2002 “Digital Program Insertion Cueing Message for Cable - Interpretation for SCTE 35 2001” describes overall system implementation. Appropriate methods for automating the insertion of splice points in the transport stream and a means for resolving this with PSIP will make workflows more efficient through out the program assembly workflow.

This requirement necessitates that splicing equipment talk the same language as PMCP and S22-10. Coordination of XML implementation among ATSC, S22-10 and SCTE methodologies will facilitate the automation of this process.

On target
As DPI methods become more refined, a potential “killer app” for the broadcast and advertising community is personalized, targeted commercial delivery. The implementation may be facilitated by ATSC ACAP and Cable Labs OCAP data delivery standards or using the PSIP DCC (directed channel change) capability. DPI will be instrumental in deploying this feature.

When a back channel is available, truly interactive ads can be presented. By using opt-in audience information, in the cable scenario, ads can be addressed with set-top box granularity. Viewers can click on icons and new content can be delivered. Purchase transactions can be facilitated. The presence of an active back channel makes this possible.

For terrestrial, one-way broadcasting, the data carousel delivery method must be used. This technique creates the illusion of interactivity, or pseudo interactivity, where all additional user information is downloaded and revolves in a circular cue-like, data carousel mechanism. When the viewer clicks for more information, particular items based on a user profile stored in the DTV receiver will invoke the presentation of targeted information that is demographic based and user preference or behavior filtered.

Internet-like DTV transaction protocols will seal the deal and make “T-commerce” a reality. This may not be too futuristic a vision with the increasing consumer up take of personal home digital networks (PHDN), media center PCs and DTVs with IP addresses.

All in one
There is a trend to consolidate functionality that was once enabled by multiple devices into one piece of equipment. This can improve operational stability and reduce cost. On the other hand, a malfunction in this integrated piece of equipment, even a small one, could have a major impact and possibly crash the system completely. The entire system may have to be replaced rather than just one piece of functional subsystem.

Hence, extra precaution must be taken in designing redundancy and reliability into an integrated infrastructure. Will the cost savings in functional consolidation support the need for operational backup?

Towards an integrated MCR
Two simple scenarios exist for MCR operations. For a live event, all breaks and returns can happen at any time. An operator to trigger a break and start an insertion sequence of commercials and interstitials is necessary.

At the other end of the spectrum is a completely automated MCR where program segments and commercial breaks reside either on disk or tape. An automation application fires each event at a precise, according to schedule, time and all the MCR operator has to do is make sure events actually play to air.

Other parts of the ad insertion process, such as logging insertion results and returning a verification notice to the traffic and billing system, can be automated. This is a goal of coordinating S22-10 and SCTE DPI efforts

Handoff workflow
Development of metadata control communication protocols is an important step in insuring communication among systems in the transport stream multiplex assembly phase. Yet a quantum leap in MCR technology could further integrate the hardware used and reduce the number of discreet devices. Ultimately there may be an MCR in a box.

Unveiled an NAB this year, the iTX system from OmniBus integrates many previously discreet MRC system functions into one PC-based systems. An HP 145 PC with a Windows XP operating system on an AMD dual core processor runs the iTX application suite.

Features include a character generator, subtitling, VBI and logo insertion. The software application suite enables automation, ingest, editing and content management. DV25, MPEG 1-4 and WM9 are supported. SD and HD can be combined in a single palylist without up or down conversion.

During playout schedule creation graphics, logos, captions, audio and video can be previewed at the iTX GUI and dragged and dropped into the rundown. Media from industry-standard editor can be imported. Folder drop file transfers are possible. And content is managed with the included MAM capabilities.

By including all these MCR functions in one integrated piece of equipment, the cost of implementing an MCR is reduced. This is particularly appealing to small and medium sized stations or as a backup system for disaster recovery capability for large broadcast operation centers.

PBS, as part of its Next Generation Interconnection System (NGIS), is considering using iTX. The iTX would be an edge playout system that uses iTX automation capabilities. The system is also under consideration because of it uses off-the-shelf hardware and is flexible, affordable and expandable.

Moving on
This tutorial concludes the discussion of the assembly phase in the media lifecycle. We have looked at the need for speed, PMCP, metadata registries, storage and compute grids, and barely scratched the surface! MOS implementations, virtual storage, content archiving and many other aspects of program assembly were not discussed, yet their importance in an integrated, technology dependent workflow is essential to facilitate efficient program assembly processes.

The next “Transition to Digital” e-newsletter begins a discussion of the distribution phase of the content lifecycle. This is an area that has exploded in the last year with a huge impact on the fundamental nature of “broadcasting.”

Chris Lennon, chairman of SMPTE S22-10 has informed Broadcast Engineering that S22-10 working group has no formal name other than S22-10. The reference to the group as the Broadcast Data Exchange (BDX) has been corrected.