Channel in a Box for Multi-Channel Origination and Business Continuity

The recent Superstorm Sandy that inflicted incredible devastation on 18 states on the East Coast, and particularly how it impacted the broadcast industry in the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut media hubs, has brought front and center the need for a business continuity strategy and the importance of a disaster recovery (DR) operation for program originators to remain on the air. It requires a significant capital investment to build a DR facility for a multi-channel program origination center. This puts the channel in a box discussion in a new light as a practical and cost-effective way to protect origination.

Designing the Multi-Channel Originator Facility

As multi-channel origination has become the norm for today’s program originators, supporting business continuity gets more complicated. Designing the multi-channel originator facility is, by itself, challenging. Each channel has its own content, individual branding and cross promotional requirements. Now let’s multiply that by “n” for a multi-channel environment.

This means each channel has the same technology and system requirements. Adding to that, there is the entire physical plant infrastructure (i.e., space, power, cooling) that is needed to support all this technology. This all comes before considering any redundancy and continuity. Building redundancy into these systems was all about duplicating many of the devices plus increasing the size and capacity of the infrastructure.

Business continuity or disaster recovery requires building a complete playout facility in a different geographical location that theoretically won’t be subject to the same catastrophe at the same time. Building facilities is a large capital investment. Operating and maintaining them is another layer, plus there are associated overhead costs.

Cable and satellite providers have always been in the multi-channel origination business. The evolution to DTV has transformed all “Over the Air” broadcasters’ into multi-channel program originators. On top of this, many station groups and cable networks are consolidating their channel origination operations into shared broadcast centers called central casting and they are looking to benefit from economies of scale. Some operational economies exist—one being that fewer operators are needed to manage the signals in a consolidated control room.

Improving Efficiencies in Multi-Channel Origination

Here’s where the channel in a box concept can vastly improve efficiencies in multi-channel origination and provide a cost-effective solution for redundancy and business continuity.

In the multi-channel environment, using channel in a box technology that operates under a single management and control system can streamline operations considerably. Now a single operator can manage multiple channels from a single interface. The integration to a traffic system and the ability to organize multiple playlists from a single point of control becomes very efficient. It enables the operator to monitor for alerts or errors across multiple channels without having to toggle or carousel through various screens across the different channels.

Moving to a channel in a box solution in a multi-channel environment, there are fewer devices to manage and control. The channel in a box consolidates the features and functionality of many dedicated systems and devices that are need-per-channel (i.e., master control switch, playout server, automation, branding, etc.). In a file-based ecosystem, the channel in a box devices can share storage and branding devices. The automation system controls fewer devices and there are fewer interfaces to manage. From a design engineering perspective, the design is more efficient; operationally, there are fewer devices to maintain. 

By using this type of server-based technology in a multi-channel scenario, redundancy can be designed in a “1 for N” configuration, rather than duplication of a large number of dedicated equipment with systems needing a lot of integration and terminal equipment. This reduces overall system engineering and failover designing. The consolidation of functionality onto a single platform has a smaller physical footprint, uses less power and needs less cooling. In addition, the overall cost of ownership is greatly reduced.

The traditional scenario for disaster recovery and business continuity required broadcasters to always have a playback deck and some evergreen programming on-hand to “stay on the air.” Staying on the air has a broader meaning in today’s multi-channel program origination model. Disaster recovery has become so much more than evergreen programming; multi-channel origination by definition has made disaster recovery that much more complex.

Building a backup origination center with adequate capacity to support the multi-channel, on-air presence requires a large capital investment with considerable overhead costs and a full-time staff. On the technology side, the DR facility is a scaled-down version of the primary facility. Content needs to remain current; applications (i.e., automation and media management) and the systems that support “on air” need to be replicated.

The channel in a box technology offers a cost-practical solution to business continuity. The technology is server-based, with shared storage in a network infrastructure. This makes the building of a robust DR facility that can handle the complexity of multi-channel programming a lot less intimidating. The first consideration is always the amount of space and cost of systems to make it suitable for technology. With server-based channel in a box technology, the physical plant can be smaller and the IP architecture requires less power and cooling than an SDI facility with more dedicated devices.

One of the byproducts of Superstorm Sandy is that broadcasters and programmers are reviewing and/or creating disaster recovery and business continuity plans. The channel in a box can help reduce some of the financial pain and significantly improve the cost of ownership.