Multichannel and centralcasting in multiple languages
By Phil Skipper
To succeed in today’s increasingly competitive broadcasting environment, economies must be realized in the core operational processes. Efficiency relies on the number of channels that can be monitored by a single operator and the amount of material that can be repurposed such that the cost per unit decreases and asset utilization is maximized. This results in the consolidation of separate broadcast entities into a single multichannel operation while content becomes generic in order to enable low-cost repurposing to create regional specific variants.
Efficient centralcasting requires the ability to manage and coordinate content across a number of channels while minimizing the level of manual intervention.
The consolidation of the broadcast operation has been termed “centralcasting.” A key element within the centralcast model is the ability to manage many separate channels within the same facility and to create regional programming streams that more accurately address the needs of specific regions in terms of content, language and schedule. The centralcasting model incorporates multichannel control and multiple language support across channels within a single operational unit. Another broadcast model is regionalization, the delivery of the same content to different geographical areas with regionalized “local” commercials.
Centralcasting creates new process needs within the broadcast center, the most significant of which is the ability to manage and coordinate content across a number of channels while minimizing the level of manual intervention. In a multichannel, multi-language environment, automation and workflow management are the key applications. Automation of the scheduling and playout function ensures minimal headcount, while the introduction of workflow ensures that the required content is scheduled, prepared, checked and ingested in time for transmission. Network monitoring also plays a key role in the analysis of the received signal to ensure that the various channels are playing out correctly and have the correct subtitle and language attributes.
Centralcasting already is established within Europe, and comprehensive systems have been realized by some of the leading cable and satellite operators, including UPC and BSkyB. Centralcasting also presents a substantial service opportunity, allowing a broadcaster or independent operator to offer a complete to-air service for established or start-up channels.
The technology behind centralcasting majors on the automation of the playout process and the minimization of human intervention within the daily business process. In order to provide the operational efficiencies and flexibility required for such an operation, systems must be able to:
- Provide operator access as required, to any one of up to 1000 channels under the systems control, with appropriate access privileges.
- Accept and display schedules in multiple time zones if required.
- Accept and display schedules with multiple native language information, using industry-standard dual-byte Unicode.
- Work in multiple broadcast standards transparently to the operator
- Provide comprehensive and flexible support for regional breakaways
- Enable true support for multi-language material, ensuring all possible audio material is married with its video base and that correct languages are selected at transmission time.
The value of centralcasting and the associated multi-language and multi-regional broadcasting is the ability to repurpose material into attractive local variants. This is a highly intuitive and skilled task that requires a high level of specialization. The result of this process is a complex set of regional products all derived from a similar source. Because the various products are similar, this creates a higher risk of human error within the schedule and playout process. The technology of centralcasting automates this process and minimizes the risk of transmission error. This enables the centralcaster to focus on the high-value content production process while the automation infrastructure manages the daily business in a risk-free and reliable environment.
Content management and playout
Centralcasting relies on the integration of the planning through the playout process. This requires a sophisticated content and library management system to be interfaced to the playout automation system.
Overlaying this process must be a workflow management tool to ensure that the regional content preparation is created in a timely fashion and that all the necessary “prior to air” checks can be completed before transmission time.
At the interface between the content management and playout system, there must be a consolidated data repository to manage the metadata, product definition descriptors, channelization rules and physical copy information to ensure that the planned schedule can be built and transmitted to the specified region. This process must then be duplicated across a number of different channels that may be played out on various platforms for receipt in several time zones. By automating the playout process via a reliable multichannel system, the end-to-end process can be effectively managed with minimum risk and maximum utilization of the installed systems and material.
The ability to put so many channels to air in an automated fashion creates a danger that there will be insufficient resources to monitor the output transmission stream. Operational broadcast monitoring provides a simple and cost-effective solution to the problem. By having a bank of decoders, all transmitted channels can be received and sampled by a specialist polling engine. The decoded channels are fed into a bank of verifiers that automatically detect critical faults such as loss of sync, freeze frame or black, and automatically alert the staff in the broadcast center. The transport streams can then be monitored at various points in the production chain.
The addition of operational broadcast monitoring within the centralcast operation provides closed-loop control of the entire process and makes certain the reliable delivery of content to the customer.
Phil Skipper is vice president of sales and marketing at Encoda Systems.
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