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Planning, scheduling and executing the broadcast of large sporting events is controlled chaos. Not only does the high demand for worldwide viewership need to be met, but also individual broadcast rights holders (networks) need customized content to provide their own target audiences with specific events.

With greater efficiency and automation needed through each passing season of events, Enterprise Resource Management (ERM) software allows broadcasters to leverage new collaborators in their vendor and freelancer communities, and to automate elements of the complex workflow that previously had to be handled manually. ERM solutions handle all aspects of resource management during the year-long planning process of searching, sourcing and securing internal and external resources, during the events themselves, in post-event reporting and reconciliation.

In a multi-day sports broadcast, there is often a varied supply of races, matches and games happening in unison across various venues and cities. Some events may be broadcast live, with viewers being taken from venue to venue in real-time; some can be recorded and possibly edited for later broadcast. Events can be broadcast across multiple time zones, can run into overtime, and can be postponed or rescheduled because of changes in weather — all of which affects scheduling. The result is a highly complex and dynamic mix of variables that have an ongoing effect on the entire broadcast day.

Contracting resources

Figure 1. Shown here is an automated workflow driven by ERM software.

The best ERM software solutions bring order to this chaos. Truly effective ERM solutions address this at the beginning of the planning stages, when broadcasters begin to find, schedule and confirm their resources, vendors and facilities. Increasingly, broadcasters are optimizing their ROI by aggressively adopting a “borrow instead of buy” approach to resources by contracting outside their own organizations. This is especially true for broadcasting multi-day sporting events. ERM solutions automate and facilitate collaboration with broadcasters and freelancers, allowing broadcasters to find, evaluate, book and manage third-party resources inside the scheduling system itself.

It's no longer necessary to hunt for resources through static out-of date directories, e-mail contact lists and rolodexes. Having immediate real-time visibility to all available resources — whether inside or outside the organization — allows broadcasters immediate access to the best resources at the lowest costs. And with a single ERM solution driving the schedules for all resources across multiple organizations and providers, broadcasters are assured that duplication of effort is eliminated and nothing slips through the cracks — crucial when all the moving parts required for complex sporting broadcasts need to mesh together seamlessly.

The interoperability and connectivity of ERM systems also allows these unique workflows to be deployed and triggered worldwide at other control centers. Interoperability allows ERM systems to drive and interact with virtually any third-party device or system. The power of dynamic interoperability is having a single point of record — one booking that is the nucleus for all of the systems involved in the feed. Changes are made once and then modifications — whether to start time, end time or technical parameters — are communicated automatically to all connected systems and vendors with no further user action required.

Users are freed up to move on to their next urgent task. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the external systems continue to report status information back to the core system. The booking is the nucleus not just for scheduling, but also for operations — a single, consolidated point for operational awareness about a feed.

Each external system receives its own unique message containing the specific details required by that system, as well as the ability to insert returned values back into the core system when the booking is acknowledged. The template files for these messages can be individually edited and re-applied to immediately accommodate new or expanded functionality from a given system or device.

Status messages sent from the external systems provide live awareness of the health and progress of a feed and trigger an alert if trouble occurs. If an external system reports any device is down, whether currently involved in a feed or not, this equipment is immediately and automatically marked as out of service in the core system without requiring any human interaction. This prevents doomed feeds from being scheduled in the chaotic environment where no one has noticed or been able to manually update the system. Equipment is automatically returned to operational status upon message from the external system.

Managing live feeds

On game days, broadcasters must extend transmission feeds in unison to contend with variants like weather and overtime or injury time. These affect everything in the sky and on the ground, from the uplink trucks, satellite channels and teleports; to the fiber network; to the staff and freelance personnel crewing the event. An ERM system allows these changes to be executed into a single booking of record, which in turn will automatically pass the information to downstream systems to facilitate the extended on-air coverage.

An ERM system will also update the crew schedules and report the extra time worked to the payroll system — a crucial capability for cost control, time keeping and reconciliation. This is an extremely valuable function for accurate, as-you-go time-keeping; efficient reconciliation; and detailed financial and production reporting. In the past few years, to maximize returns, broadcasters of these large events have migrated most of the crewing to local freelancers. Without an integrated solution, the complex task of manually reconciling payroll for 1000 freelancers with all of the scheduling modifications that occur during the event would be enormous.

Throughout each event, hundreds of feeds will be processed and delivered to air, and managing inbound and outbound feeds becomes mission-critical. Broadcasters that rely on a manual process for managing and scheduling feeds are at risk for double entries, inaccuracies and redundant tasks, all leading to reduced efficiency and lost revenue, time and reputation.

A simple scheduling change can have a cascading effect that requires engineers to shuffle the routers and lines bringing the feed into the Technical Operations Center (TOC) for the given venue. Each venue then routes to the International Broadcast Center (IBC), fanning out into an even more complex series of feeds with unique video, language and transport formats.

Regardless of where the many streams flow, they emanate from a single source, connected and interoperable. When the pebble of change is thrown in — be it weather delay, overtime or equipment failure — the result is not a wave of chaos. Rather, it is a smooth ripple of information flowing outward from the central booking, the central system, to all other involved systems.

This ease of execution frees up operators to concentrate on other elements of the broadcast, and in turn reduces the number of operators needed. ERM software allows one operator to do the job of two or three because of the vast reach and control he or she has across the operation from a single consolidated action rather than a flurry of individual actions.

After the event

Once the event is a wrap and all the feeds, facilities and freelancers are ‘goodnighted,’ it is not only time for a celebration of success but also time to reflect and report. How did we do? How can we do it better and cheaper next time? The granular reporting capabilities of ERM software allow financial controllers to evaluate the financial performance of all resources, departments, facilities, vendors, and even specific equipment and personnel to realize the inefficiencies that exist and effectively plan to reduce them in the future. The interoperability capabilities that connected operations during the broadcasts — the live interaction and updating — mean that reporting extends across all departments in all locations.

With vendors and partners connected and collaborating, costs are immediately reported directly into your system and updated instantly with every modification of a booking; there is no waiting 30 days for invoices to get the big picture. With external systems connected and collaborating reporting specific statuses and errors directly into your system — both in the booking cycle and in the life-cycle of specific devices — detailed operational reporting is now centralized and available, even for systems that don't have their own reporting tools.

Seamless connectivity, proactive collaboration and access to a resource community in real-time are the key benefits provided by ERM software. There is no doubt that the complexity of mounting broadcasts of multi-day sports events will continue to grow, increasing the need for automation and efficiency to drive increased ROI. Staying cost-effective and maximizing profitability in an environment that presents so many game-changing variables is only possible with the innovative resource management capabilities of ERM software.

Joel A. Nirenberg is the vice president of product management at ScheduALL.