Automation and change

As the world economy attempts to pilot a safe passage through some very stormy seas, the broadcast automation sector should be in a good position. Automation lowers staffing levels, so it looks like an obvious purchase for the broadcasters out there still running manual operations. However, most broadcasters have been using automation since the days of the robotic cart machines, so sales must come from other areas.

The last few years have seen the rapid adoption of graphics automation. Making graphics for news or channel branding was as labor-intensive as any creative process. The use of data-driven templates has transformed both these applications. The cost savings don’t just come from the reduction in new graphics creation. For channel branding, the end-boards, stings and bumpers were traditionally cut together in an edit suite and then voiced, resulting in more cost to the broadcaster.

Graphics automation should now be on everyone’s shopping list for next year, if you don’t use it already. But where else should you look for efficiency improvements in playout operations? Workflow has long been the favored term of marketing departments, and improving the running of broadcast processes is a good place to look for savings. Many broadcasters are still operating in ways that would be familiar to an operator from the 1980s. The move to file-based playout has dictated some minor tweaks, but are you truly gaining the maximum advantage from your broadcast automation by integrating it with content management?

One technology that is claimed to offer the broadcaster cost savings is SOA, the service-oriented architecture. In the United States, National TeleConsultants is promoting the advantages of an SOA, while in Europe, the EBU is making rapid progress in the development of a harmonized framework to support broadcasters in their migration to an SOA. Although much can be gained from the experience of the IT sector in the management of files, broadcasting has special requirements, including real-time distribution of video and audio as well as the traffic operations that still make extensive use of tape.

Is now the time to accelerate such changes, or should we be cautious and averse to risk? Will the market for broadcast automation vendors shift to the emerging economies? Existing broadcasters may want to put off that upgrade for a year, but there are many new markets from IPTV and mobile to the third world. As a major source of public entertainment and news, television is not going away, but even without a recession, there is more competition from the Web and mobile operators.

On the Broadcast Engineering Web site, we run a number of forums. Please feel free to share your thoughts on this subject with other broadcast engineers.

There is no doubt that the public stays at home and watches television in a recession, but if folks are not spending money, will ad rates hold? One school of thought is that a recession is the time to shout loudest about your products, and TV advertising has a gravitas that may be lacking with online offerings. Hard reality means that some companies may prefer to cut back on marketing rather than laying off staff. This coming year looks to be a year to watch, just as 2008 will be a year to forget. By the NAB2009, the route forward may be clearer. With a new face in the White House, and many rescue plans in place around the globe, there should be more certainty.

Have comments or questions about this article? Visit our Forum and start a discussion.