Broadcast automation in 360 degrees II

Last week, Adrian Scott of Pro-Bel looked at the development of TV automation over the years. This week, he details some of the innovative functions that automation systems are now routinely expected to deliver as well as the movement toward “TV-in-a-box” solutions that combine automation and media storage within one single system.

In a tapeless age, media management is key to the entire production and delivery workflow. The passage of media through ingest, production, scheduling, delivery, repurposing and archiving is fundamental. However, in an automation context, there is something else: The system must have an awareness of when content needs to be where and make sure it is available precisely when required.

Many studio environments feature a multiplicity of media storage devices: on-air and production servers; video, audio and graphics systems; and online and nearline archiving. This means the automation system, to ensure accurate delivery, must be able to prioritize content, determine precisely where it is and know which is closest to air time, in order to manage what might be called “relevant” storage and efficient prestaging of content in a system of “asset migration”.

Moving content from one store to another requires management of available free space, which implies that the automation system must embody a rules-based philosophy to ensure that nothing scheduled for air is deleted. On the other hand, the storage devices are maintained in “housekeeping” terms to ensure optimum space usage.

The current burning issue in media management concerns metadata. Automation systems need a range of capabilities ranging from simple metadata extraction tools for database management (in the case of MXF file-based playout) to automated metadata-oriented workflow processes, and these tools must cover all of the workflow steps from ingest through archiving. This enables intelligent decisions to be made about where content should go and how it should be processed. It must not be restricted by content type and can relate to video, audio, graphics or subtitle content in a fully dynamic way. For example, the Media Object Server (MOS) protocol most commonly used for news applications is now bidirectional, allowing newsroom systems to manage the automation system’s on-air schedule, publish media content at any time and provide true feedback on the automation user interface as content changes and stories take shape.

The job of managing a broadcast facility is becoming extremely complex. Personnel are confronted with a wide range of interconnected systems and what often seems like a bewildering range of interfaces and controls, all in an environment where both the numbers of operational staff and their skill levels are in decline. The need has arisen for ways to control and monitor the operations of the whole environment and not just individual components of it. The automation system is a natural focus for this, because it is already connected to all of the other elements to ensure reliable and timely movement of media.

Some automation systems are now including control and monitoring elements that provide a single point of contact for the user, regardless of the type of device or subsystem under scrutiny. These can extend beyond pure playout to include systemwide awareness and resilient, scalable, flexible configuration.

The next step is to implement complete workflow processes to automate complex and labor-intensive tasks. Linked to an automation system, this might involve the ingest, transcoding and archive of content as well as the management of any necessary tie lines and booking of incoming feeds. Monitoring features can allow operators to home in on problem areas within a system. Systemwide alarms can be filtered and logged. The status of media objects and content must be monitored as well as that of actual devices.

As we have seen, automation has moved in the flowchart, from being an isolated final delivery tool to playing an important role in every part of the integrated content chain.

The “channel-in-a-box” developments will certainly progress, offering full-function playout and content management on a small scale.

Logically, the next area of application for automation systems to explore is the commercial field. As broadcasters become increasingly one-to-one retailers, as well as one-to-many wholesalers, of content, there is a requirement for them to manage both rights and customer relationships and to account for who buys what and for how much — in short, to add DRM and CRM to the chain. This opens up the potential for them to exploit the possibilities of business intelligence, and, for example, to start offering targeted content propositions to individual consumers whose past record reveals an interest in a particular subject, and therefore a propensity to buy.

Linked with rules-driven automated content creation, flexible multichannel, multiplatform delivery and end-to-end content, workflow and infrastructure management, a commerce-enabled automation system will enable broadcasters to fight back against the new media and Internet operators who represent such a competitive threat.

Adrian Scott is chief marketing officer at Pro-Bel.

For more information, visit