Automation Evolves for Multiplatform Delivery

SAN FRANCISCO—Sometimes it’s not a revolution that begins to transform a technology, but an evolution; even when that evolution turns out to be a jerky, stop-and-start progression.

Over the last five years, the professional video industry has had to rethink the way it integrates multiple delivery platforms into a traditional broadcast infrastructure. Automation within the broadcast plant is one of the last big technologies to navigate this new path. In doing so, these backroom big iron boxes are having to consider ever more little details, from digital media production to automated production workflows for transcoding and ingest.

Integration is a key component to the RUSHWORKS A-List automation system, which can connect to companion systems like the VDESK production system to capture and stream and then schedule through automation.LIVE AND AUTOMATED
That’s where the evolution—rather than revolution—of this complicated technology comes into play. “Our focus is on evolving the production format in a evolutionary way rather than revolutionary way, by making incremental changes to improve production and include ties to products in other areas,” said Bill Hadsell, product manager for Grass Valley, adding that the Montreal-based provider of media production and distribution technology plans to introduce advancements to its Ignite platform in spring 2016 that will better help stations automate and manage their digital platforms.

Where Grass Valley has found its footing is in handling live automated productions, and all the chaos that goes with it. “A newscast never goes according to the script; stuff happens and it doesn’t go according to plan,” Hadsell said. “What you need in a live production system is a system that can automate the parts that are routine and can be driven to automation without any thought, and then allow for the flexibility to go off script on any moment.”

That’s one of the key features Grass Valley attempted to integrate into the Ignite Konnect Live Production Automation System, which serves as a link between the control room and the newsroom to allow users to choose a level of automation that suits a specific workflow.

Taking an automation system and building on top of that—in effect, boosting its capabilities to be more than simply automation— has been one of the biggest trends for the industry. Creating those building blocks was the goal of Imagine Communications for its ADC and D-Series automation solutions. Using the Versio playout platform, users can add so-called business continuity solutions to existing automation systems to expand their channels.

The company used the IBC Show as a jumping off point to demonstrate how a series of solutions—even automation—are deployable on-premises, in a remote data center or virtualized in the cloud. The company showcased a virtualized, cloud-based business continuity solution in which channel operations are automatically mirrored with the D-Series automation system.

“Linear automation plays a critical role for media organizations, but as the scale of content distribution exponentially expands, automation systems need to evolve into a component of a content factory,” said Jason Salyards, director of product development for playout for Dallas-based Imagine Communications. The company’s ADC and D-Series automation systems are being enhanced to become interoperable with content factory operations, he said.

Likewise, keeping tabs on assets as they are passing back and forth between digital platforms was a key priority for Florical, a Gainesville, Fla.-based provider of broadcast automation systems. The company’s FlashForward solution automates the acquisition workflow process in a way that integrates with the company’s big-box automation solutions like AirBoss.

Intertwining automation with playout has proven a smart move for Harmonic as well, which introduced a suite of automation products that enable end-to-end automation and live playout via the iMCR integrated Master Control Room system. At IBC, the San Jose, Calif.-based provider of video processing and distribution technology showed how its Polaris Advance and Polaris Elite automation systems can control the company’s Electra X and XVM encoding systems. This new capability adds to the control of the company’s Spectrum MediaPort, Spectrum Channel-Port and Spectrum X SDI-to-IP playout migration platform.

The result, according to Andy Warman, director of product management, media servers and storage for Harmonic, is an experience that ticks off a long list of necessary options via a single user interface: controlling traditional playout, channel-in-a-box, integrated channel playout, cloud-based playout as well as drive playout and graphic branding.

“We see this as a pivotal enhancement to our automation system as we continue to drive function integration across our video server and encoder product lines,” he said.

Keeping in mind how much the broadcast industry has changed—and won’t be reverting to the era of single-channel, single-output any time soon—is key when considering automation features.

“Automation has reached a level of maturity, whether it’s for a network broadcaster or a municipality,” said Rush Beesley, founder of RUSHWORKS a provider of television automation and production systems in Flower Mound, Texas. And it’s OK to acknowledge it, whether you’re a small-market broadcaster or university production department, Beesley said: You want what the big boys have, without an unreachable price tag.

“With what we offer in terms of feature sets, there’s a price point that’s equally attractive to public education channels, LPTVs, translators or anyone whose doing linear scheduled broadcasts with a big reliable servers, graphics built into the box, and sophisticated things like EAS management onscreen,” Beesley said of the company’s A-LIST automation system. Today’s automation systems need to provide those kinds of features, regardless of the broadcaster’s DMA, he said.

At the end of the day, a broadcaster has the same basic priorities as a large market station: Use whatever channel platforms are at its disposal to reach an audience effectively. Building upon the features of an automation system was a priority for NVerzion as well. The Salt Lake City-based provider of automation systems recently introduced a new automation, video server and graphics package that includes the NVerzion CLASS automation system and CloudNine video server.

“Today’s broadcasters… cannot afford to be boxed in by the constraints of a channel-in-a-box automation system,” said Reed Haslam, director of sales and marketing at NVerzion. The system is designed to help broadcasters accelerate operations, eliminate scalability issues and make workflow management upgrades, he said.

The educational station OUTV, run by the University of Oklahoma, recently installed a CLASS system to streamline its file-based workflow. The station can control a variety of third-party equipment to assist with ingest, dubbing, scheduled satellite recordings and playout to provide viewers with a mix of live and recording programming.

“Our old automation system was proving to be ineffective at communicating with other equipment,” said George Franklin, instructor and general manager at the University of Oklahoma, which is proving important as the station supports both a Web stream and its four cable TV channels.

What is driving these new options is not new-features-for-features sake, but rather a fundamental shift in the professional video marketplace. “Fundamentally the decisions that are being made have to do with how to help stations monetize content across all these different platforms,” Grass Valley’s Hadsell said. Sure, automation is designed to help streamline that workflow, “but how do we begin to tie our tools together so that someone who wants to output their digital media and tie it into their digital broadcast can do so?” he mused. “No one can afford to be left out of that.”

Susan Ashworth

Susan Ashworth is the former editor of TV Technology. In addition to her work covering the broadcast television industry, she has served as editor of two housing finance magazines and written about topics as varied as education, radio, chess, music and sports. Outside of her life as a writer, she recently served as president of a local nonprofit organization supporting girls in baseball.