From islands to integrated systems

As media businesses have evolved from processes that use videotape toward a fully integrated file-based environment, many of the constraints that bound the old workflows are breaking down. I would expect broadcasters today to receive their commercials as files and programs as a mix of videotape and files. There are still cost barriers to the distribution of all programming as files, but they are receding fast.

The traditional broadcast model is made up of islands: conformance review, graphics, post production, promo creation, segmentation and playout. To move content between these islands previously required dubbing and QC, transport of tapes and then ingest and QC. Alongside the physical movement of tapes, there was much rekeying of metadata.

The globalization of content delivery has created a whole new business of multichannel playout. These facilities, often outsourced from the channel operators, take in content and prepare it for transmission in distribution in multiple languages and delivery formats.

Delivering to many countries means meeting the requirements of different regulators. This means compliance editing to remove inappropriate content. The multilanguage versions must be created, and this requires dubbing, narration and subtitling. Many countries require access services, closed-captioning and, increasingly, audio or video description (the same thing, but in different countries).

Aside from the content, there are the requirements for channel branding and channel promotion. Increasingly, data-driven graphic templates are used to create snipes and end boards in an automated process. But, trailers may also be needed for upcoming programs, and this requires an editing stage. All of these processes need both transmission quality and viewing copies of programs to be moved around the many departments implementing the work.

A modern media factory that is using enterprise applications to aid in the operation of the facility will have a DAM system to manage the media files, rights management to control transmission windows and secondary distribution like VOD and download, and a platform to create schedules. On the business side, there is sales and traffic. Underlying everything is resource management of equipment and human resources, as well as the accounts system.

Once the islands imposed by the processes of videotape are removed, the boundaries between different departments become more fluid. Graphic operations are split between the creative processes of branding and template design, and the transmission processes that are implemented under automation in master control.

Versioning for different markets is a mix of simple editing and language-tagging at playout to select the appropriate language tracks.

The processes from acquisition to air are becoming a continuous flow of files, where parallel operations can take place, and many of the old, inefficient processes of multiple QC checks and metadata entry are no longer necessary.

What does all this mean? It means that broadcast automation is not just the orchestration of cart machines, CGs and VTRs in master control, but the management of the entire workflow from the moment content arrives at the facility.

This management of resources, tasks, content processing and playout under integrated software systems not only lowers operational costs and improves resource use, but also gives management a much better view of the processes and costs of running the facility.

As content is repurposed for nonlinear delivery and distribution to new platforms, the control of the costs of each service become vital in the proper management of the business to ensure profitably. The ability to aggregate management of the components of the business also enables the speedy introduction of new services to viewers and to advertisers.

We are now moving from broadcast automation to business process automation, where playout automation is just one service in an enterprisewide management system.