"Automation Technology Update" spoke to Rick Stora of Avid to learn how Sundance Digital has evolved since becoming part of Avid and to hear his views on the effects of the current economic conditions on the broadcast automation business.
"We have been asked to do less adventurous projects, less secondary events and flashy presentation," Stora said. "They have asked us to focus primarily on reliability and simpler operation." He continued, "We are seeing extra channel work, and the groups that are doing multicasting are retuning systems."Stations are leveraging the transmitter and tower costs by adding secondary SD channels and presenting new advertising opportunities, although at the expense of video quality for the HD channel.
Another area in which Stora is seeing changes is with groups that are centralcasting. To lower operational expenditure, they are extending remote operation to more sites. "The main barrier to centralcasting 10 years ago came from the huge expense of the data lines," he said. "Those prices have come way down and people are taking advantage."
The automation system is key here, because it controls media transfer between the sites. "A recent trend is the reengineering of program delivery. We have seen a shift to delivery as files instead of real-time satellite recording or tape delivery. This is well advanced with commercials," Stora said, "but now 50 percent of syndicated programs in the U.S. are delivered as files. Warner Brothers, CBS and Ascent Media have joined to build their own distribution system."
Stora has seen similar initiatives in the Asia-Pacific region; the WAN transfer just adds another layer of complexity to the workflow, but it can be a well-oiled operation. "To share files in multiple facilities, first keep metadata that describes each piece straight and coordinate that between locations. Then you are secure in getting the right file across. Keeping the data straight is the first task," he said.
The WAN can be seen as a triangle — at the top is cost, to the left is bandwidth and to the right is time. "You have to make the triangle large enough to meet your needs. If one or the other of those factors is pegged down, you have to stretch the other two. If time is a factor, then you have to determine how much bandwidth is needed to meet the requirements," Stora said.
This is not in real time. An interesting alternate technique is to do distribution via a real-time ASI stream. This can be used for a multiplex of four SD streams, or a mix of HD and SD. Stora said that the move to HD, with the much larger files, is causing a shift from MPEG-2 to H.264 for delivery.
Integration with Avid
Since Sundance Digital has joined Avid, Stora said, "We have seen requests from people we have not seen before. All regular Avid sales teams can now represent Sundance. In the United States, there is a sales group for smaller stations and another enterprise group that deals with the big groups and networks. The Sundance guys provide overlay advice for systems quotations, but they need that less as time passes."
Avid is a worldwide operation, whereas Sundance was better known in its domestic market. "As Sundance, we did well in North and South America but didn’t have the legs to cover Asia-Pacific or European region," Stora said. "Sundance aims to replicate the U.S. model in these areas, where the Avid team can sell and support the broadcast automation. The salesman calling on a traditional Avid customer now has a whole new set of sheets in his brochure pack."
In Asia, there can be different business drivers to automate. There is "no requirement to reduce staffing, however, reliability is paramount," Stora said. "If are sitting at home holding the remote control and you change the channel, you expect to see TV there, and that is our job." The key to that is "a good, solid, repeatable workflow."
Regarding Sundance presenting with Avid at this year's IBC, Stora said Sundance will be there, but branded as "Avid Automation."
Products and technology
Sundance Digital is leveraging Avid editors, storage and Interplay to integrate production and playout into a seamless workflow. "At the point of finishing, the key is to take the finished piece (from production) in the required codec for playout and to add the business metadata that makes the automation run. Our crossover point is with Interplay. You can pull down a clip from the editor (to Interplay), and we can automatically transcode the spot, transfer to the playback server and attach the metadata," Stora said.
For promo production, this a huge time saver and saves stages of dubbing a QC that is needed for tape transfer. "Interplay can drive promo creation. The house ID used to play back the promo is communicated to the editor at production time, so they can attach that metadata in Interplay to the finished product," Stora said. "We can then automate the transfer of that to the video server. That can help because the promo may only be available close to air time."