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Hub and Spoke Production Demands Rise Amid Pandemic

(Image credit: TSL Products)

Broadcast engineers require solutions that address network growth, aging systems and the proliferation of secondary content channels creating workflow gaps. This is even more important when circumstances require interruptions to local programming or for breaking news, which we are seeing a huge spike in amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. With the need to do more with less, major broadcasters are seeking solutions that are quick and easy to implement, simplify and expedite remote command and control over production capabilities, and create seamless workflows that minimize training time, reduce human error and offer significant cost savings. 

Today’s broadcast engineers require solutions that allow them to make adjustments and reconfigurations while working from home. To meet broadcasters’ current needs, it is important that they have access to solutions that can track tally statuses across multiple locations, regardless of the associations, and provide the ability for operators to easily select live cuts from incoming camera feeds. In addition, solutions that feature “one touch” production recall allow operators to easily recall presets required for a particular show or segment at the press of a button. With advanced broadcast control solutions, delegating who has control over what camera tallies and resources at a remote site can be configured ahead of the broadcast or while live on air, saving precious time in high-speed, high-stress production environments.

FLEXIBILITY AND EFFICIENCY

New and powerful tools for remote production open up applications for channel delegation, which can all be delivered by using a system built on independent device protocol translation and intuitive interfaces that add flexibility and efficiency to operations. Screen-based display systems that can interface with a range of third-party equipment provide results and simplify operator workflows. For successful hub and spoke productions, engineers benefit from solutions that feature “programmer-free” configuration interfaces and remote accessibility, as this makes adjustments simple and easily implemented without disrupting on-air streams. This is particularly beneficial for remote broadcast engineering applications. 

Comprehensive monitoring and control are the keys to success when it comes to hub and spoke broadcasts. Technicians at the broadcaster’s network hub must have accurate, up-to-the-minute knowledge of each downstream affiliate station, audio and video feed quality, which source is on air and more. Additionally, in case of failure, broadcast engineers must have the ability to select and remotely route primary or back-up automation to air, as well as break into the affiliate’s programming in case of breaking-news interruptions. For hub and spoke broadcast productions, each content channel at the affiliate stations must be equipped with a control processor connected to that channel’s primary and back-up automation systems, video server(s) and the facility router. A control processor can also provide connectivity back to the main network hub for override control. 

For hub and spoke broadcast applications, a control processor can monitor and keep track of which source (automation A, B or local programming) is routed to air. Additionally, with effective control solutions in place, when there are multiple channels, each may be individually routed without impacting the others, and if a break-in source is on-air, commands to the server from both automation systems may be ignored. Conversely, regardless of which automation system is routed to air, a controller can send continuous updates of the server’s clip list and transport status to both the A and B automation systems. Meanwhile, video feeds from each affiliate station are accessible to a monitoring pod at the central hub facility, where operators oversee and control content source selection. With control interfaces, the hub station operator may also be able to choose which subchannel of the selected local affiliates to monitor, as well as to remotely route the A, B or breaking news feed to air. 

As well as easing complex operations, a unified control system delivers both capital and operational cost savings. By implementing a control system with extensive protocol APIs and device translation, users can easily adapt and expand their system as requirements change over time. Hub and spoke production minimizes hardware costs by interfacing equipment and control with universal panels and operator tasks are streamlined, reducing costly on-air errors and training expenditures. 

Additional playout and master control functions for hub and spoke production include automation playout and ingest, SCTE standards, ability to configure signal flows, disaster recovery, studio association and failover as well as cloud playout. Automation playout and ingest offers fast, simple and reliable control with scheduled actions and primary, back-up or tertiary automation. With SCTE standards, broadcast engineers can break into the affiliate’s programming, should national or regional coverage take precedence. To manage all content and process flows, as well as process automation to define automatic responses to system changes and critical data sharing, hub and spoke production allows broadcast engineers to configure signal flows remotely. Disaster recovery capabilities allow operators to select and remotely route primary or back-up automation to air. With master control functions, cloud-based resources can be made to look and act like traditional devices so that operators can continue to control their cloud playout in a way that feels familiar. Additionally, these functions allow operators to change the associated hub studio for scenarios where there is a planned maintenance or equipment failure.

It is crucial that manufacturers design control systems with the broadcaster's current needs in mind, as this will prove to be beneficial in the months and years to come. When controllers allow operators to pre-configure presets prior to production, which requires minimal labor and training to operate effectively, this results in a substantial decrease in the potential for mistakes and increase in operational cost savings. With benefits like these, broadcast engineers will continue to turn to hub and spoke production equipment no matter if we are in the middle of a pandemic or back to life as usual. 

Mark Davies is director of products and technology at TSL Products