Automation gets more complex as scheduling get more flexible, interactive

Wrapping up our series of NAB interviews with automation vendors, we talked to Richard Thomas, software development director at Abit.

Automation Technology Update: Are you expecting any changes in broadcast automation this year?

Richard Thomas: We expect more intense integration of the automation system with media management systems, file storage systems and DVE equipment. The workflow will be bidirectional in nature; although, if you listen to a number of the larger companies in the industry, the media management system will be doing everything undefined.

Workflow flexibility, immediate operator interaction and accurate implementation of the changes are paramount. In the transmission suite, facilitated by maintaining dynamic automation facilities in the transmission room, the top down workflow is a very good theoretical model. But in a dynamic television broadcast environment, real-time changes need to be handled by the transmission team that is responsible for playout.

As an example, if we have a breaking news story, not only does the news story have to be cut into the schedule, but the follow-on programs need to be put on hold, commercial breaks rescheduled and spilt if necessary, DVE effects spanned across differing lengths of spot and programs re-scheduled automatically.
In parallel, the live feed needs to be ingest into the storage system for use in time shift broadcasting, streaming and transcoded for different platforms. This requires the power of a dedicated automation system.

ATU: Do you see any trends emerging in the design and implementation of automation systems?

RT: As broadcasters move toward digital, the receiver is now more likely a set-top box than a conventional television, resulting in a mix of commercial and consumer products. At present, consumer and IT products use optical disk storage, and it could easily move into the broadcast environment.

Sponsorship and advertising icons are allowed on the Internet. Some broadcasters are starting to supplement commercials with these in the television environment. Commercial statistics may have to handle a wide category of events as DVE elements acquire commercial value. In effect, the automation system in IT terms could act as a firewall using corporate rules for each channel at the point of transmission.
I see more scheduling of clips based on viewer voting if a business model can be created.

ATU: Did you expect to see innovations at NAB?

RT: The integration factor will be covered with more networking of media management and broadcast automation systems demonstrating HD workflow with the equipment, possibly located in one box. I would expect a number of suppliers to support Microsoft Vista. Storage management is becoming a factor in IT as size and quantity of files increases within organizations. What we have generally called housekeeping in the automation environment does have an effect on workflow, and with an increase in size and a mixture of file types, it will overlap both media management and automation systems.

ATU: Do you see the rise of IPTV impacting automation?

RT: From our customers’ perspective, it has to be advertising revenue. On the other hand, they benefit from streaming their programs — again we come back to the business model.

The traditional broadcasters that are streaming programs at present have joined the IPTV culture. This requires ingest and transcoding of broadcast channels for onwards streaming and the file may have to be categorized dependant on the digital rights associated with the file and the format. It will have an affect on advertising revenue and subsequent budgets requiring changes to business plans that will require flexibility in the automation system.

ATU: And what about mobile TV?

RT: At present, it is a big technological factor but a niche market. Finding a business model could be a problem; however, I said that about the mobile phone when approached by Motorola 20 years ago. Whoever visualized the market for text messages to grow the overall mobile marketplace is in a better position to answer the question.

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