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Automation gives broadcasters tighter management of resources

Automation Technology Update spoke with Alan DeVaney, president and founder of Crispin, to disucss the operating automation in a multichannel area.

Automation Technology Update: What is the single most important reason that a broadcaster should use automation?

Alan DeVaney: It’s the most effective way to operate in a multichannel environment. A broadcaster can use modern software-based subsystems under a common control schema.

ATU: What areas should a broadcaster automate first?

AD: It depends upon the customer’s needs. We analyze their short- and long-term goals. Usually the first area is commercial insertion. Along with this is ingest of the commercials plus interstitials.

ATU: Does this mean the broadcaster can approach automation with a building-block approach? Doesn’t this mean that the broadcast is then forever locked into one vendor?

AD: Our products have been highly modular from day one. We support open and non-proprietary interfaces and prefer to conform to standards. We also interface directly to video server APIs rather than using a standard interface. This gives the most flexible control of the server, and allows us the optimum interface for metadata exchange for checks and balances on upcoming scheduled events.

ATU: What are some of the regional differences in how automation is implemented?

AD: We operate mainly in North America, although recently we have started selling systems in South America. We see more differences from group to group rather than regional. Each group has their own workflow. We don’t dictate how a station should operate. We have a highly configurable product that can be adapted to suit the group.

ATU: What immediate benefits would a broadcaster see with the implementation of automation?

AD: Tighter management of resources. This frees up operators to correct schedule errors before going to air. Before automation, operators focused on the day of air, with automation they can focus on pre-air. The goal is to take instructions from traffic and play them to air with precision. The automation will rapidly identify any gaps in the schedule.

ATU: There has been much discussion about moving control of playout from the master control area back into the traffic department, where programs and commercials are initially booked. What challenges does this place on an automation vendor and what differences does this make in the operation of the control room?

AD: It depends upon the time of day. Some parts of the day will work when simple scheduled events are playing, but in a live scenario you need a master control operator. For control from the traffic department to work effectively, there has to be seamless passing of control back and forth.

ATU: What sort of interface is needed with traffic and sales?

AD: We are promoting a bidirectional interface. You need to present traffic with a dilemma, if traffic is boss it must be able to accommodate requests to resolve a time gap in the playlist. At present, the master control operator resolves these issues.

ATU: What key features should a customer look for in an automation system?

AD: Management of assets. The video server lies at the heart of master control. A customer should look at how the automation manages the server assets. Another important feature is what operational tools are provided to make rapid changes to the schedule in a dynamic environment like live cut-ins and local news.

Another important issue is support. It is becoming a challenge for stations to operate complex software subsystems. They are going to need the assistance of vendors to resolve problems.

ATU: How can a customer estimate the ROI for an automation system?

AD: They should analyze their internal workflows and needs, then forecast what impact an automation system has on these workflows. They could throw more manpower at the task, but typically software systems show an ROI.

ATU: What do you think will be the next big idea in automation?

AD: Just like video servers before, there will be commoditization of automation systems. We don’t use proprietary hardware platforms, but regular PCs and Windows or Linux. The feature sets will assist in running the station for less money. We see local stations going live more and more. Automation enables this evolution.

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