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Automation improves the on-air look of stations

Omnibus automation at a facility in NOB, Netherlands.

Automation Technology Update recently spoke to Ian Fletcher, CTO of OmniBus, about his views on broadcast automation.

ATU: What is the most important reason that a broadcaster should use automation?

Ian Fletcher: Initially it was to reduce the number of people required to run multiple channels. The consequence was that a channel could get the video jukebox look. Broadcasters are now using automation to enhance and improve a service, and to give it a crafted look

ATU: What areas should a broadcaster automate first?

IF: It depends on the broadcaster. It should be looked on as an end-to-end process, not just for transmission. Asset and workflow management should go together with playout automation in order to benefit from real efficiencies. Newsroom automation is a separate issue that could be automated in isolation from the program playout.

ATU: Does this mean the broadcaster should take a building-block approach to automation? If so, doesn’t this mean that the broadcast is then forever locked into one vendor?

IF: We have open APIs for third parties to use. Sometimes we supply transmission and media asset management, sometimes ingest, it depends on the facilities the customer wants. We do approach asset management from a broadcast point of view rather that the IT approach.

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

IF: In the U.S., customers see commercial playout as most important. There are also issues like V-chip flags. In Europe, the presentation style is more important. There are issues like the management of schedule timing to fit around breaking news. Rather than run the programs to a rigid schedule, the program timing is slipped dynamically to fit around the news flash.

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

IF: A much slicker output and more channels for the same headcount.

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? What differences does this make in the operation of the control room?

IF: The issue today is that automation can control complex effects, like graphics and DVE, that traffic systems cannot program. We use macros for complex junction effects. Interaction with traffic would not present us with any problems, we have been doing this for years with newsroom computers. News is all about last minute changes.

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

IF: We are participating in the SMPTE committee looking at this issue.

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

IF: They should look for ease of use and a flexible user interface. They should ask if the vendor can adapt to their requirements or do they impose a workflow? There are technical issues. Is it frame accurate? Does it have flexible control over audio transitions like lead and lag? How do you preview schedule blocks? What is the provision for failover?

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

IF: It depends. It can be purely financial by lowering the head count or increasing the number of services with existing staff. Alternately it could be to improve the quality of the output in an increasingly competitive marketplace. How good does it look?

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

IF: That would be a giveaway. But we will be making important announcements before NAB. To give a clue, compare the way radio operated 10 years ago with how it runs today.

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