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Closer links between traffic and operations

"Automation Technology Update" spoke with Les Wyatt, VP and general manager at Harris Software Systems, and John Phipps, VP EMEA Harris Software System Sales, to discuss their views on broadcast automation.

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

Harris: The key is to have no dead air. The broadcaster needs high-integrity playout and to comply with regulatory requirements. Protection of revenue is vital. Automation today can manage a number of complex devices to create a seamless flow of compelling programming. Another reason is the general move from tape to server-based playout.

ATU: What areas should a broadcaster automate first?

Harris: It depends upon the broadcaster's roadmap to the future. Most start with the real-time operation, commercial and program playout. The other aspects, ingest and archive, can be built onto the real-time areas. The move to digital means that asset management and ingest become more important. Newsroom automation is a developing area, with only 10 percent of news operation worldwide using it so far.

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

Harris: We don't have a single customer that isn't using third-party systems alongside our products. We also will continue to integrate with third-party servers, and not just Leitch.

The Harris approach is to be open. Broadcasters have differing needs in different locales. They will have legacy systems in place that we have to integrate with.

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

Harris: The languages make a difference, adding complexity with additional requirements for subtitles and closed captions. The handling of regional advertising and promotional inserts varies from country to country. We also see the transnational players looking at the globalization of distribution, playout and disaster recovery. On the design side, we are using a Unicode structure for all new products.

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

Harris: In the short-term, more control, improved accuracy and less errors. In the long-term, automation gives greater branding and promotional capabilities, plus presents new revenue opportunities. For stations wanting to simulcast HD and SD, automation would be a great benefit.

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?

Harris: Master control and traffic must have a good data link if it used to pull spots at short notice. Our H-class product gives us a synergy between traffic and master control. The newer traffic systems are enabling a tighter schedule to pass to master control. Traffic and operations have traditionally been separate, but we see broadcasters starting to integrate the two. However, traffic works like office hours, whereas operations run 24-hours.

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

Harris: We at Harris are very involved with SMPTE S.22. We see open APIs being very important, and that standards are only meaningful if useful information can be exchanged. S.22 does give you a strong path forward.

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

Harris: It must be robust and reliable with inbuilt redundancy. The customer should look for solution providers with stability, yet who stay at the edge of the technology.

Now broadcasters are running multiplexes. It should be easy to add or change channels to the mix.

We see the feature set for digital ingest (as opposed to tape) becoming important. As more content is re-purposed for mobile TV, integration with program rights packages will become an issue.

We should not forget training, what does the vendor offer? Broadcasters need assistance as staffs migrate from analog to digital, and from tape to disk.

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

Harris: All customers are different. If they are moving from tape to server, that alone provides a saving. There are many opportunities to increase revenue and to protect advertising. It gives them a scalable system with the same number of staff. There are straightforward gains that are easy to scope, like a decrease in the number of make-goods. To prove the ROI for adding more channels needs a proper business plan.

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

Harris:The emerging IPTV arena, VOD and delivery to mobile, all present new markets for playout automation. These new media all require more tailoring of content for the individual viewer. This requires more accurate targeting than was possible with "broad" casting. This will require powerful interactive systems linking traffic and content scheduling with the demands of the individual viewer.

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