"Just in time graphics" enhance the look of TV station programming

The primary function of playout automation is the cueing and playing to air of video server clips. Pre-programmed graphics pages can be keyed over the clip, but anything more complex requires additional automation facilities. Associated media management checks that all the clips in the playlist are present on the air server and issues a warning to the master control operator if any material is missing.

The modern channel often makes heavy use of graphics. As channel branding has become a vital issue in a multichannel world, the requirements of the graphics systems have become more demanding. Some of the more specialist channels use standard templates with data driven graphics to cut down operator requirements.

A typical example is music television. Each track may have a lower third and other associated graphics that can be automatically created with a suitable software application. VDS focused such ancillary requirements of graphics system in an automated environment. Automation Technology Update spoke recently to Mike Dilworth of VDS to hear about this niche area of playout automation. We have not followed our usual set of vendor questions, as this is such a specialized area of automation.

VDS: It started about six years ago when Viacom approached us with a problem. They wanted to play back-to-back music videos with automatically generated titles and animated bugs. As each video was ingested all they needed to do was enter the title text for each clip into a database and let the automation create the graphics live at the scheduled playout slot.

We have developed this on a generic database driven graphics application that can be used wherever clip-specific graphics are needed, like special promotions for a music clip. ATU: Since those days we have seen more interaction with the audience, phone polling and voting via Web sites to create playlists: the jukebox concept.

VDS: We developed a product just for this interactive programming. It was not straightforward. Each music video has a different duration, and until you get the votes in you don’t know how long a group of clips is going to run. We developed a way to pad the playlist automatically to compensate for a run of shorter clips. Without automation such programming would need constant operator intervention to fit between the commercials.

ATU: Are you creating a complex graphics look for a channel that can be set up by a few database entries?

VDS: It’s all about reducing costs and improving the on-air look. The latest requirement we have had is graphics asset management. Just as media management gets a clip to the right air server, we can analyze a playlist and check that the correct graphics files are in the master control graphics system — and just like media management, we can warn the operator if graphic files are missing.

While our products are very automation-centric, our real expertise is in add-on products that interface to the core automation system. Examples include systems for automated generation of complex "just in time" graphics, and automated asset distribution and monitoring systems.

ATU: So far we have talked about clips playout. What about live programming?

VDS: Sports and news are both graphics heavy applications. Again automation cuts down the need for graphics operators. Lower thirds tickers can be set up by the operator then triggered by a GPI from the automation. We think of VDS as a traffic cop controlling all the graphic data feeds and driving the graphics engine.

ATU: The question that always comes up with automation is interfacing with third-parties.

VDS: We work with several of the major automation vendors. We develop interfaces that work with their APIs and XML adaptors as appropriate.

ATU: What about logging?

VDS: We can generate our own as-run log of the graphics events, as an example with Harris ADC we insert comments into the Harris log.

ATU: Outside of graphics, where have you seen other applications for playout automation?

VDS: We work a lot with financial information, for stock tickers and similar. Most of the feeds are proprietary, and we transcode it into a format to drive the third-party graphics engine. Recently there has been a move for the agencies to supply the information in an XML form.

ATU: The constant drive to enhance the on-air look of a station so that it will catch the channel-hopper is increasing demands on the graphics component. Stations need a more dynamic look that can be controlled on the fly, either from the schedule or from external data sources. As with regular master control automation the incorporation of intelligent control systems lowers manning requirements, lowers the number of mistakes and improves the on-air presentation.

For more information, see www.videodesignsoftware.com.

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