The convergence of IT and broadcast engineering is driving the evolution of content workflow and the adoption of digital server-based models for content production and storage. As a result, it's opening doors to more streamlined and unified operations for broadcast, production and post-production facilities.
The challenge in establishing transparent and efficient workflows lies in bridging the gap between the operations side and the data or engineering side of the business. This article will explore how today's broadcast operations software can span this divide through new efficiencies in comprehensive scheduling, tracking and reporting.
A new vision for broadcast operations
As the sheer volume of content and variety of asset types has grown, tapeless storage systems now offer a more efficient and less error-prone way to manage physical media. No longer tied to the rules of physical storage, broadcasters can re-engineer their facilities and content management workflows.
Digital media have enabled implementation of large storage networks and the use of server-based systems designed to move material efficiently through a facility. As a result, broadcasters are increasingly incorporating IT-based technologies into their engineering operations, enabling new broadcast workflows.
At the same time, broadcasters are under increased commercial pressure to get content out faster and more cost-effectively. Digital workflows allow broadcasters to streamline their handling of content, not just from the moment of ingest, but from the moment a device is used to create content or track a story. This allows them to capture information or metadata at the very formulation of an idea.
This metadata defines every aspect of the content — how it's made, how much it cost to whomever accessed or modified it, and how its distribution should be governed. In essence, the entire workflow for film or television production can be initiated at preproduction and managed through production on-air transmission to billing and beyond.
The challenge of advanced content management
As the content workflow shifts from conventional broadcast devices to the flow of media on computer systems, the first challenge is to establish successful sharing of data and metadata across disparate systems. The next step is to achieve the seamless movement of data in a workflow process. However, despite the trend toward IT-based operations within broadcast facilities, the gap between operations and data workflows remains an issue.
The operations side includes the scheduling of people, equipment, facilities, projects, deadlines and budgets — resources geared toward the creation of content. The operations workflow deals with how the work gets done, such as the people who work on a project, the studios that shoot, the content that's edited and the financial effect. (See Figure 1 on page 10.)
The data workflow deals with how data or content flows from system to system. The orchestration and execution of this flow might involve transcoding, aspect ratio conversion or format conversion. The objective is to get content from point A to point B and to ensure that it arrives in the appropriate format and standard.
Broadcasters can gain tremendous efficiencies when these two workflows operate together. In a unified system, the broadcaster maintains greater control over content while also achieving a more direct means of assessing the cost of delivery to clients.
Effective media resource management
In the face of these trends, new media resource management (MRM) software products have emerged for scheduling resources, assets and personnel. By providing greater levels of management and control, MRM software allows broadcasters to take advantage of server-based workflow models to realize significant improvements in operational efficiency.
MRM software enhances and enriches content management workflows by introducing intelligent operational and business logic for event scheduling, costing, equipment and personnel management, overtime avoidance, project tracking, and transmission management. The software looks like a production tool but works like an accounting or business management solution. It provides real scheduling benefits, as well as critical cost and cost-recovery information.
By linking together the operational workflow and the data workflow, MRM software streamlines the end-to-end content workflow management process for greater efficiency and a boost to the bottom line.
Such solutions enable communications between operations and content-related workflows, and help to integrate systems from multiple vendors. This allows broadcasters and other media companies the ability to manage both their assets and production processes, throughout their entire facility and across all their production workflows, from a single fully integrated system.
The benefits of integrated workflows include smoother and more efficient operations, better communications, long-term planning capabilities, and coordination between systems. This allows the staff to work more effectively. The facility can then optimize its resources while sharing financial and timing information with other systems and applications.
MRM software addresses virtually every task in the content workflow, ranging from reserving a room to creation of a long-form piece of content. The workflow can begin with deployment of a news crew, or it could be triggered by the arrival of new content that requires an editor to create promos or apply a station bug.
Each of these scenarios can take place within a single facility, but each requires difference toolsets. MRM software is capable of managing these and other situations as part of the larger picture so that all activities, personnel and resources are properly accounted for with real numbers and details. (See Figure 2 on page 12.)
MRM software ties into the hardware plant on one side and business management on the other side. This includes billables, cost recovery and contracts. Working in the background, it talks to circuitry, asset management systems, the general ledger or human resources systems, and determines if plans were carried out as scheduled. With overtime management and personnel scheduling, the software can help facility managers ensure that the right person is on the right job at the right time.
The system can trigger activity, such as the routing of content to a particular device, and sound specific alerts or alarms if events can't or don't take place as planned.
A good MRM system can track an entire production process. It should be able to provide authorized users with a detailed and up-to-date picture of where a project stands.
When content is ready for transmission, distribution or delivery, some MRM software can even route content to the appropriate device in the appropriate format. It notifies other systems that content is available for duplication or transmission, and it manages cost accounting and billing as the project is brought to a close.
In coming years, most broadcast, production and post-production facilities will complete the shift to an operation where content creation and production teams have full control over the system, managing the workflow from their desktops. Enabled by MRM software, every device within the facility will be part of a seamless workflow that facilitates smooth communications and information sharing.
Roger Kleckner is vice president of strategic business development for ScheduALL.