Micky Edwards, BroadStream Solutions’ VP of Sales for EMEAA and motorbike enthusiast, likens the evolution of software-based, automated playout to that of the sports motorbike It has taken a while, but broadcasters are learning to trust file-based playout to keep their channels on air, just as bikers entrust their safety to on-board processors. In a heady, […]
Micky Edwards, BroadStream Solutions’ VP of Sales for EMEAA and motorbike enthusiast, likens the evolution of software-based, automated playout to that of the sports motorbike
It has taken a while, but broadcasters are learning to trust file-based playout to keep their channels on air, just as bikers entrust their safety to on-board processors.
In a heady, invincible and distant past, I used to watch my local motorcycling heroes tear up a makeshift motorcross track on the outskirts of my village. It was mesmerising and I was hooked on the sounds, smells and experience.
In the early days, the 1000cc 20 brake horsepower bikes had a very cumbersome, manual hand gear system, and changing gears required great skill. These bikes had no suspension and scrawny tyres and were very hard to ride.
The experience was not that dissimilar to that of a broadcast engineer in the early days of television. Their task was to keep the channel on air and running flawlessly by manually driving master control operations. This required great skill and the ability to fully understand the vast array of different purpose-built devices and interfaces needed to run the channel.
Broadcast problems that could cause the station to go off air needed to be avoided at all cost, because dark air would cause viewers to switch channels and mean the station would lose eyeballs and advertising revenue. As a result, great skill was needed to master the art of the broadcast engineer.
Both early motorcycles and early forms of broadcast television were art forms that had their thrills the stakes were high and the risk of going off air or off the road were great. Each used specific, purpose-built hardware and both relied heavily on human senses and specialised skills to perform at their best.
From a broadcasters perspective, there is nothing more harrowing than having your channel go off the air because of a technical problem. Similarly, a mistake by a bike rider can turn tragic in ways we prefer not to contemplate. Just as the motorcycle rider needed a team of mechanics and back-up parts from manufacturers to keep the engine purring and the parts lubricated, a team of master control operators with keen eyes and ears was necessary to look after each channels scheduling, video, audio, channel black and graphics, to keep the programming flowing and viewers eyes on the screen. They too were supported further by an extended team of different manufacturers technical support engineers.
Bike enthusiasts took to building heavily customised bikes using parts from different makes, models and manufacturers. Similarly, old-school master control playout systems were also built using equipment from multiple manufacturers. Stations purchased purpose-built devices with different capabilities and assembled them with the help of a systems integrator to create a unique system for each station to meet their special needs. A big part of the integration job was ensuring that the server from manufacturer A could communicate with the graphics box and scheduling system along with other components from various other manufacturers. These systems often took months to install and debug before a channel was able to go on the air.
With the proliferation of new channels and networks, broadcasters needed a cost-effective way to scale and expand that would save money, improve efficiency and ensure more advertising revenue. Gradually, a number of new playout solutions appeared on the market with built-in features and functionality that were once the bespoke remit of individual manufactures, marking the start of a revolution in the way playout solutions were manufactured, commonly known as channel-in-a-box.
Right now, broadcasters are at the next phase of this revolution and channel-in-a-box has evolved into integrated playout, a software approach that eliminates the need for most purpose-built hardware devices. This jump in capability has been made possible by significant leaps in computer hardware, speed and capacity over the years and progressively more sophisticated software frameworks that provide developers with much more flexibility with their architecture and design.
File-based workflows are now more broadly adopted on a global scale, beginning more than a decade ago with a few pioneers leading the change. For example, 9X Media in India chose an integrated playout solution in 2008, when the concept of file-based playout was relatively nascent and buying a legacy solution would have been the safest option; it has since proved to be one of the best investments the firm ever made, because the software has continuously evolved to give them more flexibility and confidence as they launch more channels.
9X Media has even been able to develop in-house automation interfaces based on XML so that a single file is all thats required to trigger all graphical elements, which otherwise would require additional mastering and scheduling. Levira in Estonia was an early adopter of integrated playout solutions, running a number of add-insertion channels across Eastern Europe for blue-chip clients, keeping them at the forefront of regional broadcast facilities as a lean, mean playout facility able to keep staff to a minimum while maintaining market respect as a first-class facility.
Why should broadcasters consider the integrated playout model? There are at least five key reasons to consider adopting this playout model rather than traditional master control:
Integrated playout systems are more flexible and easily scalable.
They provide enhanced features for new and emerging applications like IP and cloud-based technologies.
Broadcasters can run more channels with fewer operators and improve their look and feel with the integrated, high-end graphics capabilities of such systems.
Integrated playout is more adaptable to changes in business requirements. This is especially important as manufacturers begin to designate traditional products as end-of-life, making upgrading much more difficult with older, traditional systems.
It is easier to centralise operations and manage local and remote channels from a single location, thus reducing resource requirements and cutting costs.
In addition, hardware support is easier since you no longer need to support multiple purpose-built devices or face device obsolescence, since commodity IT-based hardware is more cost-effective and easier to upgrade.
Its all about maximising flexibility with more levels of control and equipping systems with the agility to ingest content from live sources or over IP, providing multiple output formats from baseband to H.264 and managing time delays from minutes to hours all under an automated system with very high-end but easy-to-use graphics, tickers, RSS feeds and a multi-channel monitor with control over HTML-5 web-based clients.
Like this next generation of integrated playout solutions, the modern 1,000cc 200BHP sports bikes depend more on software and computer technology and less on mechanical elements. In both cases, software is used to make thousands of connections and decisions per second to make the best use of resources, whether using an IP connection to deliver content to paying clients, or dealing with gyros measuring lean angle and the latest in automated dynamic suspension damping.
Not many master control manufacturers can claim they are truly established in the file-based playout space. Some just talk about it while they base their newer systems on their older architecture, rather than taking a whole new look at the way broadcasting is done.
Today’s discerning broadcast client is looking for more. They need flexibility, scalability and revolutionary approaches to modern problems. For example, redundancy is no longer enough broadcasters want business continuity, the ability to continue broadcasting even if they experience multiple failures. This requires several layers of redundancy that work together to provide a secure, reliable and solid playout platform.
Like todays sports bikes, loads of safety features and a host of electronic systems help keep the bike safe and secure in all sorts of weather and road conditions, from rain modes to traction control, ABS braking and lean angle monitoring and power delivery. Todays rider has the ability to switch these in and out and set their bike up differently each time they ride. The same level of flexibility can be found in the best integrated playout systems.
Looking at where we started in master control, the evolution to integrated playout is amazing; and when I look back on my first Puch moped, compared to my latest BMW, I see many similarities in their evolution.
Its taken a while, but broadcasters are learning to trust automated systems, just as motorcyclists have learnt to trust the computers in their bikes. Both retain a certain level of human intervention, but the risks of making a late or quick change have been eliminated as these new sophisticated machines are able to react at the last moment. Programmes stay on-air; the rider stays on the bike.