Automation Definitions

In Web Articles by tfwm

by Dave Collins
General Manager, System Automation & Control at Snell

Automation plays a critical role in the reliable, efficient, and accurate playout of programming at most broadcast facilities today. The definitions provided here represent fundamental systems and concepts involved in broadcast automation. Equipped with an understanding of these terms, the reader is better positioned to learn about different types of automation systems, their comparative feature sets, and the benefits they bring to broadcast operations.

As-Run Log
A record of the playout time and duration for each of the programs, promos, and commercials played out by a station’s automation system.

Automation
Technology used by a station or network to automate and streamline its broadcast operations. Automation systems can manage integrated devices and processes across the broadcast chain, running a facility with limited or no human intervention. In a typical playout workflow, the automation system receives a playlist or schedule containing a list of material to be played to air at specified times. The playlist includes primary and secondary events (i.e. worship service primary event with station logo and end credit squeeze as secondary events). Some events will be executed automatically by the automation system while others will require manual triggering. An example of this is a commercial break within a live broadcast worship service. For time shift services, the automation system uses a recording schedule to ingest material from a satellite or line feed source and then time shifts that material for playout based on a playlist or schedule.

Device Sharing
Typically, modern automation systems allow devices to be shared across multiple playout channels. An example could be a graphics device used for end credit squeeze sequences being shared by six channels of automated playout. The automation system will dynamically allocate the graphics device to each channel as it is required. It will also alert the operational staff should a scheduling conflict occur where the device is needed by more than one channel at the same time.

Master Control
Master control is the broadcast facility operational area used for compiling and monitoring the channel outputs before distribution over-the-air and/or delivery to a cable or satellite operator. Typically master control will include an automation system, master control switcher (providing video and audio switching and the addition of secondary content i.e. addition of channel logo) to the channel output, video and audio monitoring equipment, user interfaces for manual control, and monitoring of devices contributing to the channel outputs. Typically, a central apparatus area will contain all of the system hardware responsible for content acquisition, aggregation, and distribution.

Metadata

Information associated with a piece of data such as a video or audio clip, a still image, or a text file. The video, audio, or other piece of data often is referred to as “essence,” which is described by metadata. The combination of metadata and essence together as “content” or a “media asset” allows broadcasters and their broadcast systems to manage, process, and leverage video, audio, and other data more effectively.

MS-SQL
A relational database server used to manage data. In the broadcast setting, a SQL database can serve as the engine for automation, providing secure data storage and supporting operations such as query, search, synchronize, report, and analyze.

Multiformat
A system, device, or environment supporting various video signal formats, typically including – but not limited to – a combination of standard definition (SD) and high definition (HD) formats.

Multiplatform
Multiplatform refers to different viewing platforms, such as television, the Internet, mobile, etc.

Playout
The transmission of TV channels from the broadcast facility into the terrestrial, cable, satellite, or IPTV network that delivers content to the viewer. Multichannel playout is generally automated using systems that control videotape recorders, video servers, switchers and routers, and other devices using a serial (RS-232 or RS-422) or network protocol.

Playlist
A list of events scheduled for sequential playout or broadcast. Typically a playlist includes clips to be played out from a video server, live sources, graphics events, master control switcher events etc.

SMPTE BXF (Broadcast eXchange Format) Standard
A standard governing the communication of three basic types of data exchange – schedule and as-run information, metadata, and content movement instructions – among program management, traffic, automation, and content distribution systems. In enabling tighter integration of these systems, the BXF standard provides opportunities for realizing greater efficiency, productivity, and profitability.

Transcoding
The conversion of video or audio signals from one format to another. Numerous “codecs,” or compression schemes, are used today to encode media in different formats for different uses or distribution platforms.

Video Servers
A specialized computer system designed to record, store, and play back multiple synchronized video and audio streams. Broadcast-quality video servers can store hundreds of hours of compressed video and audio, offer a variety of input and output interfaces, and provide integrated time code and genlock support.

Workflow
The sequence of steps comprising an end-to-end broadcast-related process.