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Going With the Flow

It has become one of the great challenges in TV industry tech—how best to streamline work flows and handle more channels and content with shrinking staffs. That challenge is providing strong impetus to shift to a variety of technologies designed to make automation systems more widely interoperable with other aspects of the broadcast infrastructure, such as traffic and billing.

One example of the trend: some recent deployments using the BXF (broadcast exchange format) standard for integrating various automation, trafficking, production and other systems so that content can flow more easily through the TV station with less manual intervention.

The BXF standard, first adopted in 2009, has been talked about for some time. But only a few commercial stations have widely used it to integrate products from different vendors, in part because BXF implementations can require labor-intensive customization.

The advantages of using a standard to integrate systems are, however, beginning to outweigh some of the drawbacks, and more stations are embracing the move.

Last year, Cox began using BXF to integrate traffic and automation systems from Harris in some of its stations.

More recently, WideOrbit reported that it is using BXF for the installation and integration of its new WO Master Control automation system at several other stations at an unnamed broadcast group that is adopting its product.

“We are heavily into the total integration with BXF and PMCP [programming metadata communication protocol],” with the aim of dramatically simplifying the movement of content throughout the broadcast infrastructure, says Steve Smith, director of WideOrbit Automation for Television.

Pebble Beach Systems, a U.K. automation provider, also sees growing stateside demand for BXF integrations. “We are currently in the process of taking to air one of our systems for MHz Networks in Virginia,” which involves a BXF integration with the ProTrack TV scheduling and business management system from Myers Information Systems, says Simon Foskett, project manager at Pebble Beach.

Crist Myers, president and CEO at Myers, which was one of the first vendors to embrace BXF integration, adds that in addition to the MHz project, “we are doing a lot more with BXF,” as stations increasingly look to streamline work ! ows by more closely integrating automation, trafficking and other systems.

“BXF gives us a common language to pull off more robust integration capability to streamline work flow and make stations more efficient,” Myers says.

Over time, Myers also believes that tighter integration between trafficking, broadcast management and automation systems will shift the focus from traditional automation systems to newer software systems that can manage more of a station’s operations.

“We see [software] systems like our ProTrack acting like the brain that is increasingly telling other systems, like the automation system, what to do,” Myers says. “It is a massive shift in the way the industry” tries to streamline and automate operations, he adds.

The wider imperative of " nding new ways to streamline work flows with better software that can automate more tasks has also been important in some recent upgrades of systems that did not involve BXF.

ABC affiliate KTVX in Salt Lake City, for example, recently upgraded its NVerzion automation systems with the addition of NCompass, creating a package of tools that has significantly streamlined the station’s broadcast operation, reports Scott Murphy, president of NVerzion.

Many of these upgrades continue to be driven by the need to reduce staff or redeploy resources for other operations, Murphy adds.

For example, KBTC, a public broadcaster in Tacoma, Wash., deployed Snell’s automation products in 2006 as part of a complete revamping of the station’s infrastructure, in the hopes of moving towards “unattended operation” of its master control facilities, says Steve Newsom, chief engineer and operations manager at the station.

This April, KBTC made further upgrades to the system, and its master control is now manned only two hours per night, a task that is handled by the engineering department, adds Darin Gerchak, director of engineering at KBTC. “Over time, we have eliminated five master control positions,” he explains.

While those staff cuts were painful, the automation system has helped the station better serve its audience by ramping up local productions, which have won several Emmy awards in recent years.

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