As broadcasters turn their eyes toward 2013, some of the biggest issues they face revolve around what might be called the IP challenge. How can they deliver more content to Internet-connected devices like tablets and computers? And how can they make better use of IP and IT products from the computer and online worlds to reduce some of their capital and operating costs?
Both trends have boosted the popularity of channelin- a-box, or integrated playout, solutions that combine automation, graphics and other elements of a traditional master control onto a single server that is often based on less expensive off-the-shelf technologies.
“The debate over whether you buy a more traditional chain for your broadcast infrastructure or you buy a more integrated, channel-in-a-box solution is going away,” says Scott Rose, Miranda senior product manager, iTX. “And it’s going away because people are seeing the proof of all kinds of channels being run with these channel-in-a-box and IT solutions.”
Rose adds that demand for Miranda’s integrated playout product iTX is greatly outstripping demand for its more traditional automation systems. The iTX platform is being adopted by major broadcasters around the world, including the CBC in Canada and some large U.S. broadcasters, that were once seen as unlikely candidates for channel-in-a-box offerings.
“The whole channel-in-the-box discussion is being driven by improvements in technologies” for processing power and storage, adds Graham Sharp, chief marketing officer, Grass Valley, which is seeing growing demand for its K2 Edge integrated automated playout solutions. “You can now have enough processing power and storage in a single unit to run a full suite of products that can fully automate a channel.”
These solutions will also be increasingly important for the delivery of content to multiple screens. Sharp notes that revenue for streaming mobile and online services has been relatively limited, making it necessary to reduce costs by automating digital distribution.
An integrated playout or channel-in-a-box system addresses that problem because “it is easy to add a secondary or alternative channel to serve mobile or whatever platform,” Sharp says. “It gives them a lower-cost way to service second- screen or over-the-top platforms.”
To help satisfy that demand, Miranda recently added an IP output to the latest version of its iTX integrated playout system. “We are well-positioned to support customers making the transition to IP and IP business,” Rose says. “In the latest iTX, we put in an IP output so you can simulcast over IP to an over-the-top provider.”
Having an IP solution from a traditional broadcast vendor is important because it operates like a traditional master control. “You want to have the benefits of IP without having to retrain everyone in the building to run it,” Rose says.
These developments also highlight the fact that the nature of automation has been expanding from simply automating the functions of the master control into automating the broader workflows necessary for both linear TV broadcasts and multiplatform delivery, notes Mark Darlow, senior portfolio product manager, automation and digital asset management at Harris Broadcast.
“We have reengineered our automation system and moved [our clients] to a service-based architecture that not only allows them to be IP-based but also makes it part of a broader content management and delivery system,” Darlow explains. “The whole notion of automation is expanding.”
This gives clients the flexibility to easily define workflows for automated delivery of content to multiple platforms. “A lot of customers are trying to differentiate themselves with mobile products,” adds Chuck Koscis, manager of product interoperability at Harris Broadcast. “Our system allows them to leverage existing assets and deliver them to Web and mobile [platforms] in a more automated way.”
This also makes it easier to insert ads into different streams and better monetize mobile and other digital platforms, Koscis explains.
By more closely integrating automation with larger asset management systems and workflows, broadcast equipment vendors are also looking to automate more aspects of live sports production, an area that has traditionally resisted automation, notes Grass Valley’s Sharp.
“We are reaching the point where automation, asset management and workflow management systems are merging,” in ways that can “reduce the amount of manual intervention in the process of producing live events,” he says.
Live sports and breaking news can, however, pose problems for automating master control and playout with traditional channel-in-a-box platforms, argues Reed Haslam, director of sales and marketing, NVerzion.
Haslam believes many broadcast networks and stations still need greater flexibility and better redundancy than a typical channel-in-a-box solution can provide. To address those issues, NVerzion has developed a component-based system for tying together automation and the traditional master control functions.
“It allows for great flexibility but has the huge savings for automated and advanced workflows,” Haslam says. At the NAB show next April, NVerizon expects to be offering complete automation packages with various manufacturers, including Ross Video and Utah Scientific.
Ross Video has also been expanding the multipleplatform delivery capabilities of its OverDrive automation system. Its QuickTurn product, for example, automatically clips and creates stories for the Web as a newscast is being played out.
Scott Bowditch, OverDrive product marketing manager at Ross Video, also notes that the company is focusing on tighter integration with a wider range of products. Its OverDrive system already interfaces with more than 100 products, with more to come.
“There is much more demand from clients for an open architecture,” Bowditch says. “The more [products] you can interface with, the more attractive you are to clients. They want to be able to choose best-in-class hardware to work with the automation system.”
E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter: @GeorgeWinslow
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