Peak Performance

When it comes to automation, IT is it. Broadcast facilities at both the network and station level are morphing into highly IT-centric facilities. The move from tape-based systems to video servers allows content to be moved around and between facilities as files. In turn, manufacturers are being pushed to provide products that let IT personnel manage the systems and tweak the software for optimum performance.

When industry automation veteran Steven L'Heureux joined Encoda Systems last summer, job one was to replace the company's older automation system with more-sophisticated device-control capabilities. The fruits of his labors will be seen at NAB in the form of Encoda's D-Series automation system, Version 4.

"We worked hard in tightening the integration at the product level to deliver products that truly create efficiencies in a facility," says L'Heureux. "They also reach outside the four walls of the broadcast station and streamline things between the advertiser and the broadcaster, the broadcaster and the viewer."

The system uses standard HP or IBM enterprise-class servers to support either active or passive clustering of the automation and database servers. That step gives the station maximum flexibility in configuring the right mix of system redundancy and reliability. It also gives the system scalability.

"They'll have frame-accurate, bullet-proof, mission-critical automation," adds L'Heureux. "Linux exceeded our expectations in terms of its ability to offer real-time performance and to scale upward."

A big change in the system: It's based on the Linux 2.6 operating system; Version 3 was based on Unix. The change, according to L'Heureux, improves network-management capabilities and is a boon to users with plants heavily reliant on TCP/IP networking.

L'Heureux says broadcasters looking for IT-friendly automation and adaptability will find it in Version 4. For instance, as a facility moves to different delivery methods, like IP over satellite IT, station personnel can reprogram the system as necessary.

Other improvements over Version 3 are digital, software-programmable, touch-screen control panels, and a Roll Under live-event feature. Roll Under allows regularly scheduled programming to begin rolling while the live event is still running. When the live event concludes, the scheduled program begins automatically.

Also on display at NAB will be software integration of Encoda's automation systems and its traffic system. "Today, there are pockets of technology with dedicated databases that result in a lot of information moving around and a need for synchronized databases," L'Heureux explains. "They will be so much more efficient if they're essentially sharing the same database."

One new product on the traffic side that benefits from the shared approach is the Broadcast Master System. BMS, making its NAB debut, is designed to handle a number of functions: electronic order entry, routing and approval, sales and trafficking of spots, content rights and management, yield and inventory management, and automatic reconciliation.

Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing Bob Duncan considers the ability to handle all aspects of a station's business to be BMS's strength. "It increases workflow efficiencies by taking previously disparate tasks and information and bringing them under one system." The key is the use of Microsoft .Net and SQL server technologies, which enable greater personalization of the system and new ways to split sales data. Both technologies enhance traditional sales data, as well.

The relational database manages such tasks as sales-pipeline workflow, customer relationships, and program acquisition, he says. Part of that database includes a new interface between program control and the BMS system. Duncan says that, for example, one person can be responsible for creation and maintenance of the network programming, which is then automatically available for all the other similarly affiliated stations in the group.

"Program control is a centralized repository for all programming-related material, everything from the contractual rights and detailed episodic information to the payment and amortization of syndicated programming," says Duncan. "The advantage is that this information can be maintained from one central location and shared across individual stations, and then local stations can manipulate their own schedules as needed."

In addition, components like customer- relationship management (CRM) and electronic order entry are Web-based, allowing sales executives to access the system from any PC for improved flexibility of use. Current CRM systems, like ACT or GoldMine, are separate and standalone.

"Because of the integration, a sales executive looks at the most current client data from the traffic system itself," adds Duncan. "They're also able to view real-time inventory information when entering their orders."

Duncan says the move to Internet access is percolating across the company's product line. For example, improvements to Encoda MART, a system that provides Web-based business-intelligence reporting and data warehousing, give station and corporate-level management access to sales revenue and inventory via the Internet. "If you are connected via the Internet you can enter orders, route them, and approve them," says Duncan. "In effect, you have full-feature functionality."

Users have a choice of active server pages (hosted by Encoda or the station) for easier navigation, as well as a customizable executive dashboard. Pulling and pushing information into a central data repository reduces conflicts and errors and eliminates duplicate data entry. "Data is entered once and then shared across stations to form the foundation required to create logs in BMS," adds Duncan.

NAB attendees will also get a first-hand look at Encoda's partnership with OneDomain. OneDomain's ClearView system gives sales executives the ability to research inventory and generate proposals. Tying it into the Encoda system permits proposals to be transferred electronically to the traffic system and aired spots posted for billing.