Selecting Master Control Automation
Friday, April 7, 2017
Over the history of TV automation, the criteria for comparison has produced confusing claims by manufacturers. Let’s assist evaluation with a checklist of what factors, in our view, should be considered in differentiating and selecting broadcast master control automation.
- What is the resiliency to worms and viruses?
In recent years, this plague has affected broadcasters worldwide. Approximately one million new computer viruses and other malware come out per day, mainly for the Windows platform. The best security software can’t keep up.
This comes when the TV industry is rapidly expanding IP-connected, multi-location master control, and the of a virus-free server platform like Aveco’s use of QNX continues to grow rapidly. QNX has never had a virus. IT support is easy, as it’s POSIX compliant and familiar to those who know Unix or Linux. We advise customers diligently evaluate security – Aveco is in a different realm than every other automation company.
- How does the system handle serial control switchover in the case of primary server failure?
While IP control is available, most broadcast manufacturers recommend use of serial control for precise frame accuracy, due to the non-deterministic nature of IP networks. Many pieces of broadcast equipment only have serial control.
Aveco is the only automation company manufacturing a serial change-over switch. Most facilities don’t have an RS422 layer of routing control. In selecting master control automation, ensure serial control can be changed to a backup server extremely fast – typically one frame of video time for Aveco.
- Does the Master Control Automation system “self-heal” when there is an equipment failure?
Aveco’s equipment pool management includes priority assignments. On-air is typically top priority. When a video server fails, Aveco, like others, will instantly switch the backup server on air – but wouldn’t you now want a new backup? Aveco’s award-winning resource manager instantly makes a new backup. If all video server ports were being used at that time, and on-air backup was a higher priority, an output port being used for the lowest priority task (e.g. an intern logging) would automatically be assigned, with the user advised on screen their task will resume as soon as a resource becomes available. This has implication for program feed ingest as well as playout.
In evaluating MCR automation systems, ask if pool-based management is provided and if the system provides self-healing as a part of redundancy.
- Does the Master Control Automation integrate with News Production Automation, in the same control system?
Aveco uses this terrific capability to ensure the last frame of video from an ad-or-promo break is always followed the next frame of video by the implementation of the coordinated transition effects of, for example, continuation of a newscast. This improves the on-air look as inevitably there are occasional small switching errors when transitions are manual. It’s time to move from intercom-based on-air MCR-PCR synchronization.
- Does the Master Control Automation include a Media Asset Management system and does it integrate with other MAMs and PAMs in the network?
Running master control is sometimes boring – but when changes need to happen, they need to happen fast.A major plane crash occurs and airlines require all ads be removed from air immediately.Other common examples: promos are misnamed, ad versions are confused, sporting events are running long etc.
Having a video search engine at the core of master control automation is an outstanding asset.Find and replace is fast and easy.It’s recommended to use a system like Aveco which can execute video search across multiple MAMs and PAMs in the broadcast enterprise, local and remote. The missing piece of media may be in an Avid Interplay PAM, or it wasn’t brought in from a different archive MAM.Being able to instantly search across multiple MAMs-and-PAMs streamlines MCR operations and is highly recommended as a requested MCR system feature.
- Does a channel-in-a-box (CIAB) look good enough?
While Aveco offers an integrated playout unit, there are exceptional capabilities of stand-alone branding systems, and there are good reasons to use master control switchers, high-end video servers, high-end graphics systems, and, there are a number of ancillary systems appropriate to control in the next generation of MCR (e.g. localized stream-splicing insertion at headends and transmission relays.)These and other factors favor use of a high-quality master control automation platform like Aveco.
Vast amounts of money, time and dedication go into making a TV station or channel outshine competitors on air. At the last critical step to air, is this really the time to downgrade a channel’s look?Aveco provides both, but encourages substantial stations and networks to avoid the simplistic-looking CIAB systems. “Branding is everything” and the elegance of top broadcast branding products warrants respect, and use, by larger broadcasters.
- How well does the MCR Automation handle Dynamic Traffic Interfaces – e.g. BXF
Aveco led the TV industry in dynamic Traffic-Master Control interfacing – four years before the first BXF.The problem BXF was designed to solve is the limitations of old master control automation systems that were designed only to take in a traffic playlist daily.Aveco’s always dynamically accepted traffic updates and in addition to BXF, MCR automation systems should be checked on how well they interface with non-standard traffic interfaces (which are still common.)
- How does the master control system handle news wheels and how does it handle local news-sports-weather insertion?
Many TV networks and stations have premier news production capabilities. While these focus on newscasts first, there are compelling reasons to launch secondary full-time news channels using News Wheels that are mainly story-by-story and anchor-by-anchor pre-recorded, then live live-to-air only during peak viewing hours or during times of important breaking news.Aveco pioneered this capability and has the most advanced system of the world in handling News Wheel-based TV channels.
- Does the master control system have a Social Media Gateway to promote programs online-and-on-mobile?
Aveco led the industry in this innovation and its value is clear. For example, a few seconds before a program starts, automatically send a tweet using an integrated MAM field of 140 characters. Handling online and on-mobile promotions is recommended as a part of master control automation design.
- Buying a “bundle” or selecting the best equipment?
There’s never been a manufacturer that had the best products across the entire broadcast chain.A dominant trend has been companies purchasing many smaller companies and combining them under a marketing umbrella, then typically selling those un-integrated pieces as an “end-to-end” system. Typically, the innovative founders of these acquired companies quickly leave and virtually all the innovation stops – with the new owners having no senior executives with the knowledge or zeal that made these smaller companies leaders. Especially in master control automation, this process has been devastating to the innovation and to the quality of service to broadcasters.
Aveco is the largest independent automation provider in the industry – for over 25 years staying at the cutting edge of automation innovation. The company is financially strong. The original founders from 25 years ago run the company, are still relatively young and are clear the company will remain independent. Aveco is focused solely on automation and related broadcast MAM.
Aveco has the great reputation of working well with all broadcast manufacturers. This has contributed to Aveco developing and maintaining the largest library of software integration and control in broadcasting. Also, because we’re independent, and not a buried component of a competing bundle, all manufacturers have good motivation to work closely with us, generation after generation of software and hardware.We keep up, so a broadcaster’s options to continually select the best equipment is maintained.
- How well does the master control automation system work in the cloud?
Aveco accomplished the first broadcast master control cloud projects, working with a global leader in teleports, over 10 years ago – before it was called a “cloud.”There are compelling reasons to utilize host facilities that have staff acquainted with TV needs rather than commodity cloud providers where it’s impossible to ever find someone who’d have a knowledge of what a broadcaster is talking about.
In March 2017 there was a five hour shutdown of the world’s largest cloud provider – because one engineer made a typographical error on one workstation in one location.In October 2016, an attack on a switching center shut down the Internet in 2/3rds of the US and most of western Europe for over 11 hours. There’s a widespread marketing claims data centers are suitable for primary on-air operations. Maybe they are for the smallest TV networks – and they are for streaming-media channels.Aveco can serve in this capacity.
For on-air TV networks, cloud-based services for smaller channels are appropriately hosted at teleports, which offer data-center-like services. They also have staff familiar with TV industry needs.
Generally it’s Aveco’s best-practices recommendation to use hosted location for only the smallest of channels in a primary capacity, and, to consider teleport-based cloud operation for disaster recovery operation.
- How master control automation works with All IP architectures – what are the issues and the timelines?
Aveco integrates with more broadcast manufacturers than any other automation provider, including a vast range of the equipment either now providing all IP operations or mixed IP and SDI.When evaluating MCR systems, take great care in how many manufacturers a MCR system supports, and avoid getting locked into any system that only control one-company’s equipment. Aveco’s history of strong support of all broadcast manufacturers will continue to be the character of the company.
- Is the system sufficiently reliable?
As some of the senior executives of the industry know, when sophisticated branding is attempted under Windows-based automation control, there are occasional glitches on air, as Windows isn’t designed for real-time control and background tasks will sometimes result in command delays. This makes multiple layer branding sometimes lose synchronization. This is true with the most expensive Windows-based automation platform.
We recommend an automation system that uses a real-time operating system as the core server, with software client user-interfaces running on Windows, Apple, and Linux – ideally all three should operate simultaneously across the broadcast enterprise.
Master Control Automation is one of the most mission-critical parts of broadcast operations, it’s a long-term strategic purchase, and great care is advised in evaluating the character of the companies, their track record of working well with all manufacturers, their core control platform and of course the versatility and performance of their software.
Aveco recommends a long-view be taken, buzz-words be cautiously weighed in importance, and the quality of commitment to long-term MCR automation leadership be carefully considered.