Do We Need Automation Today?

Do we need automation today?

Playout automation first came about 30 years or so ago. In those days it was really hard – some high profile and seemingly well-qualified players in the market had to admit defeat.

It was hard because the content was on tapes. To create a seamless output, the automation had to manage pre-rolls, which would be different on different model VTRs. Some of those VTRs would be in robot libaries, so there was the challenge of shuffling tapes, and pre-compiling commercial breaks because each tape in the robot would store multiple short items for economy.

Today that big challenge has gone away. With all the content on servers, a simple playlist will ensure seamless playout for a channel with few complications, like many of the thematic channels on the typical EPG.
So does that mean we no longer need automation? Far from it. We just need different – smarter – automation.

First, we still need playout automation. Every channel has to be planned and delivered professionally. Premium channels still need manual interventions like live programmes and continuity announcements, and the ability to react to changing events like unpredictable timings of sports.

Premium channels have also developed a style of presentation which viewers now appreciate. That includes features like dynamic interstitials – creating menus and promos on the fly which react to and interact with the programmes – and squeezebacks to keep viewers from changing channels.

Those features are increasingly demanded by thematic channels, in the increasingly frenzied scramble for eyeballs. Now they have to be capable of being delivered at a much lower cost.

Automation is moving into different areas. With more channels and more platforms, for example, broadcasters found they were drowning in the sheer number of variations of trailers and promos they needed to create.

So automation systems like Gallium FACTORY from Pixel Power take the basic creative elements and create – automatically and far faster than real time – all the variants. Then all those newly created assets need to be registered and fed to the playout automation at the right time. That is just one application which is enabled by the Pixel Power Gallium Workflow Orchestration technology platform.

If catch-up and thematic channels now expect premium-quality branding and playout, so too do streaming services. Video on demand also needs to be managed and branded to match the parent’s identity.

Moving content from broadcast to online delivery is also a process-heavy operation which is best automated. Viewers do not understand why some content is available online while other material is delayed. Why can’t I see programmes on catch-up before the live transmission completes? Why can’t I jump back to the beginning of an on-air programme?

For the broadcaster or content company, the overarching question is how can we provide all this functionality from a single point of control. What we need is a harmonised automation platform with tools that everyone and everything can access, and can deliver all the defined outputs with what we used to call “broadcast quality”.

Finally, you need to be able to take a business view of all this activity. Are we sure that each output is not costing us more than we are winning in marginal revenues? What does it cost to create each asset? Can we measure the return on our marketing campaigns?

Legacy automation systems just do broadcast playout. Important, but not the whole story. This is not a time to limit your options.

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