Things Broadcast Should Move Past In 2013

TVNewsCheck by Larry Thaler

In the spirit of cleaning the broadcast industry’s technology slate and giving us all a fresh start, we have looked into our collective crystal ball and compiled a list of things that we feel that will not, or at least should not, be seen after 2013. Some of these are small. Others, perhaps, are the pet peeves of minds that spend a lot of time staring at schematics and contemplating efficient workflows.

While the end of the year inspires many to take stock of their lives, it is significantly more fun to take stock of everyone else’s life.

So, in the spirit of cleaning the broadcast industry’s technology slate and giving us all a fresh start, we at Positive Flux have looked into our collective crystal ball and compiled a list of things that we feel that will not, or at least should not, be seen after 2013.

1. No more separation between broadcast and new media organizations and workflows.
There was a time when alternative platforms were, well, alternative. Web platforms, new media delivery, etc. were seen as experiments. They were housed in special rooms, complete with their own people, workflows, technologies, and budgets. Organizations got in the habit of building separate groups to support these “projects.”

Enough already!

We need to be done creating a group every time we add a new platform. That approach does not scale to today’s business (if you have ever found on your web site the face of a reporter who left six months ago, you can begin to appreciate the disconnect we see all the time). It is time to move all of those separate groups under the umbrella of a single content production organization. This organization should now be responsible for all the platforms fed by its content. Of course this creates opportunities for efficiency and cost-saving, but the most important benefits are in a better, more consistent, cross-platform end product. And before the content group starts complaining about more work, assure them that there are plenty of tools to make the job easier. Many of them are far better than the old platform-specific tools.

2. The separation of maintenance and IT

Most organizations have an IT team responsible for networks, core applications, and email, as well as things like the newsroom system, traffic, and billing. Then there is another team that is responsible for the systems that produce content for air. We frequently see these teams throwing rocks at each other. In production-oriented organizations these groups are coming together, usually under a single leader. That is good because it means we are seeing skills and knowledge blending into one smarter organization. We need knowledge organizations that can speak both engineering and IT. There is simply too much overlap for them to stand apart. We are not suggesting that the guys who keep your email moving need to also keep your production router humming, but the skill sets need to coexist and communicate in order for you to get the most out of them.

3. Producers who chase their content with their feet

Remember when we killed off sneakernet? Now everything is digital, content goes straight to disk, and proxies are created on the fly. So, why are producers still leaving their desk just to find out what is coming in or leaving their facility? The systems we build today are automated, yet we still see folks running into satellite rooms to see “their” feeds. Is there something exciting about the shared experience of seeing a feed come in with others?

Systems now work off a schedule that keep tabs on what is coming in, where it is going in to, and whether or not the content is still in record. There is nothing that stands in the way of producers viewing things as they come in, right at their desktop, and sharing their reactions with their production neighbors.

4. The end of 1.5 GB/s routing infrastructure

While typical HD routing switchers have a cross point bandwidth of 1.5 GB/s, nearly all manufacturers have been making 3GB/s cross points for many years. No one should be buying the 1.5 GB/s version anymore. The cost advantage is minimal and the opportunity cost is large. 1.5 GB/s won’t be able to handle the bandwidth dependent formats that are just around the corner, so why bother with it? (And don’t get us started on whether even 3 GB/s makes sense anymore).

5. Linear tape backups.

We can appreciate the security and comfort that comes from having a backup, but in a file-based world that values efficiency, tape is anachronistic. We don’t need “something to put on the archive shelf.” Those tapes are burdened with extraneous material, lack viable metadata, and their precious content needs to be painstakingly re-encoded to be useful. A disk-based system running in parallel with the ingest server is more manageable and will work seamlessly with production systems. Content is not only accessible immediately, but can include useful metadata to further speed production. We further suggest that most environments only need that source material for a few days, after which its cost begins to outweigh its benefits. Archive the finished product and trim the fat from backups.

6. Sending pre-recorded material over linear pipes

Back in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, it was the height of creativity to show a stream of zeros and ones flying across the TV screen ones (accompanied by relevant electronic beeps and bops) to represent information flowing from one place to another. Today we see that image as quaint.

That is precisely how we feel when we see organizations sending their pre-recorded material over linear pipes. Do people just like to “see” the content moving? Digital files, containing both content and valuable metadata can be moved far more easily and are ready to use when they arrive at their destination. There is no set up. No booking. No QC process. No refeeds. Feel free to remember the linear process fondly. Let’s just not use it anymore.

7. Order management by spreadsheet

Imagine you are the person in charge of delivering all of your organization’s media content to your various distributors. You need to keep track and ensure that each of your valuable properties is delivered at four or five different bit rates in formats X and Y to Amazon, formats Y and Z to Hulu, format Q to iTunes, etc. Every day you check and recheck your ever-growing, constantly changing spreadsheet, hoping against all reason that nothing gets missed.

We are shocked by the number of organizations who are still trying to do order management with a spreadsheet. There are so many great tools available both online and as local applications, that make this task simpler. We should never see another spread sheet for order management. Ever!

8. Linear insertion of closed captions

File-based operations. Nonlinear editing. Such things have forever changed how we produce. That’s why it is so jarring to encounter the antique vestiges of old workflows lurking in the corners of daily life. Outputting a linear stream to be played through a closed captioning encoder and then re-recording it? What year is this, 2003? The technology to insert the closed captioning into the file right at the edit seat has been around for quite a while. Some systems even let you edit closed captions on segments of the program, which is extremely helpful for updates and changes. That kind of flexibility is why we moved to nonlinear editing in the first place. The old, linear-based workflow is past its prime and we should not see this anymore.

9. Still stores in production switchers

Why do production switchers have embedded still stores in them? WHY? No one really uses stills anymore. What we all need are embedded clip stores. Let’s put the still store to rest and upgrade to motion stores. Come on – this is an easy one!

10. Separate AES routing levels in core routing switchers

Is simpler always better? Maybe not, but it is the safer bet. With that in mind, we declare the days of separate audio routing levels in core routing switchers to be over. Today’s video equipment not only handles embedded audio, but delivers better bang for the buck. Router manufacturers seem to agree and are putting the functionality of an old breakaway router with discrete audio levels into their new one-level routers. These enable facilities to lower the cost of cabling, reduce maintenance costs, and eliminate the headaches associated with keeping separate devices in sync. This saves money, saves time, and eliminates points of failure. These are all good things.

11. Analog audio will go away

Sigh. Alas, this will not come to pass. But it is something that needs to be said.
I wish we did not have to keep buying analog audio equipment. Digital integrates so much more neatly and makes for far more elegant workflows. But, of course, as soon as you put a digital input on an analog amplifier, the cost shoots up dramatically. Then you have to convert from digital to analog, pay attention to the channels selection process, and probably add extra boxes into your signal chain. It is, frankly, silly and that gap needs to be closed. Pretty please?

We could keep going, but we would rather here what you think. Do you agree? Disagree? Share your own ideas and prognostications. Happy New Year!

Larry Thaler is a former NBCUniversal executive who is now president of Positive Flux, which helps TV companies with facility planning and design.

The original article appeared here.

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