By Roger Franklin
Master control for a channel has traditionally been focused on the contents of “the box”. If the programming matched the schedule and the audio and video were good, then the job was done. Advancements in master control automation have therefore primarily been focused on doing these tasks more accurately, reliably and at a lower cost. However, in this age of alternative distribution, master control is being asked to enable downstream systems with their associated revenue, and the tools available are generally lacking.
After the initial fascination of delivering a linear channel via over-the-top (OTT) has worn off, the financial realities of OTT supporting itself, and the enticing technical possibilities of delivering each viewer their own experience, start to weigh just as much on the master control room (MCR), the origin of the channel, as it does with the OTT systems.
For OTT and addressable advertising systems to fulfil the promise of additional revenue and additional experience, they need two primary pieces of information from a master control: what is playing and when. With the what, a downstream system can decide if it has rights to use/distribute the content, if the content is advertising, and decide if it can/should be replaced. The when allows the transitions and replacements to be timed correctly into a seamless experience for the viewer.
For decades, an MCR has had no other responsibility in this area than firing off the start of fixed duration ad breaks. With OTT, the receiving system has all the power and decision-making capability of a personal computer, and such simple signalling will now simply not meet the demands of the programmers, advertisers or consumers.
The technology standard that can provide the what and when for a channel is SCTE 104/SCTE 35 signalling. These in-band messages can contain unique IDs, precise start timing and duration for programmes, programme segments, ad breaks and individual ads. Unfortunately, as a bit of legacy from DTMF days, most SCTE implementations do not do much more than signal full local ad breaks. OTT delivery highlights this issue, as the model of local versus national breaks, and any arrangements with an advertiser made for the broadcast channel are not in play. Every ad could, and should, be addressable.
Automation systems themselves often do not have the features to be able to construct and deliver on the full potential of the standard and frequently view such messaging as just another static payload to be delivered to an external inserter. The best answer to this problem is to deploy software-based solutions that are flexible enough to drive messaging using a variety of sources and target multiple platforms.
If a broadcaster is sending out an OTT signal without complete signalling for programming and advertising, then they are leaving money on the table and missing out on the capabilities of their platforms. Trying to introduce this information at the distributor is unreliable and expensive. The logical spot is at the origin of the channel, in the MCR.