TECH SPOTLIGHT

Monitoring Tech Expands Station Options

As the power of IT grows and financial constraints drive station purchasing, what began as simple compliance monitoring is clearly evolving into new areas for TV stations. Over time, the features have grown dramatically to include monitoring of the entire broadcast chain. With their help, broadcasters can catch frozen video frames, closed-caption glitches, soundtrack mistakes, missing metadata and dozens of other errors. The latest wrinkle: audio loudness monitoring for compliance with the CALM Act (as pictured on Volicon's Observer).

When hurricanes threaten the Raycom TV stations along the Atlantic coast, Raycom executives can monitor their news coverage from their offices in Montgomery, Ala.

Vendors of the stations’ weather equipment can also check the coverage to make sure their gear is being used effectively and performing well. Even Raycom’s news consultants can watch to make sure the stations are staying ahead of the competition.

How is it all possible?

With Volicon’s Observer, software that enables remote viewing of stations’ programming, while recording it for later review. And Volicon is one of at least three vendors offering such software.

Masstech was first in the market, introducing Iris in 2003. Volicon came along with Observer in 2005. Then, Digital Nirvana introduced its first product in 2009.

All started primarily as “compliance” tools, allowing broadcasters to quickly search previously aired material to check on commercials or track mistakes in newscasts.

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Over time, the features have grown dramatically to include monitoring of the entire broadcast chain. With their help, broadcasters can catch frozen video frames, closed-caption glitches, soundtrack mistakes, missing metadata and dozens of other errors. The latest wrinkle: audio loudness monitoring for compliance with the CALM Act.

Monitoring works on video, audio and the metadata associated with the signal. If the video freezes, the system can generate a signal that immediately warns the broadcaster. Same for failures in closed captioning, audio levels and other parameters.

What propelled the growth of monitoring was the explosion of IT technology; the improved compression of video and its storage on hard drives; and the rise of HDTV, which increased demands for video quality control.

All the systems are software based and most are sold with the necessary enterprise PC hardware.

Most of the systems are highly flexible, starting with basic packages for a single channel that can be scaled up for multichannel networks and station groups.

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Sensors are strategically placed to identify problems. It’s up to the user to decide how many sensors should be installed and where. The more sensors there are, the better and quicker the system can isolate problems.

Through alerting technology such as SNMP (simple network management protocol), the alerts can be used to correct some problems almost instantly.

Volicon says its basic system with hardware goes for $5,000. Digital Nirvana’s basic system is $1,000 more.

Masstech has introduced a system on a user-configurable circuit card that is priced as low as $2,000 a channel, far cheaper than its competitors.

“Our competitors focus more on the analytics of logging than we do,” says CEO Joe French. “In overall sales, the leader is probably Volicon because of that focus. However, in overall installations, I think we lead the market.”

Volicon developed Observer in close collaboration with CBS. “We’ve tried to fit it into their workflow,” said Gary Learner, CTO of Volicon, based in Burlington, Mass.

“Our philosophy about product development now is the customer defines for us what the product should do. All the features have been requested, specified or envision by customers like CBS, Discovery, Turner or ESPN — people in the forefront of this industry.”

At Raycom, Volicon Observer lets executives and outsiders — including station lawyers, consultants and vendors — not only monitor any of the Raycom stations, but also to exchange clips by entering “in” and “out” points and emailing them.

“We watch what is on the air,” said David Folsom, Raycom VP-CTO. “We tie the system to a TV receiver. If we go off the air, we can go the Observer and actually see it.”

For compliance purposes, Raycom uses Observer to record the signals of all stations 24/7 and save the recordings for 90 days.

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Raycom has two optional Observer modules. One is for audio compliance with the CALM Act and the other checks that NAVE (Nielsen Audio Video Encoder) codes are being sent out properly in all media markets to ensure ratings credit for ads.

Raycom also uses the system to keep an eye on how the Raycom stations look on DirecTV and Dish and on as many local cable systems as it can. “We have over 3,000 cable headends and it’s difficult to monitor them all,” Folsom said.

Digital Nirvana, which entered the market with Monitor IQ in 2009, launched MediaPro IQ and ManyView IQ at April’s NAB Show.

According to Ned Chini, VP of sales and marketing for Digital Nirvana, it is the only broadcast monitoring system that provides centralized management, automatic ad detection, a director’s audio track, as well as an advanced metadata harvester.

“Because our platform is based on open Web services API’s, our software can be easily integrated with third-party products and can scale from one to multiple servers and from one to hundreds of channels,” he said.

All Digital Nirvana solutions are Web enabled, so users can access the software through any standard Web browser without  an ActiveX component.

MediaPro IQ is a content repurposing system for multiplatform distribution. It records video feeds in full HD and offers a quick, low-cost way to repurpose HD clips from broadcast. It is designed for news and sports directors who frequently need to repurpose content.

ManyView IQ is a private, enterprise-wide IPTV system for use by producers and staff who need to view real-time video signals at their desktop.

Chini says a unique feature from Digital Nirvana is cue tone logging. A DTMP cue tone or sub-audible tone is used to prompt an action, like insertion of a local commercial.

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“Our system is not an island by itself. We are interconnected with Evertz EQX routers in multiple directions so the user can create unique customized workflows,” said Chini. “We can fit into a bigger broadcast environment.”

Although CBS was instrumental in the development of Observer for Volicon, CBS-owned KPIX San Francisco has opted for Digital Nirvana for basic monitoring.

“We are using Digital Nirvana as a DVR to allow us to quickly Q/C our air chain,” said Michael Englehaupt, director of engineering at the O&O.

Englehaupt said it is also handy for audio and video quality control and to measure loudness for compliance with the CALM act.

Masstech has about 1,500 installations worldwide, about half in the U.S. Its clients include HBO, Showtime, Sinclair, Cox and the Hearst.

Masstech’s IRIS is a low-cost compliance recording solution for non-technical users that automates encoding, storing, viewing and retrieving recorded signals. It provides the ability to instantly deliver content requested by advertisers, salespeople, management, regulatory agencies and producers.

Built on Masstech’s CUB-2000 board, the latest version 3.6 features motion adaptive de-interlacing technology and full frame SD high quality capture capabilities.

IRIS can now be integrated into Masstech’s Emerald and TOPAZ systems for deep archiving on data tape or connected to a simple NAS storage system for backup archiving.

As the power of IT grows and financial constraints drive station purchasing, what began as simple compliance monitoring is clearly evolving into new areas for TV stations. Features can be added as options, while the basic software is getting cheaper in cost.

“We are extremely happy with this system and upgraded to a newer model after six or seven years,” said Raycom’s Folsom. “We think of new uses for it almost every day.”


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