Column: The future of automation

By David Kicks, Pebble Beach Systems

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Determining where broadcast automation is headed next is much like taking a deep dive in the ocean. There are so many new levels to explore, challenges to encounter and opportunities for uncovering previously buried treasure.

In our previous articles, we discussed the current state of broadcast automation, the transition from SDI to IP infrastructures, the practicality of maintaining a hybrid environment and the art of automation as global ad spend on linear TV has bounced back, reinforcing the enduring influence of linear TV.

With all that to consider, what will the broadcast automation technology of the future require?

Many industry reports forecast the global broadcast automation software market is estimated to see exponential annual growth over the next decade. This will be driven by a range of factors, especially user demand for more diverse content, the increasing popularity of on-demand streaming platforms and changing consumer viewing behaviors including the use of more mobile devices as a primary or secondary viewing option.

So if we were to design the ideal automation platform of the future — think of it as our wish list — what’s to be included?

The foundation has to start with an intuitive, web-native technology platform, with built-in comprehensive security features and the ability to self-heal. And, of course, you need optimal performance, a flexible agnostic architecture and the flexibility to grow with an organization as needs evolve and production requirements expand.


Let’s dive into some of these key features a bit more.

Security is on everyone’s minds, as reports of new cyber-attacks and network intrusions seem to be increasing at an alarming rate. With the growing acceptance and use of cloud-based workflow platforms, data needs to be transmitted and stored securely, with access configured to ensure that individual users, or groups of users, only have access to resources which they are permitted to interact with or manage. Any changes in access will need to be applied immediately whether on-premises or in the public cloud, so the ability to change permissions easily as a project evolves is vital.

When we refer to “self-healing,” often a more accurate term is “self-correcting.” For example, if one of a router’s outputs suddenly became inactive, the automation system would know about it, bypass the problem and then find an alternate solution. It hasn’t necessarily “fixed the problem” but it has enabled a workaround on its own.

In our opinion, playout automation will continue to be implemented in a mix of public cloud, on-prem orchestration and hybrid deployments. It will be infrastructure agnostic, meaning it can operate in different remote locations and across different devices — all connected through the cloud while still working effectively.

The perfect system will bridge the gap between network on-prem storage and a cloud layer. You’ll be able to scale up and down across chains to create flexible workflows through an intuitive canvas web interface, giving you the power to orchestrate multiple steps with complex conditions which you can test and deploy for instant use.

Often, and especially in times of peak demand, broadcasters need additional computing power. An ideal system needs to easily handle the provisioning of additional servers (on-premises or cloud) to automatically handle demanding workloads and provide critical redundancy options.

The IP workflows of tomorrow require functionality, flexibility and resilience and a key aspect is the ability to deploy, manage, host and upgrade a range of broadcast services from a single intuitive unified interface. Future systems will need to provide a flexible, scalable architecture for multiple functional services to run on, supporting broadcasters as the media landscape evolves, and as cloud and IP technologies continue to be more widely adopted.

David Kicks, Pebble Beach Systems
David Kicks, VP of Sales for The Americas, brings 40 years of diverse industry experience to his role at Pebble. Having begun his career in engineering roles at Pro-Bel in the U.K. and then taking on sales responsibilities with Pro-Bel and Chyron. He moved to North America in 2004, and went on to hold senior regional and national sales roles with Snell Group, Vidcheck and Telestream.