Discussing Playout And Automation In 2022 With Mike Kralec At Sinclair Broadcast

“There will never be an option where the network is so resilient that you don’t need a backup plan.” Mike Kralec, SBG.

The Broadcast Bridge recently reached out to Mike Kralec with Sinclair Broadcast Group for his opinions on new playout and automation technologies the industry will see in 2022. Kralec has served as SBG VP/Technical Operations and Deputy CTO since 2018. His focus is on transformation for media operations and ATSC 3.0 commercialization.

What will be the major technology changes in playout and automation? “We’re about 16 months into our national networks (Comet, Charge, TBD) originating from cloud-based playout and it’s proven to be a very positive move,” Kralec said. “There have been no major outages on the cloud-based system. A key benefit of this delivery has been an opportunity to look at security and design it in from the outset. It’s been isolated from existing systems and we’re using multiple security tools to monitor the status of the system.”

Cloud Native Operations

Kralec went on to explain that new technologies have pushed a lot of vendors to switch to more cloud-native operations. “They have almost all virtualized the hardware and software but didn’t change the physical or logical architecture,” he said. “In 2022 I would expect companies like Grass Valley with solutions such as GV AMPP, to offer more cloud-native deployments, with different database architectures, different components running containerized, and taking a stepping-stone approach towards scalability. The new solutions must also be elastic in the cloud; able to move up or down, accommodating demand as it comes or goes. Benefits for cloud-based playout include more rapid prototyping for new business models and more precise allocation of resources. The value provided by the media operations must be more than the value of the infrastructure and software required to run the operations, the revenue greater than the expense to generate it. Success comes with detailed process mapping and workflow management to align with the technology strategy.”

Cloud infrastructure could be a private cloud and not necessarily the public cloud. Cloud-native is an architectural approach. “What we’ll see in the public cloud is a push towards a dynamic, containerized central systems with edge computing for fail-safe, required on-premises processes, digital tools and even potentially ATSC 1.0 or ATSC 3.0 air chains. Stations need both a centralized cloud and some sort of mobile edge component because stations can’t control back-hoe-breaks-fiber incidents. We can plan for software and hardware issues and maintain operational resiliency, but still need to protect from a network issue. Media operations must be resilient to data carrier outages,” he said.

How many hours can a back-hoe incident cost? "48 hours isn’t out of the question. Being prepared for an outage of that duration should get you past most emergency repairs or give you other options for recovery,” Kralec stated. “Cloud connectivity is a single point of failure, and when you lose it, you have the potential to lose access to all your media sources. Stations need to consider a rolling synchronization of cloud-based assets to on-premises resources for more than one day of outage.”

The SBG and SK Telecom joint venture CAST.ERA developed a Mobile Edge Compute (MEC) Platform to enhance station resiliency when a data network fails.

Mobile Edge Component

Kralec said, “The media pipeline is metadata and content-driven asset management. Stations operate their technology semi-independently but will benefit from centralization in 2022. The mobile edge component provides a potential solution to ease that transition. Running the media pipeline in multiple clouds or availability zones provides more than one path to the distribution endpoint. Security needs to be built in too and always has a seat at the table during the architectural discussions. Content security as well must achieve the right balance of operational access and security controls.” Kralec is looking at the concept of a media pipeline that mixes content including syndicated, paid, and promos and spot. The key points to track are the costs of storage, processing, quality control, assembly, and the cost of distribution including utilities. “If we measure those costs and values effectively, we can get to a much more efficient operating model, delivering the right content at the right time.” he said.

Editor’s note: Simple automatic backup software may not always be the best answer. If, for example, a station’s daily automatic file backup that replaces old files at an off-site backup with new files can be problematic. Some ransomware will change file extensions and lock file attributes. A new extension can appear to some automatic backup systems to be new files meant to replace older ones. A friend of mine who owns a group of radio stations learned of this the hard way.

Viewer Experience

How will these changes affect the viewer experience? “With edge-compute capability some of the stations’ data center capabilities, newsrooms production systems, and other operational functions can switch to the mobile edge, a more centrally managed and orchestrated edge-compute device. We’d like to extend this concept even further to the consumer device as well through our ATSC 3.0 broadcast application technologies and, with watermarking or other signaling technologies, provide more relevant and targeted program content and commercials. Technology on watermarking needs to come a long way this year, as there is too much fragmentation in the watermarking/signaling area,” Kralec shared.

What survives and what suffers? He answered, “The key part is making a better experience for viewers. It’s about data and greater precision in operations. We’ve ignored or lacked access to the data coming off client-side systems; we’d like to know not just what is going out but what is coming back. ATSC 3.0 is important because it not only makes distribution more capable, but it also lets us focus on the viewer experience. Can we get the viewer more interactivity with their other devices or provide them with improved content relevancy? It brings broadcast technologies into the realm of providing optionality and more flexibility. It gives broadcasters more control over how they distribute content and how consumers can access it.”

What will be the impact of cloud and virtualization? “There will never be an option where the network is so resilient that you don’t need a backup plan,” Kralec said. “The eco system is software-centric. Small-scale resilience is a problem we still need to solve, and large-scale resiliency approaches aren’t etched in stone yet. The discussion is not over.”

Will AI have any impact on playout? “For the most part, there is potential for AI to crunch all the ATSC 3.0 return data to help us make better decisions on content. We see AI on the big data side, but I don’t think we’ve done enough with all the data we will get back from ATSC 3.0 viewers. Aggregation of that much data may come down to AI simply because of the volume of information.”

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